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Freshly Clicked: online shopping and the price of bad content

More and more UK consumers are shopping online. Yet few people seem to enjoy it. Are we mourning the loss of over-the-counter banter and the traditional marketplace transactions? Or is poor e-commerce content to blame?

At Stratton Craig we recently conducted a Google Survey on ‘the price of bad content’. Putting a series of questions to over 700 people aged 18-65+, we wanted to find out more about people’s likes, dislikes, pet hates and proclivities when it comes to online content consumption.   

The results showed us that that spelling mistakes, jargon and broken navigation rank highly among people’s online irritations. We also learned that 50% more women than men say that reading blogs is their favourite online activity, and that the silver-surfers (65+) are the second-most enthusiastic users of social media.

But one real surprise was the number of people who claimed not to like online shopping, with only two out of the 712 survey respondents saying they enjoy buying stuff on the internet. According to the British Retail Consortium (BRC), a record number of online shopping was done at the end of 2013 in the UK, with a 19.2% growth in internet purchases compared to 12 months earlier – the fastest increase in four years. In fact, the rise in online transactions is one of the most remarkable internet trends and stories of recent years. So how come so few people enjoy it?

Several reasons come to mind. One has to do with the decline of the traditional human experience, interaction and ‘contact’ that comes with regular, non-internet shopping. It’s not that shooting the breeze with checkout staff or shop assistants is particularly life-affirming, but there’s certainly something reassuring about the physical exchange of money for goods.

In a world where 90% of all money exists only as data in computers, perhaps people miss (consciously or not) the physical handling of notes and coins, the palpable materiality of hard cash. Of course, notes and coins are also fast disappearing from non-virtual transactions (a colleague of mine regularly enthuses about the local newsagents where a single can of coke can be purchased using chip-and-pin technology), but even when ‘putting it on plastic’ the physical experience of the exchange is still a powerful thing.

Similarly, the ability to heft and assess in one’s own hands the goods about to be purchased is conspicuously absent in online transactions. The slogan on Tesco’s online delivery vans says it all: “Freshly Clicked”, as opposed to “Freshly Picked”, beside a photo of luscious vine tomatoes. The slogan attempts to reassure consumers about the quality and freshness of produce they have not seen, handled, sniffed or tasted prior to purchase. However, I think this piece of advertising inadvertently highlights the very problem that robs so many people of agency and joy when shopping online. It is precisely because we cannot ‘pick’ (i.e. select with our eyes and hands) the very items we are buying that makes online shopping such a miserable and anxiety-inducing experience for some.

Most significantly, however, the results of our survey point to the fact that people’s experience of e-commerce websites could be significantly enhanced by better content. Not only are online shoppers suffering the loss of human exchange and product interaction (whether they know it or not), but many are simply deterred by dull and shoddy websites that do little to engage them. Site developers would do well to consider enlivening product pages with mixed media content to make online shopping an all-round happier experience. How can you make/have you made your e-commerce site more customer-friendly and inviting? Leave a comment or join #badcontent on Twitter. 

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