The Recreational Factor of Online Shopping

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Photo by Jacques Bopp on Unsplash

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, my family decided to go out as minimum as possible, I think we haven’t gone out for more than 3 months now and the last we went out was because we have to visit a doctor. Grocery supply wise, we rely on online shopping apps, specifically designed to do just that, so not just your regular e-commerce app.

However, I realize that for my wife, that grocery shopping is a stressful experience. She’s never happy doing that, but she has to do that so we can have something to eat or munch. So, yesterday, I asked her what happened she told her feelings and I came with a new discovery: the mental model of buying groceries from an online app is very different with what she has in mind.

For her, shopping groceries is an experience that combines functional activity (getting supplies) and recreational one (exploring the aisle, grabbing stuff that she impulsively feels to buy and enjoys the sensory overload of items on the shelves). That might feels small, but that last aspect is the one that makes her enjoys grocery shopping. Sadly, that’s the missing aspect that I observe in the app that we use (probably even in many similar apps).

Here’s the thing, many apps are designed with a functional mission on the makers’ mind. When designing the customer journey, this one might be familiar:

  • Before using the app: research what are the needs that I need to fulfill, looking for available solution
  • While using the app: executes the available feature that will answer my needs
  • After using the app: observe the result, evaluate and repeat as necessary

The most straightforward way to create a product is by focusing on that 2nd step. In the context of a shopping journey, we assume that the user has a clear image of what to buy before opening the app. With that assumption on the way, a shopping app can focus on providing the best experience to search and pick item to buy. Hence, I think that’s the common pattern of a shopping app, you search for an item, pick one (or more) from the list of search results, add them to basket, checkout, and pay.

Problem is, for my wife (and probably many other housewives), real-world shopping isn’t something like that. She arrives at a supermarket with a list of things to buy, but will happily explore each aisle, and adding stuff to the shopping cart that may not even be on the list, but she feels important to buy. In short, the exploration needs to be provided in-app as well, not just an accurate way of pinpointing items to buy.

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Steam, the premier sensory overload

Let’s get into a bit of detail. Exploring is not searching. Searching means you know exactly what to get, either by inputting a certain keyword or picking from available groups or categories, guaranteeing a degree of accuracy in the process. If I search for sauce or breakfast supply, I’m hoping that the search result will provides me with the expected output.

Exploration, on the other hand, allows for a greater degree of freedom than search, just like playing an open-world RPG, where you are free to go wherever you want, do whatever you want, but still under the confinement of the system. And in many shopping apps, this exploration factor isn’t something that is built into the system. Though, specific entertainment provider such as Steam, Netflix, or Bandcamp has successfully managed to give this experience. You can come to those websites to see what’s available, explore the options, and end up consuming the suggested item. Yes, they tease you to pick, via their recommender system, but even with the absence of that system, they give you the experience of exploring the virtual shelves, excites the visual with sensory overload and fast way to go back and forth between items before ended up buying or consuming them.

Sadly, grocery shopping is a different beast than buying a game or music album. I believe that grocery shopping involves buying way more things than its counterpart and these are all functional items, aka, failure to buy the correct item will result in some degree of penalty. But to get that correct item, exploration should be allowed because this should be a recreational moment for the housewives. Recommendation system might not always be the solution, because we are not looking for an accurate solution, but rather a way to browse, compare and think of the items displayed on the screen is something more appreciated. Moreover, this exploration experience has to be fast and smooth because loading time is considered to be something that hinders the exploration, thus reduces the recreational aspect of shopping.

Conclusion

Next time, I’ll try to sketch some solutions that we can discuss. But until then, I hope you enjoy this writing.

Written by

Digital product maker. Do design and code just to see pixels give real-world values. Cyclist + Gamer + Metalhead. Also, proud dad and husband.

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