Navigate or search -- how do consumers shop for groceries online?

By Joyeeta Basu

- Last updated on GMT

The research also found that participants look at the pictures of products, rather than check the product information.
The research also found that participants look at the pictures of products, rather than check the product information.

Related tags Online shopping Snack functional beverage beverage

Online grocery shoppers tend to prefer navigating to product pages rather than searching for specific products, according to a study funded by the European Research Council.

It said that growth in online shopping was set to increase by 15% per annum, and a 2013 report predicted online grocery shopping could account for 10% to 12% of the UK market by 2020.Study author Yael Benn from the University of Sheffield said it was therefore “important to understand what information consumers consider when shopping for groceries online​”.

In the study 40 participants completed their weekly shopping online while their eye movements were recorded. Ten of the participants were subsequently interviewed to gain insight into their information-seeking behaviour.

Results found that 95% of participants navigated through the ‘virtual departments’, 80% used the ‘search’ facility, and 68% browsed the special offer pages.

Navigating vs searching

The most popular way for participants to find products was by navigating to pages listing particular products rather than searching for them, said the report. “More than 50% of fixations were made on navigation pages compared to just over 30% of fixations on search pages​,” it said.

Though navigation had a “number of limitations​” such as products nested in a hierarchical structure of categories, which required consumers to remember the exact path to retrieve information (such as to get to semi-skimmed milk, consumers may have had to navigate from fresh-food to dairy to milk to semi-skimmed), “it might still be the most preferred method​”, said the report.

One explanation was that when consumers searched for a product, it required them to recall and generate a precise search term such as a product name or brand and accurately spelling it.

In contrast, “navigation… does not interfere with linguistic working memory” ​but instead, required the recognition of items with visual cues and “contextual feedback​”, the report said.

It added that perhaps people preferred to navigate online because it was similar to navigation in the real world in that it relied “on specialised brain regions around the hippocampal formation”.

These findings confirm our hypothesis that navigation would be the more popular method of finding a product, and supports the idea that, in a familiar environment, people prefer to navigate rather than search (Bergman et al., 2008)​,” it said.

Pictures and food labelling

The research also found that once on a product page, participants tended to look at the pictures of products, rather than examine detailed product information.

Though in the UK it is compulsory to label food items with information on ingredients and nutritional information, the research said: “Studies suggest that while some consumers use detailed information about products to guide their choices… most consumers purchase products after simply looking at the front of the package.​”

For example it referred to a previous study that asked participants to either ‘buy a cereal product​’ or ‘buy a cereal product that will give you a healthy start for the day​’. “They found that emphasising health motivation increased attention towards, and use of, nutrition labels​,” it said.

The research suggested that this meant that additional strategies might be needed if consumers were to be encouraged to view detailed product information.

While similar findings have been reported in traditional supermarket environments, it would be valuable to further explore why consumers do not look at detailed product information, ideally using a relatively naturalistic paradigm such as that employed here,​” it said.

Source: Appetite

Vol: 89, doi:10.1016/j.appet.2015.01.025

“What information do consumers consider, and how do they look for it, when shopping for groceries online?”

Authors: Y. Benn , T.L. Webba, B. P.I. Changa and J. Reidyb

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