What happens behind the screen? How do you imagine the Internet user behind their screen while online shopping at home? Do you envision them chilling in a quiet place at home, away from others and focused on their task, in the zone… at the verge of a “flow” state? – remember this immersive process described by Hungarian researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Well… Try again!
Besides, what do we really know about the way online shopping takes place at home? Not much since these shopping practices have often been studied ex situ as opposed to in situ, whereas everything depends on the situation in which the Internet user finds themselves.
An article by Aurélia Michaud-Trévinal and Thomas Stenger published in the RAM journal reveals how much the reality behind the screen is different from the projection we make of it. After a theoretical reflection on the concept of situation, which crosses the traditional approach of Belk with the social situation of Goffman, the authors conduct observations and video recordings of Internet users in a home shopping situation (SHADO). Several results emerge from their research.
Online shopping, an activity that is not so lonely
First, online home shoppers are rarely alone. The presence of other people in the same physical space as them is either a required presence (to get help or advice) or, more frequently, a suffered presence. The presence or intervention of other people, anonymous or not, can also take place remotely via social networks or texting.
Thus, while the main participant is at the heart of the online home shopping situation, other participants are often involved. The online shopper is no longer simply outside the situation, but becomes a co-producer of the situation.
The importance of the environment in which shopping takes place
The study also highlights the conditions of online home shopping (location, type of device, use of non-digital tools). Thus, faced with the dematerialization of the shopping situation, it is pertinent to give importance to the induced materiality. Atmosphere elements such as noise or temperature also impact the way we buy online.
The online home shopper has itchy feet…
Online shopping leads to mobility outside the home through a process that starts or continues outside home, revealing hybrid purchasing practices which combine the virtual and real worlds—a well-known cross-channel process.
Online home shopping also reflects a mobility within the home since, far from remaining static in front of their screen, the Internet user moves around their home for various reasons, takes breaks, goes through phases of loss of concentration due to others and other external factors, which generates numerous short interruptions in their shopping activity. Thus, the shopping activity is not linear or uninterrupted as one might have expected; on the contrary, it appears highly fragmented and discontinuous. This is far from an immersive process (and from the results of previous studies!).
… which is a strong constraint for commercial websites
E-companies will have to integrate this result: how can they rethink their online websites to take into account these shopping activity fragmentation and allow the Internet user to easily resume their shopping?
In the same vein, since we’ve been working remotely more and more in recent months, we may ask ourselves: is our work a linear and uninterrupted process or does the situation in which we find ourselves in disrupts this immersive process somewhat?
Stay safe, and work well… with or without flow state 😉
Michaud-Trévinal A. and Stenger T. (2018) For a renewal of the situation concept: The situation of home online shopping, Recherches et Application en Marketing (English Edition), 2018;33(4):24-45.
Blog post adapted from Regine Vanheems’ (in French) by Emeline Martin.