Buying Stuff Online

It’s not a mutli-billion dollar a year business for nothing – advertisers are spending money to get users to spend even more money buying stuff online.  So how do people go about finding things to buy online?  I have a simple proxy that I use when I think about questions like this.  What would I do as an early adopter?  What would my wife do as a computer-savvy-but-non-geek user?  What would my mom do as a why-do-you-call-it-a-mouse user?  I’m going to take a simple example of buying a pair of shoes, and thinking through how each of use would typically go about doing this.

Early Adopter

I’m a victim of the recency effect – whatever the prettiest, shiniest thing that people are talking about *right now*, I’m going to go try it out.  For shoes, I heard a podcast last week (I think it was TWIT) where they were talking about how is using Twitter to monitor for customer satisfaction.  So, I’d go to Zappos, no?  Actually, I’d probably first just jump on Twitter, do a quick tweet about Zappos, and see how fast they got back to me.  THEN, I’d click on the Zappos rep’s Twitter profile, and from there click through to Zappos.

Power User

My wife would probably do one of two things.  First, she’d either go to Google and do a search for “shoes <description of shoes>”, or go directly to a site like and click on the “shoes” section.  Once she found the shoes that she wanted and was getting close to checkout, she’d jump over to and look for a coupon code.  I taught her that trick, but then again I tell her about lots of sites and that’s the one that stuck, so maybe there’s something there.

Non-Technical User

My mom would type the name of the store into the first text box she could find.  She would then get the phone number and call them to see what their hours were.  The only exception here is if I sent her an Email saying “buy product X from website Y”, and even then she’d generally call me to walk her through the process and make sure that she wasn’t giving her credit card to some phishing site.

So what’s the point of all this?  A couple of things. 

First, it reminds me why online advertising is expected to grow at such a fast rate.  Five years ago my mom didn’t own a computer.  Two years ago she didn’t have Internet access.  Once she gets more comfortable with the idea of buying stuff online, there are some real opportunities to tap into this huge mainstream market.  It also makes me think harder about broad mainstream initiatives that will be there to capture some of this opportunity.  For example, take Yahoo’s Search Monkey initiative – is it more productive to focus on getting my mom to remember a cutesy URL, or to build something that will get her attention directly within her search results?

Second, I really do need to get some new shoes.  I’m a size 10.5, and currently have a pair of Steve Madden’s for my casual work shoes and Nike’s for my sneakers.  Got a recommendation on a pair to buy?  Post ’em if you’ve got ’em.


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