Designing for 5 Types of E-Commerce Shoppers

by Amy Schade on March 2, 2014

Summary: There are 5 main types of e-commerce shoppers. Knowing the different motivations and habits people have when they come to a site helps designers make decisions that improve overall site usability while supporting different users’ needs.

Each e-commerce shopper is unique. Some visit with a specific product in mind. Others are deciding what to purchase. Some visit to kill time. Every element of an e-commerce site is important for the site's success, from product images to descriptions to registration to checkout. But different types of shoppers rely on different elements of the site.

Identifying different user types can help design teams ensure that they build usable and useful experiences for all shoppers. Over the course of researching our E-Commerce User Experience report series, we identified several different shopper types, each with unique needs. Thinking about these types — or developing them into personas — while designing can help increase the overall usability of an e-commerce site.

The 5 shopper types we identified in our study are:

  • Product focused
  • Browsers
  • Researchers
  • Bargain hunters
  • One-time shoppers

Product Focused

Product-focused shoppers know exactly what they want. They need a replacement for something they already have. They’ve done previous research and have picked the item that they want. They’ve been showrooming, researching items in stores but wanting to buy online. These shoppers are goal-oriented. They know what they need and they want the site to give it to them quickly.

Product-focused shoppers aren’t looking to browse the site. The product-focused shopper only wants to locate the product, confirm it’s the right one, and buy it. Some don’t look at product descriptions at all. A quick look at the name and picture confirms that the product is the right one and they’ll buy it.

The goal is speed. Get shoppers to the right product, let them know it’s the right product, and take them to checkout. The user may not be in a hurry, but he isn’t in the mindset to linger and spend quality time with the site. He may notice an upsell opportunity, but he’s more likely to continue with his intended purchase without distraction.

Key elements for product-focused shoppers include:

  • Clear identification of each product through descriptive names and clear product images
  • An effective search that makes it easy to quickly locate items of interest and to pick the right item from the search-results list
  • Easy access to previously purchased items for simple reorder
  • A streamlined checkout to get shoppers in and out as quickly as possible


Browsers are leisurely shoppers who go to their favorite sites or new sites for inspiration or to kill time. Browsing shoppers want to stay up on the latest trends, dream of future purchases, or be prepared for the next shopping trip by webrooming, or looking online in advance of a visit to a store. One study participant told us, “They had a bunch of good things, but I know I’ll go in person in a few days and see the items up close.”

It may seem counterintuitive, but having people browse your site is a good thing. These are people who choose to spend time on your site, with your company, with your brand. They are using your site as entertainment and inspiration. There’s a great opportunity to turn these browsers into buyers. If they have a consistently good experience on your site finding items they like and seeing the latest products, they’ll be more likely to think of your site – or your store – when they are ready to buy.

Browsing customers want to see what’s new, what’s popular, and what’s on sale. When shoppers come to a site on a regular basis, it’s not to see the same information that they saw the week before. It’s to see what changed. They’re interested in the latest items, the latest deals, what other people are buying. Related items and suggested products help them navigate the site, leading to new areas or new products. Top-selling products, popular products, and top-ranked products can all attract browsing shoppers.

Regular customers may return to sites to see the latest additions. Brooks Brothers’ site featured a section of New Arrivals.

Consider the opportunity for word-of-mouth marketing as well, by letting shoppers easily share their “finds” with friends.

Key elements for browsing shoppers include:

  • Listings of new, popular, and sale products
  • Easy access to new inventory through related links and recommended products
  • Ability to share information about products they like


Researchers, like product-focused shoppers, are goal driven. They plan to purchase, but the purchase may happen today, tomorrow, next week, or in six months. They’re collecting information about products and prices and may be in any stage of research. They may be learning about new product types or may be well educated about the products they’re looking for, searching for the right price or the right combination of features. Research may be done over several in-depth visits or it can involve just a quick decision between options.

Researchers may visit multiple sites to gather information before committing to a purchase. The goal is to turn these researchers into buyers on your site. Trust is important in online transactions. If researchers see that your site offers detailed product descriptions, excellent support, and clear navigation, they’re more likely to buy from your site. If your site offers limited or unclear product information, they won’t spend their time researching, let alone buying, on a suboptimal site. Convert researchers into buyers by becoming a knowledgeable and trustworthy source of information and products.

Easy product comparison is essential. This does not necessarily mean creating large, elaborate comparison engines (though some such tools work quite nicely.) Facilitating comparison can be as simple as providing consistent information about products, so researchers can easily determine what the differences are between them.

Researchers look for details in products descriptions and images. This means that details need to be available, but don’t offer so much detail up front that you scare your product-focused or browsing shoppers away. Layer the information, providing high-level overviews and following it with the details that researchers crave.

When researchers are left with unanswered questions about products, such as what this dinnerware collection is made of, they may well leave the site.

Researchers are often learning about products, so they need explanations for unfamiliar terms. User reviews are also helpful: they allow researchers to gather even more information by reading what others think of the product.

Researchers also may want to flag items of interest, in order to narrow options and compare. Many in our studies used the shopping cart for this purpose, collecting items of interest in one place and navigating back to product details as needed to make final decisions. They appreciated sites that made it easy to return to product descriptions and remove items from the cart and those that saved items in the cart between visits. Researchers may leave a site to visit another, or think about a purchase for a few days. In such situations, they like to be able to pick up where they left off.

Key elements for researchers include:

  • Clear and detailed product descriptions
  • Definitions of unfamiliar terminology or product features, in context and written in easy-to-understand language
  • User reviews
  • Easy comparison between products
  • Easy-to-edit shopping carts that retain products between visits

Bargain Hunters

Bargain hunters look for the best deal possible. Bargain-hunting behavior may impact any of the other types of shoppers. Some shoppers are simply looking for bargains, enticed into purchases by the idea of getting a good deal.

Bargain hunters need to be able to locate deals. Prices need to be clearly listed. Sale items must not be hidden on the site, but listed alongside full-price items, with savings highlighted. Available discounts must be easy to use.

Hautelook listed the current price, original price, and percentage of savings. Bargain hunters often liked seeing how much they were “saving.”

The opportunity with bargain hunters is not just to make the sale, but to turn them into repeat customers. Several participants in our longitudinal diary study referred to returning to a site specifically because they were looking for a sale. Send coupons, offer discounts, and give shoppers free shipping with minimum purchases to attract and retain bargain hunters. If customers sign up for newsletters in order to receive a discount, be sure to send it right away as they may count on using it for the purchase that they have waiting in the shopping cart.

In our study, we watched shoppers repeatedly jump through hoops to qualify for deals that required a minimum purchase; they spent extra time and money on the site in order to qualify for savings. 

Key elements for bargain hunters include:

  • Displaying sale items alongside full-priced inventory, as well as providing a clear section for discounted items
  • Listing product prices and associated discounts and savings
  • Allowing easy coupon redemption or applying discounts automatically when criteria are met

One-Time Shoppers

One-time shoppers may be product focused, browsing, bargain hunting, or researching. They are often gift-card recipients, gift-card buyers, or gift buyers. They may come with a goal in mind, such as a list of products that the gift recipient is interested in. They have no intentions to visit the site after the initial purchase; they are visiting due to a one-time need.

These shoppers are not familiar with the site that they’re visiting, or even, in many cases, with the products the site carries. They need clear site navigation to get to products of interest and to see site inventory and selection. Clear product descriptions help them determine which item best fits their needs. Company information can help them trust an unknown site with their personal and financial information.

A main complaint of one-time shoppers is site registration. The vast majority of shoppers in our study complained about the laborious process of registration and checkout. But one-time shoppers were particularly annoyed by required registration, since they were doubtful that they would ever return to a site, and did not want to create an account or have the site remember anything about them. They appreciated sites that allowed them to make a purchase without requiring them to create an account.

One-time shoppers were appreciative of guest checkout like 1-800-flowers offered, as they had no intention of returning to the site for future purchases.

Key elements for one-time shoppers include:

Considering All Shoppers

A good e-commerce user experience is crucial to all shopper types, but different elements take on significance based on the shopper's goal. Designing with user types in mind improves the overall shopping experience. Following guidelines, such as those in our E-Commerce User Experience report series, can help ensure these key site elements are designed in a usable way.


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