Digital Conversions Are No Match for Human Senses and Connection

Looking down a long hallway inside a shopping mall with shops lining the sides.

In nearly 20 years ecommerce conversions design can’t emulate our human motivations.

As the mother of a teenage clothing fanatic, I’m often required to visit my local shopping mall with my daughter to browse the latest cool styles. It occurred to me that the shopping experience is attractive to her not because she wants to spend my money, but because the buying experience is so rich to the human senses.

Weaving among small crowds of shoppers, we step onto the escalator and ride to the second floor to find one of her favorite stores. Before we can stride inside the shop, the first validation for acceptance and sense of place is the music. If it’s her kind of music, we’re in the right place for her. If it has a deep bass and drums, it’s the right store for my wallet and me.

If the signs near the front of the store have For Sale prices and notices about markdowns, we’re definitely in the right place for me. Immediately there are two user needs met. Mother’s and daughter’s.

Next, for me, is how products are displayed. I look for orderliness and logical groupings such as jeans in one place, the teeny tiny things she calls shirts in another place, “hoodies” in every possible color in another section. I also look for clean dressing rooms and clues as to how many items she can load up on before she meets their limit.

Meanwhile, she’s looking at colors, sizes, textures, and styles. She glides along in her beat up sneakers touching the items as she passes by. Her hands drift along piles of sweaters as if walking through a field of daisies. A certain texture will stop her dead in her tracks, and I’ll get that “Mom, look!” expression from her.

It strikes me that some of the stores she insists we stop into don’t offer much for me to do or look at. Since the parent may be the person paying the bill for the store’s teenage customers, it is a missed opportunity to exclude us from the shopping experience.

One store we enter screams of mystery and despair.  The decor is dark, black, and limited to a few clothing racks mixed with hanging things on the walls separated by posters of half-naked teenagers standing next to cars they can’t possibly afford to buy.

Clothing prices are hidden inside sleeves. Sale signs are taboo. But the music is hip, the salespersons are scary-looking, and the smell of leather mixed with hair gel is making my wallet squirm. Their website, I bet, has but one click-path designed for teens and their parents must be blindfolded so as not to read the content before handing over their credit card.

A young woman reaching her arm up for merchandise on a large wall display.
You just can’t mimic human shopping with the ecommerce user experience on the Internet.

Next, we are inside a store where I feel welcome, my daughter is admiring the merchandise and starting to find what she likes in her size. I’m avoiding the mirrors and marveling at the sales personnel with their size 3 bodies, smudged eyeliner and 35 bracelets on each wrist. For my daughter, who looks just like them, this is confirmation she’s in the right store.

I, on the other hand, will stop holding in my stomach when we get back out to the parking lot, or when we grab our lattés in Starbucks on the first floor.

While the other mothers and I are holding piles of clothes in our arms, or running back and forth to get a skimpy top or frayed shorts in different sizes, my mind drifts to all the ecommerce websites I find in search engines, but don’t purchase from.

For starters, most of them think I’m going to read 35 links in their navigation, plus their ads, before deciding which path to follow. Some of them will tell me about one sale, but if I want to know more, I have to figure out where they stuck that stuff.

There’s nothing I can physically touch, and the images are usually tiny. Sure, I can click to enlarge but how many times have I done that only to find a bigger view of the same boring, unattractive picture? Most shopping carts don’t give me shipping dates or availability information as I make my selections.

We assume ecommerce shops have functioning websites. We assume incorrectly. We assume they built them for many types of customers, but again, we’ve assumed wrong. We assume that the top twenty sites in search engine results are the best of the best based on our search keywords. That, I’m afraid, is the saddest shock of all. Top rank doesn’t equal the best online experience once you click into that website.

That part of the user experience wasn’t tested for you by the search engine. That’s not their job.

My daughter looks good in everything. So did I when I was a teenager. If I still had that body I could order from any lingerie site on the Internet and feel quite sure I’d look as fantastic and sexy as their starving models do.

But I never buy sexy lingerie on the Internet because quite frankly, they’re not selling it to me. One look at their models, their glamorous poses, ages, and airbrushed faces tells me their target market is men who dream of making their women look like that too, if they just buy that lacey thing for them.

Fortunately, I have a levelheaded daughter who loves to hunt for bargains. The last time we shopped at the Mall together was because I wanted to get her a gift for making the Distinguished Honor Roll that marking period in school. She found something at her favorite teen store for under $20. We splurged at Starbucks on our favorite chocolate coffee fixes, which was the logical choice after doing so well at the clothing store.

Online, after a sale, I’d be alone staring at my monitor at a “Thank you screen” and likely not directed to go anywhere interesting next. This is another common ecommerce practice; dumping the customer off after the last screen of a shopping cart.

Instead, they might suggest subscribing to an email newsletter, earning points for discounts, or emulating a human cashier with a quick “Did you find what you were looking for?”

This is what the cute, pierced nose salesclerk said to us when I handed her the $20 for my daughter’s new shirt. I gratefully accepted the receipt from the nail polished hand attached to the 18 year old face with a pimple on the forehead, multi-colored hair, and glittered eye shadow.

You just can’t mimic that kind of user experience on the Internet yet.

Copyright 2004; 2023 Kim Krause Berg:

Originally written in 2004 as “Why Ecommerce is Not Ready for My Daughter or Me”. Updated 2023.

Photos Copyright:

Photo by Joshua Rawson-Harris on Unsplash

Photo by Heidi Fin on Unsplash

Digital Conversions Are No Match for Human Senses and Connection
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