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Lest you naively begin an effort to understand every little detail of e-tailing, Lauren Freedman, author of It's Just Shopping (Direct Marketing Association, 2002) will quickly remind you: “Shopping is not and never will be a science.”

Especially from the perspective of understanding the consumer, the process of information gathering, making a purchase and deciding to return to one e-tail site or another all just...well, depends. There's no magic formula.

While It's Just Shopping does serve up an historical narrative of e-commerce--examining the merchant viewpoint, the development of technology, and checklists, timelines and graphs galore--the chapters on the consumer and the customer experience “challenge” made my marketing-brain snap to attention.

The Ever-Changing Shopper

What is different about shoppers here and now is that they are armed (with information) and dangerous (with demands). It's Just Shopping's “The Chameleon Shopper” chapter examines questions shoppers ask themselves, digs into who the shoppers are, and also details the four over-arching shopper levels.

The strength of this chapter lies in the compilation of material all in one place. I remember seeing the 2000 Cyber Dialogue studies (finding that advice from friends is a huge online inducement to try new products). I've read the reports about how time-saving and convenience are hugely important to US shoppers. I've absorbed case studies from the original e-tailing pioneers way back in the day. But having all of this information in an easily accessible format is a gift.

A few points from “The Chameleon Shopper” chapter:

• Specific categories attract shoppers that are more directed in nature. Others attract shoppers who are impulse-oriented or more information-gathering types.

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image of Andrea Learned
Andrea Learned is a noted author, blogger, and expert on gender-based consumer behavior. Her current focus is on sustainability from both the consumer and the organizational perspectives. Andrea contributes to the Huffington Post and provides sustainability-focused commentary for Vermont Public Radio.