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September 08, 2021

Pictures the key in online shopping: study

What if the things that get online shoppers to buy a product are also what makes them dissatisfied with the product when it eventually arrives?

That’s the question Jacqueline Conard, a professor at Nashville-based Belmont University, posed recently in the Harvard Business Review.

Images are the crux of online shopping, Conard says, they’re what get us to buy. But, after the purchase comes the long wait, the period during which many purchases go sour.

When consumers purchase items online, often they'll print a receipt and pin the picture on their bulletin board. It turns out that these types of pictures actually set the bar long before the Fed-Ex truck rolls up: The better the image on your wall, the more likely you are to be pleased with your purchase.

Despite sites’ glossy efforts, the low-quality versions we reproduce alter the memory of what we’ve bought, boosting our expectations at the same time. When the product arrives, the result is frequently a big disconnect between what we've been imagining and what we're actually looking at.

The trick, she suggests, might be for online retailers to provide just enough visual information to allow us to feel good about the money spent but not enough detail to allow our memory of the purchase to be altered. In other words, to represent the purchase in a more abstract way – like a line drawing, rather than a photo.

What do you think? Have you experienced that let down when the promised product actually arrives?

By Gordon Powers, MSN Money



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Gordon PowersGordon Powers

A long-time fund company executive, Gordon Powers now heads up the Affinity Group, a financial services consulting firm. Gordon was a personal finance columnist for the Globe & Mail for many years, has taught retirement planning...

Jason BucklandJason Buckland

The modern-day MC Hammer of money, Jason can often be seen spending cash that isn’t his with the efficiency of a Wilt Chamberlain first date. After cutting his teeth as a reporter for the Toronto Sun, he joined the MSN Money team with...