We’ve all been put in that awkward spot. We’re perusing the racks at some trendy clothing shop and we catch a glimpse out of the corner of our eye. He’s coming this way. We don’t need help, but here he comes:
“Can I help you with something?”
We roll our eyes (mentally at least).
“No thanks. I’m good. Just looking around.”
Shopping is recreational for many. It’s less about walking into Best Buy with printouts of exact model numbers targeting something specific and more about just killing some time rummaging through stuff. We may buy something, but there’s a good chance we won’t.
The online shopping experience is far different. Many of us do surf around and stroll through the virtual aisles, but it’s a very different hunt-and-peck sort of experience. The key difference with the online “no-thanks-I’m-just-looking” experience is that it transcends physical space or location. In a click, we can hop thousands of geographic miles. One minute we’re checking out a New York City boutique, the next we’re on the fringes of bizarre Japanese merchandising. It’s a manic, unpredictable experience.
The question for online retailers obviously leads to: “How do I keep that potential customer inside my ‘store’?” It’s a tough thing, and nobody’s really been able to nail it. Amazon has done an amazing job of building community and personalization around the shopping experience and it’s paid off so far. Now, they’re trying to bring the fiddling-around-the-shop experience to the Web with the Amazon Window Shop. Here’s a snapshot of it:
It’s a fun, virtual reality-style experience. They’ve kept it to music, games, books and movies/DVD’s (which makes sense). You don’t search for anything. You simply flip through the latest products. It’s a nice experience (for an even more impressive 3D-ish browsing experience, check out Cooliris) but I’m not sure this is going to connect for people for one key reason: there’s no search.
This may well be a first iteration and search may be upcoming, but the online shopping experience is all about search. As we rip through site after site we search…constantly. It’s become the way we pivot from place to place, honing in on what we’re after (or what we think we’re after). If we go astray, we reset our bearings by…searching yet again. In the world of online retail, perusal equals search. It’s how we stroll around. The problem with an experience like Window Shop is that it recreates the limitations around the physical world; a limitation that we were glad to obliterate and transcend on the Web. The visual experience is great, but it can’t be confined. It needs to go everywhere to be compelling.
As the economy turns for the worse, I think people are going to be doing a lot more perusing and a lot less buying. Experiences like Window Shop have a compelling halo effect for Amazon even if it doesn’t directly lead to purchases. Let’s face it. Amazon, at the very least, wants you at the mall. Even if you’re only gonna hang out at the food court.