NEW YORK/DUBLIN: Digital marketers do not properly understand consumers' online shopping behaviour and are using the wrong metrics as a result, according to research from AOL.

Quantitative research into online shopping in the UK, US and Canada was presented in a paper – Hooked on shopping: Understanding what fuels the new daily online shopping habit – at the recent ESOMAR Congress in Dublin.

The authors – Andrew Consky , director of research at AOL Canada, Vicki Draper, director/consumer analytics & research at AOL US, and Steve Payne, head/planning, insight & research at AOL UK – outlined seven core online shopping motivations and two broad states – utilitarian and emotional – in which browsing takes place.

While shopping generally meets many core human emotional needs, the authors reported that online retail often fails to make an emotional connection with shoppers in the way that offline channels do, with products presented on a blank backdrop, devoid of context.

"Browsing and shopping are much more nuanced than most digital marketers thought," they said, adding that "current metrics and KPIs don't account for these nuances".

The authors pointed to shopping cart abandonment as an example of a widely used metric, and one on which potential revenue is modelled.

When people put an item in their cart and then don't transact during the session, it is considered a failure, they noted, with marketers assuming the act of adding an item to the cart constitutes an intent to purchase.

But their research had shown that between half and three quarters of shoppers (74% in the US, 63% in Canada, 53% in the UK), routinely placed things in their carts even if they had "no immediate intention" of making a purchase.

In other words, marketers may be needlessly fretting about issues such as shipping costs, availability and price, when consumers are simply using the cart as a wish list, putting items in the cart so they can compare them, and placing items there that inspire them.

The authors suggest introducing better contextualisation measures, such as including navigational cues that enable the shopping experience to shift based on the prevailing browsing motivation.

Data sourced from ESOMAR; additional content by Warc staff