Online stores have many benefits over their offline counterparts: they are open 24/7, there is never a parking issue, and their overhead is significantly less than brick-and-mortar stores.

But physical stores have had one major advantage over online: the emotional sale.

How consumers feel while shopping is the result of a combination of psychology, marketing, customer service, and even biochemistry as dopamine activity in the brain spikes with the act of buying. Achieving the ultimate emotional harmony that promotes shoppers to buyers often involves all of their senses: lighting, scents, music, and more – elements that are more difficult to implement in ecommerce.

By allowing shoppers to touch and feel products, and creating a pleasant in-store experience, offline stores are better at getting shoppers to buy with emotion rather than pragmatism.

But there is hope for online retailers, this holiday season. While the tangible methods used by physical stores to evoke emotion are more challenging – or impossible- to be used in the virtual world, the emotional sale is not out of reach and is still possible in ecommerce.

Browsing and emotion

Designing the online experience to be a pleasurable one for visitors is no small feat, but it can certainly be done. For example, online clothing retailers have learned from mall department stores that presenting clothes on real people helps shoppers imagine how the clothes will look on them, making them more inclined to make a purchase.


This is more difficult when online shoppers see only a picture of the article of clothing not being worn by anyone.


Shoppers who prefer to browse through the virtual aisles of online stores also need to be presented with the right products, banners, reviews, and calls-to-action that will evoke emotions encouraging a sale.  By adding these elements of personalization and customization, sites can offer the experiences that shoppers need to feel emotionally connected to the store and to the product.  Just like physical stores gear the shopping experience towards catering to the senses, the online store can tweak the user experience to cater to the needs and desires of the shopper.

Goals and emotion

Those who spend their time browsing through the products of an online store are not the only ones whose emotions need appealing to. Goal-oriented visitors also benefit from an emotional sale; it’s just a different type of emotion. The visitors who know exactly what they are looking for need an experience of ease. These are the online shoppers who positively react emotionally to a site that is easy to navigate and offers a shopping experience that is quick and simple to complete.

Let’s take Apple for example. Their physical stores are clean, bright and well organized. Shoppers feel welcome to enter the store, and once they are inside, it is easy for them to find what they are looking for and complete the purchase. Just like in their offline locations, Apple’s online store is uncluttered, aesthetically pleasing, and easy to navigate.  They make an unbelievable effort to make customers feel as close as possible to actually holding the device in their hands: their images are huge, 3 dimensional, photographed from all angles, and dynamic.


To appeal to the emotions of goal-oriented shoppers, online retailers should make sites easily searchable, minimize the number of clicks required to complete a purchase, offer expedited (preferably free) shipping, and eliminate ads, popups, or other annoyances. Apple recently made a huge change on their site allowing customers to browse for and research products and make purchases all from the same page.

For example, customizing and buying an Apple Watch couldn’t be easier. Within a couple of clicks, the smartwatch of my choice was selected, carted, and offered for pickup or delivery.

apple watch

Goal: accomplished with ease

Emotion: satisfied

Fancy smartwatch: on its way in time for Christmas

Lessons from physical stores

In a brick-and-mortar store, both kinds of shoppers can get the emotional experience they need. Browsers can roam the aisles, partake in the sights and sounds, touch, feel, and find the emotional inspiration they need from the item they want to buy. Goal-oriented shoppers can follow the signs (or ask a salesperson) to the item of their choice, buy it quickly and easily, and be on their way.

By designing online shopping experiences through the lens of each of these visitor segments, we can create sites that serve them both with the emotions they require to complete the sale.