Reinventing Web Shopping - The Bow-and-Arrow Approach


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Internet retail is here to stay. In 2006 Web shopping topped $100 billion and that number is heading nowhere but up. So why do we need to reinvent web shopping? Read on.

Shopping on the Internet has matured to the point where we don’t think twice about buying on-line. A few retail web sites have become household names and we find ourselves going to those sites, ordering exactly what we want and typing in our credit card numbers and security codes without hesitation. We no longer worry about whether or not we’ll receive our merchandise, if the or merchant is trustworthy or if the products we’re ordering are what they’re purported to be. We now trust our online vendors to deliver the goods. This fact alone is testimony to the great strides that the major on-line retailers have made.


But web shopping has its drawbacks. We go to one web site if we want to buy books and CD’s; another for watches and jewelry; a third to find toys; a fourth for boating equipment; a fifth for electronics gear; and on, and on. So if you were shopping for your cousin who is an avid boater, woodworker, and reader you’d have to visit at least three separate sites to find the items you were interested in.

Once you get to each retailer’s home page, it’s probably filled with their latest and greatest products which may or may not interest you. Many sites list page after page of merchandise with navigation tabs, product categories, recommendations and come-ons plastered all over the screen. It’s like walking into a big-box store with stuff strewn all over the floor.

But we slog through, looking for something special in the maelstrom of merchandise. After a few clicks, it’s hard to tell where we’ve already been and what we were looking for in the first place. The store’s search feature may help, but they often return inappropriate results if your search terms aren’t exactly right. After a few unsuccessful forays onto some retail web sites, many of us are ready to just give up. Multiply this process for every site you visit and the whole experience can be very frustrating.

So how do we make web shopping more rewarding for the shopper? First, shoppers should be able to find a variety of different types of merchandise for their targeted recipient on a single site. Second, shopping sites should be designed such that the shopper isn’t overwhelmed with offers and options when they enter the site. Additionally, shoppers should have some sense that the items they’re looking at will, indeed, appeal to the person for whom, they’re shopping.

The Shotgun

To address the first point some web retailers now sell a variety of goods beyond their original offerings. A popular book seller, for example, shills everything from table-saws to jewelry. They’ve done a decent job creating a one-stop web shopping site, but rather than tailoring the shopping experience to a particular segment of the population, they’ve done the opposite by trying to appeal to every possible visitor who lands on their URL.

This might be called the shotgun approach – the wider the shot pattern, the more chance they have hitting something. It works for very large companies who have the economy of scale to support such an approach. But it does little to enhance the shopping experience for the buyer. The shopper is still faced with a huge array of choices, most of which hold no interest to him or her. Finding just the right gift is nearly impossible. Again, it’s like walking into a big-box store with everything strewn about.

The Bow-and-Arrow

An alternative to the shot-gun method would provide precisely targeted offerings to a narrow group of shoppers – let’s call it the bow-and-arrow approach. In this scenario, the website might be likened to a specialty shop rather than a big-box store. Shoppers would be treated to a relatively small but comprehensive variety of products that closely fit their objectives. Ideally, the website could offer suggestions and point the shopper toward particular items.

This type of site would be small by-nature, offering somewhere between 200 and 500 items. And these would be varied, but united by some underlying principal. A site that is aimed at male baby-boomers might offer fine woodworking tools, guitars, sailing equipment, golfing goods and electronics. None of these is, by itself, exclusively masculine or specific to the boomer generation, but taken together they form a picture of a moderately successful and active man in his middle years. A shopper coming to this site could almost certainly find something for someone who fit that profile.

The narrow focus of a bow-and-arrow site makes the shopping experience closer to that of a boutique than a big-box store and the site design should reflect that sentiment. Visitors should be greeted with calming colors and appropriate imagery. The home page and all other pages should be welcoming, simple to navigate and not overcrowded with products and offers. From the first time visitors ‘step foot’ in one of these shops, they immediately know they’re in for a different experience than shopping at one of the mega-sites.

The products themselves on a bow-and-arrow shopping site have to match the intended audience. On a site that’s aimed at the aforementioned affluent, aging male, high quality goods would be far better than cheap merchandise. For example, a good diver’s watch would be much more appropriate than a cheaper model. That’s not to say that everything on the site should be pricey, but it should be selected with an eye to the audience.

Background information about certain items, or personal recommendations, make shopping in a boutique more fulfilling than shopping at a big-box store. The same is true for the bow-and-arrow site. Shoppers should get more than a list of products and prices; they should get a sense of the product’s value, its pedigree and what makes it worth buying. Reviews and suggestions from the site’s proprietor let shoppers know that the product they’re considering has been tried and tested.

The key to success in web retailing is attracting and keeping customers. If you consider the principals set forth in this article as you design your site, you’ll make the shopping experience rewarding and unique. That should help keep your customers coming back.

Joe Pescatello is an accomplished author and commercial web developer. Visit for a sample of his writing and web development.


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