Why are people (not) buying my products online?

Google Analytics provides us with lots of information about our visitors. However, we are in complete ignorance about the motivations of our visitors to buy our products.  Why do people shop online?  And how can we influence their motives and make them buy (more of) our products?

Thijs already gave lots of useful insights in how to optimize the conversion of your website in several of his recent posts about conversion rate optimization. Thijs and I are currently working on an extensive study about online purchasing behavior and conversion optimization. For our research we are reading a lot of scientific articles about what makes people buy products online. In this post, I’ll make an overview of some of the most valuable insights about peoples motives to purchase online. And: what you could do with these insights to increase your sales!

Utilitarian & hedonic motives


In most studies investigating the motives people have to shop online, researchers distinguish hedonic motives from utilitarian motives (e.g. To, Liao & Lin, 2007). Utilitarian motives are rational, critical and goal oriented. These people shop to find the right product for the right price.

Next to utilitarian motives, there are hedonic motives. The reason that hedonic consumers love to shop is simply because they enjoy the shopping process. They search for happiness, fantasy, sensuality or enjoyment and they find that in shopping.

While visitors with utilitarian motives should be convinced by rational arguments, the hedonic shoppers will be converted by emotions. Of course, anticipating on utilitarian or on hedonic motives will have totally different consequences for the design and the layout of your website. I will discuss both utilitarian motives (cognitions and trust) as well as hedonic motives (emotions) in more detail below.

Rational motives (utilitarian)

Utilitarian motives are rational. Utilitarian buyers shop to gather information or simply to immediately purchase a product. Utilitarian buyers have a shopping plan and know what they want. These buyers shop online because it saves them money or because they want to find the cheapest product. They also shop online because it is convenient, it saves them time or because they have more products to choose from.

As long as the benefits outgrow the costs, you can easily persuade a utilitarian buyer to buy your product. Wanting to persuade utilitarian buyers means you have to offer good products for a good price, with good information and with a good and swift service.

Some products especially appeal to an utilitarian audience. If you would try to sell WordPress-plugins for instance, chances are big that your audience will have rational motives to buy your products. Few of our clients will be in search of fantasy or sensuality when they consider buying one of our products.

Trust (utilitarian)

Important for the utilitarian buyer is trust. Is this webshop genuine? Will I get my purchases in time? Toufaily, Souiden & Ladhari (2013) claim that online shopping is more prone to uncertainty and risks than traditional shopping. Technological advances have improved security levels, but the lack of psychical contact with both product and vendor make it hard for consumers to trust online shops. This makes the costs for an online transaction higher.

As utilitarian buyers are more convinced that the payment is secure on a website, they are more likely to buy. Thus, making sure your payment is secure will increase the likelihood people buy online. But you should also make an effort to show your visitors who you are. How can they contact you when they are not satisfied? Make sure names (and possibly pictures) of (customer service) employees appear on your website.

Emotions (Hedonic)

Hedonic motives are not rational, but emotional. In an article in Electronic Commerce Research and Applications, Lopez and Ruiz (2011) investigate (among other things) the influence of emotions on online purchasing behavior. They state that several studies have shown that positive emotions, such as enjoyment, predict whether people in fact return to your website.  Research of Bosnjak, Galesic and Tuten (2007) even shows that emotions are more important than cognitions in online shopping.

Lopez and Ruiz recommend companies dealing with hedonic products such as perfumes, jewellery or vacations to evoke emotional responses when communicating their products through the website. The reason for this, Lopez and Ruiz claim, is that “most of its consumers may not be interested in the specific composition of the fragrance or the way the jewel has been cut, but in the sensations the consumer would feel in case of purchasing.” If you try to sell luxury goods you could do your advantage with this marketing technique. The design of your website plays a big role in evoking positive emotions like fun, happiness and relaxation.

Bear in mind that hedonic shopping can influence unplanned shopping behavior. Evoking an emotion could well lead to impulsive shopping behaviour. If you want to increase your sales, you should anticipate on this by offering products in a way that people experience as enjoyable and fun.

How do I know what the motives of my visitors are?

Maybe (a part of) your audience has hedonic motives. But how do you find out? And how do you know whether your audience finds your webshop trustworthy? Google Analytics does not give you that kind of information.

For most websites, you do not have to be a rocket scientist to figure out what motives most of your visitors will have. Simply looking at your product will give you a good idea. If you are offering a luxurious item, chances are big you are dealing with a hedonic audience. But still, if you really want to anticipate on the motives of your visitors, you should measure their motives.

Measuring the motives of your audiences is hard but not at all impossible. You can use packages such as PollDaddy to make an online survey and simply ask your audience what their motives are.  Making the questionnaire is the hardest part of measuring the motives of your audience. Simply asking whether their motives are hedonic or utilitarian doesn’t cut it ;-). If you would want to measure shopping motives, I would advice you to read some studies on motives and learn from the questionnaires these studies used.


Website visitors can have different motives to visit your website. They could be rational, goal-oriented buyers with a clear plan and idea of what they want. In that case, providing quality information and offering a fair price while making the appearance of your website trustworthy would be important to increase conversion. But if you appeal to a hedonic audience, your website should evoke positive emotions in order to persuade your audience to buy your products.

You should keep the motives and the way to appeal to your audience solidly in mind while shaping and altering your website.


Bosnjak, M., Galesic, M., & Tuten, T. (2007). Personality determinants of online shopping: Explaining online purchase intentions using a hierarchical approach. Journal of Business Research.

López, I., & Ruiz, S. (2011). Explaining website effectiveness: The hedonic–utilitarian dual mediation hypothesis. Electronic Commerce Research and Applications.

To, P.-L., Liao, C., & Lin, T.-H. (2007). Shopping motivations on Internet: A study based on utilitarian and hedonic value. Technovation.

Toufaily, E., Souiden, N., & Ladhari, R. (2013). Consumer trust toward retail websites: Comparison between pure click and click-and-brick retailers. Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services20(6), 538-548. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0969698913000581

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18 Responses

  1. LocalancersBy Localancers on 5 February, 2014

    Great article, Marieke!

  2. Heini van BergenBy Heini van Bergen on 5 February, 2014

    Hi Marieke,

    Thanks for these very valuable insights. I would also recommend reading “Digitale verleiding” by Maurits Kaptein (http://www.digitaleverleiding.nl/). His theory goes beyond motives and focusses more on persuasion strategies as an important way to influence the buying process.

    • Marieke van de RaktBy Marieke van de Rakt on 6 February, 2014

      I will certainly look into that! Thanks for the tip!

  3. Marco BaxBy Marco Bax on 5 February, 2014

    Thank you Marieke for this insight! It’s a good thing to take these motives in consideration!

  4. StefanBy Stefan on 5 February, 2014

    Great article!
    Personally i use a similar but a little different tactic, following the approach of the book “Brain View”, written by Hans Georg Häusel.
    For him they main drivers and triggers are emotions too: balance, dominance, stimulance.

  5. KarshoBy Karsho on 5 February, 2014

    Actually it’s good one to read. Thanks Marieke.

  6. Phil KBy Phil K on 5 February, 2014

    Great insight on online selling, which I feel reflects both on product and service. Loved the in-text citation and APA referencing – really added credibility :)

  7. AryanBy Aryan on 6 February, 2014

    “Website visitors can have different motives to visit your website.”
    This is the bitter truth which Web Makers and Analytical company don’t want to disclose. Your post is very interesting and useful. Thanks.

  8. Greg WiniarskiBy Greg Winiarski on 6 February, 2014

    Interesting read, so i is it a safe guess to think that utilitarians are buying tools for professionals?

    • Marieke van de RaktBy Marieke van de Rakt on 6 February, 2014

      I would assume that people buying tools for professionals have utilitarian motives when browsing and purchasing these products. In other moments and searching for other products they can have hedonic motives as well. Joost when in search for good software is 100 % utilitarian, Joost in search for good LEGO is hopelessly hedonic. Same person can shift in his motives depending on product, time and place.

  9. ShakhbozBy Shakhboz on 6 February, 2014

    Excellent points!

  10. LeonidBy Leonid on 6 February, 2014

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  15. Alex Neuman van der HansBy Alex Neuman van der Hans on 10 February, 2014

    This is, by far, one of the most well-researched and well-written articles I’ve seen in quite a long time. Quoting *actual* research, and providing not only insight but more reading material – this the way more articles in “digital marketing” oriented websites should be written. Kudos!

  16. JanmejaiBy Janmejai on 11 February, 2014

    After reading the half article,I realized that it’s surely written by some “researcher” and scrolled to the end and saw that it’s written by a “researcher”,after reading the title i thought it will be same as lots of other typical articles on the web but this one is different from others…detailed one with some good research.