When shopping online there is (from my experience) a well thought through design of all the steps from finding the product(s) you want and need to the check out process and purchase of the product(s). It hasn't always been this easy as it is today but the larger e-commerce sites have spent much time on design and implementation of the process making shopping online a satisfying experience.

When I shop in the physical world, the opposite sometimes emerge. On numerous occasions through my 20+ years of shopping groceries, I find that in every two or three years the local store rearrange where they store things that I need, which is probably the same things as my fellow neighbors. They deliberately put the bread where the milk used to be and they put the vegetables where the ice cream used to be.

As a user of the store, I find it very frustrating not finding the things I need. I wander around in the store, ask personnel for advice, see other products I don't usually buy - and I still don't buy, even if that is the plan with the rearrangement in the first place - and it takes me three times longer to complete my task. This behavior from my local grocery store have inspired me to use an online service instead, where I don't have to spend time to find groceries for me and my family's daily meal. They deliver to my doorstep and the cost is about the same as in the local store. We've used this service for ten months and see no reason to go back and use the local store again. Sure, we go there on occasion, but the local store have lost more then half of what I used to spend there.

I agree to that I'm not the "average user", I'm more of an early adopter (even if I was late on joining Facebook), but if the service provided from another source is better and have the same price, users will eventually find its way there. For the online service the probability of a revenue increase at the cost of the local store is a real threat to the local store. Still this rearranging of items in the local store.

In the online world the scenario is the opposite. It takes less and less time to complete my task (buy what I need). I find this very interesting and I wonder why this is the case. Why is User Experience treated different in digital and physical stores?

3 Answers 3


The rearrangement of the store is the only way the physical store can get you to look at items that you might be interested in that your eye doesn't usually fall on (you are displaying the typical behaviour that supermarkets are trying to break).

The online store can, and does (if it is like most of the ones I have used in the past) get you to look at other items that you might like but that your search doesn't usually look for by brining up side bars, sending you emails and undertaking all the other (hopefully subtle) marketing that you receive. It can do this without rearranging what you usually shop for.

This is why this aspect of the user experience is different in the two arenas that you describe.

  • This is true as long as revenue after rearranging the store increase and users keep coming back. +1 for a good answer. Commented Apr 7, 2012 at 6:21
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    It's also worth noting that it's much easier to go to another webstore than it is to go to another brickstore. No travel time, gas cost, etcetera. So a webstore has to work harder to keep a client, whereas a brickstore can push product a bit more. So it's two-fold; moving things around is the 'only' way a brickstore can promote other goods, and brickstores are punished less for that approach. Commented Jul 31, 2015 at 10:01

Online shopping is a much less "sticky" experience than a physical store. once i enter the grocery store, I'm committed to buying my groceries there. If I don't like the layout, I'm not going to leave and drive to a different store. This allows the merchadising to be a lot more user-hostile. They deliberately attempt to make you travel a more circuitous path, in the hopes that you will buy more stuff.

Physical stores also have other attractors, like proximity. People who know they could have a better experience at a different supermarket will still shop at the one closest to their house.

Online, the cost of leaving for a different store is much lower. If I can't instantly find what i'm looking for, I'm going to close the tab and try somewhere else. The best way to make the sale is to make everything as easy as possible for the users.

You should know that every aspect of a large chain store has a lot of science backing it up. If you can't find something, it's because the store doesn't want you to find it. All the major chains employ huge research departments to determine exactly what layouts and shelf placements will maximize profit.

  • Yes, I do know that larger chains spend a lot of money on research on what maximize revenue. The proximity aspect I didn't think of though, and it's an important factor. Still there must be a limit on how much user hostility can be made before revenue decrease. +1 for good insight. Commented Apr 7, 2012 at 6:27
  • Great point; a huuuge problem for digital services is how easy it is to leave. I can leave a website in 1 second and find another in a few more seconds. Takes a couple minutes to leave a store, might take 5-10 before I reach the next nearest store unless I'm in a mall.
    – Zelda
    Commented Apr 7, 2012 at 17:00
  • I wonder whether the major chains do any research on the people who've given up shopping in their stores ?
    – PhillipW
    Commented Apr 7, 2012 at 19:29
  • I'd also disagree with the comment about the cost of leaving for an online GROCERY store. It takes hours and hours to build up a 'favourites list'. And it certainly creates a big disincentive to go off to another site and find 200+ items again on the other site.
    – PhillipW
    Commented Apr 7, 2012 at 19:32

Good question !

I also gave up on physical supermarkets a long time ago, for similar reasons.

The online supermarket I use also clearly displays the Price / Kg of items online - in the physical stores you might have to crawl around on the floor with a magnifying glass and a calculator to work out the same calculation.

I concluded that the people who run physical supermarkets are just 'behind the curve' and eventually physical supermarkets will finally evolve, die out, or only be used by (very) old people.

Physical supermarkets could use the technology (such as having QR codes on products to display product information on your phone - or having a search you could access on your phone in the store). But in the UK they don't in the stores I've been in.

  • "in the physical stores you might have to crawl around on the floor with a magnifying glass and a calculator to work out the same calculation" made my day! This is the feeling I get trying to get my stuff. May I quote you on it? +1 for the laugh of the day! Commented Apr 6, 2012 at 21:29
  • Sure ! And it's part of the problem that hits people when they get over about 40/45 years old: small writing gets to be a real problem to deal with - the beauty of say using QR codes on food packaging would be (if was done) that you can always move your phone closer to your face to read the writing...
    – PhillipW
    Commented Apr 6, 2012 at 21:33

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