The Psychology behind Online Shopping

As online shopping becomes more and more common, the experts shed light on the psychology behind online shopping, consumerist behaviors, key differences between online and regular shopping, the perks of selling/buying goods online, human traits such as the desire to fit and look more acceptable.

Have you fall into the trap of online shopping?

One late evening I was randomly scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed when I noticed a picture of two bags I found very cute. It took me a minute to order them online and only one day to receive them by mail.

This kept me thinking for a while; was this an impulse buying? What was the psychology behind triggering me? This thought became even more interesting once I started to read about the rise of online shopping and its rapid growth nowadays.


Online shopping is a fast-growing habit

Online shopping is certainly a fast-growing habit for some and a business on the rise for the rest. The global online shopping market size is predicted to hit 4 trillion in 2020.

Hence, with this small gesture, I stood along with a huge crowd of people choosing to buy goods online. Invesp data for Global Online Retail Spending – Statistics and Trends show us that countries from all corners of the world understand the advantages of online shopping.

In this article, experts shed some light on the mechanisms and psychology behind online shopping and consumerist culture.

The cornerstone of understanding consumer psychology is to know the demographic inside out

Polly Kay, marketing consultant and freelance copywriter, in her article ‘Understanding the psychology of shopping to increase sales’ discusses the origins of:

  • consumer psychology,
  • similarities and differences between online and offline sales psychology
  • and how they are being used in favor of increasing the sales applied by different huge online brands, such as Netflix.
  • In an exclusive response for Youth Time, Kay further elaborates the psychology behind shopping, and what provokes people to purchase/not purchase an item?
Polly Kay / Photo: From Archive of Polly Kay

She begins by saying that “Understanding the psychology of shopping is all about learning to identify the thought processes and motivations that shoppers undergo and experience as part of their customer journey.

This applies from the very first moment they identify a need through to their purchasing decision (buying or not buying) and beyond.”

From the very inception of an idea or desire to buy something, even if the shopper has only got as far as identifying a need without yet having identified what product might meet that need.

Shoppers go through a largely unconscious process of qualifying and disqualifying products and potential solutions. This means both seeking reassurance that an item or specific offer (such as which seller to choose when considering the same item offered by different vendors) is the right one, whilst also seeking to disqualify other options too.” Kay states.

She says that the role of the marketer, is to subtly manipulate the psychology of shopping to remove pain points and causes to disqualify a product.

Also to provide incentives and qualifications that incentivise a purchasing decision. In order to do this, you need to know how:

  • the shopper thinks,
  • what they want,
  • and vitally too, what they don’t want;

And this comes down to first and foremost, developing a thorough understanding of your buyer demographics. What disqualifies a product for one demographic might qualify it for another; for instance, in very broad and obvious terms, a product that is pink is going to alienate a lot of people but provide a high degree of appeal to others!” Kay continues her discussion with Youth Time.

According to her, finding out who will potentially buy the goods you’re promoting – and why – and what their pain points and disqualifiers are – is the key to understanding consumer psychology and so, shaping purchasing decisions.


When it comes to online shopping, the same principles of consumer psychology apply, and in a very similar fashion; However, the insights that the marketer needs to develop to understand them must be gathered in a different way.

For instance, identifying:

  • which of your website pages most commonly trigger navigating away from the site,
  • how long shoppers spend on each page,
  • what kind of cart abandonment rate you have and where it occurs,
  • the combinations of products shoppers place in their carts,
  • and what products people go on to view after looking at the product that brought them to your site,
  • what they eventually go on to buy… And so on”, she adds.

Universal traits like envy, the desire to have more, the desire to have the same things that everyone else has and so on, are being harnessed very effectively in today’s online world by savvy brands and marketers to incentivise sales.

The aspirational nature of products and services are highlighted strongly with the integration of influencer marketing, and harnessing organic social marketing to produce a form of peer pressure or social proof to incentivise product choices and promote an increased spend.” Kay says.

She further discusses some of the differences between online and regular shopping.

I think the biggest difference between online and offline shopping and consumer behaviors is that when it comes to online insights, how you personalize content and how effectively you can achieve this for individual buyers looks very different.

In brick and mortar retail, making a human connection with a prospect (or angling your marketing to indicate this; for instance, promises of a warm welcome, friendly service, the personal touch and so on have been being cited and leveraged within service industries since the inception of such industries, for obvious reasons) is integral.” Kay explains.

However, she adds that with online offerings this is not possible, “and ergo we need to look at moving beyond simple personalization, such as the automated use of a prospect’s name, and begin looking at ways to develop interactive content and promote interactivity.”

Ultimately, the cornerstone of understanding consumer psychology, driving purchasing decisions, and marketing effectively to any demographic is to know that demographic inside out, and in as much detail as possible.

Knowing who your buyers or prospects are is the foundation upon which both consumer psychology, and any marketing campaign built around it, stands or falls.” She concludes.


Online products aim to convince the buyer that when having the item the quality of life would increase drastically

Psychologist Florent Osmani, takes us to the psychology behind decision-making path that people usually follow while making up their mind for buying.

While buying online, individuals are presented with more choices in a shorter amount of time and with the idea that the products come very fast to the person who orders the product. Most of the buying online happens through credit cards and other online paying platforms which usually makes buyers believe that they are spending less than they actually are.” Osmani highlights for Youth Time.

Moreover, he adds that buyers tend to associate products with traits that are socially desirable and increase social status, social acceptance and at the same time give cues about the unique personality of the person who owns the specific item.

The desire to fit in, to be socially desirable are authentically self-actualized 

“Buying online obviously proves to be practical since it saves a considerate amount of time, but besides that companies make sure that the products that are presented online have appearance of high quality and could be used in multiple occasions. Products presented online aim to convince the buyer that when having the item the quality of life would increase drastically on a certain domain of life, even though that this might be exaggerated considering the fact that most products are not used as often as we might think”, he explains.

The desire to fit in, to be socially desirable are authentically self-actualized and other psychological vulnerabilities are used from companies to pursue clients to buy more and to want the product’s from brands even long after they have purchased the first product.” Osmani concludes.


Online business offers way more appropriate conditions of doing business

An online business turns out to be pretty convenient for Vjosa Kabashi, a 25 years-old woman and a young entrepreneur from Kosovo who owns an online platform for selling personalized and illustrated books for children, “My Fairy Tale”.

Without wanting to reinforce gender stereotypes, in her conversation with Youth Kabashi acknowledges the triple positive-impact this job has for her as a young mother; getting to spend time with her daughter, not spending money to send her daughter to a Children Care Centre, and just as importantly establishing a business of  her own.

 “A lot of people think that working in digital market, without ever seeing you clients it not as safe as it is the case with traditional way of doing business.

Anyway, from my experience I have noticed that this form of doing business online offers way more appropriate conditions of doing business, compared to traditional business which we were used to see.” Kabashi says.

digital market is very well-organized, if you do not offer something good or qualitative, you simply cannot function well

It is necessary to note that digital market is very well-organized, hence if you do not offer something good or qualitative, you simply cannot function well. This kind of market requires the visualization of the product, together will other information details about it.

In addition, the nature of this work demands for creativity and innovative and original thinking, offering goods that were not ‘consumed’ before, as well as good behavior with clients as well”, she adds.

Kabashi concludes that social medias, such as: Facebook and Instagram- a widely-used platforms in Kosovo help her spread hem work and gain new potential clients.

As a wrap up we must acknowledge that like many other different things already, shopping is gradually changing its curse by significantly increasing its online presence.  There is no straightforward answer to pros and cons of this.

However, we must face the fact that the future of shopping is probably here.

Title photo: Shutterstock

Support us!

All your donations will be used to pay the magazine’s journalists and to support the ongoing costs of maintaining the site.


paypal smart payment button for simple membership

Share this post

Interested in co-operating with us?

We are open to co-operation from writers and businesses alike. You can reach us on our email at and we will get back to you as quick as we can.

Where to next?

Why Do We Read Less?

We often hear about various challenges, like reading 100 books within a year, or about spending less time on browsing the internet and more on reading instead. While this isn’t…

Born Into a Pre-Internet Generation

Some people know the distinguished feeling of not having the internet constantly present in their early years, just for it to become an absolute necessity a couple of years later.

Is Binge-Watching Harmful?

With so many streaming services available to everyone and offering all kinds of entertainment, binge-watching has become addictive for a lot of people.

Climate Change VS Young People

Climate change is perhaps the single biggest threat to humanity right now and for the foreseeable future. So, there’s no one better to fight it off than those who will…