Online shopping begins. Image by Tim Sandle.

For some, online shopping is a great way to pass time (and to increase their credit card spending). For others, it is a torturous experience. Even when shopping online appears pleasurable, there can be deeper issues of concern. For example, compulsive buying can be classified as a mood, as an obsessive compulsive disorder, and as an addiction.

Currys PC World has issued a study that compared people’s responses to online shopping with that during everyday activities.

Shopping online can be a source of stress and this can lead to avoidance coping behavior by consumers, or by rushing to complete a purchase and ending up with the wrong or inferior goods.

To investigate how people react when going about online shopping and how stressful an experience it can be, Currys surveyed volunteers of various ages and tracking their heart rates while they completed a number of tasks including online shopping (unassisted), online shopping using the Currys ShopLive tool (this is a video chat function with an expert), exercising, browsing social media and completing brainteasers.

One of the focal points was to do with stress and frustration. Here the study found that online shopping increases shoppers’ heart rates by 4.9 percent, compared with a decrease of 2.7 percent browsing social media. While some people may enjoy the increase adrenaline, the higher stress level is evident. To add to this, consumers afforded online shopping a stress rating of 4/10, compared with just 3/10 for the general use of social media.

The overall data summary shows:

Activity Change of heart rate (BPM) Change of heart rate (%)
Online shopping (unassisted) +3.2 +4.9%
Browsing social media -2.2 -2.7%
Completing brainteasers +2.3 +3.6%
Gentle exercise +12.7 +18.7%

Some common frustrations associated with online shopping reported are:

  • not being able to assess the quality of a product before buying it.
  • spending hours browsing because there’s so much to take in.
  • ending up with the wrong sized clothing.
  • inaccurate imagery.
  • waiting for deliveries.
  • having to return items.

Despite these changes in physiology, the study also found that online browsing wins out. This is brought out by the finding that 3 in 5 prefer online shopping to shopping in-store.

The experience, in terms of time, is not evenly shared out. Consumers aged over 55 years old take 44 percent longer than 26-34-year-olds to find what they are looking for when online shopping. This may be due to older people being more circumspect and money conscious, rather than a sign that aspects of the technology are more challenging.

Certainly, haste needs to be avoided, for the survey also found that 53 percent of UK citizens have bought the wrong item when shopping online. To add to this, the same proportion (53 percent) said they return at least one item bought online per month.