What Every Marketer Should Know About Hedonic Shoppers

by Angus Lynch on November 6, 2014
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67.89% of online shopping carts are abandoned, according to the Baymard Institute.

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Across the web, we see toolmakers capitalizing on this number, and promoting the idea that poorly optimized carts are costing retailers two-thirds of their sales.

But is it really true?

Yes, many ecommerce companies are letting sales slip through the cracks because their checkout process isn’t optimized.

But retailers are not losing 67% of sales simply because their shopping carts suck.

Simply put, not every fish that nibbles your line is ‘one that got away.’


And not every user that ditches your shopping cart does so because your checkout CTA is the wrong colour.

Shopping cart ‘abandonment’ rates are inflated by a group called hedonic shoppers, and they fill carts for much different reasons than normal ‘utilitarian’ shoppers.

The bad news is you won’t capture sales from most hedonic shoppers by A/B testing your checkout process.

But by understanding hedonic motivations, you can build a relationship with these shoppers, and eventually convert them to valuable customers. It just takes a bit of effort and creativity.

In this post, we’ll discuss:

  1. The differences between hedonic and utilitarian shoppers
  2. Why hedonic shoppers inflate cart abandonment rates
  3. Strategies and tools for converting hedonic shoppers

So let’s tuck in.

Hedonic vs. utilitarian shopping

According to research, people have two primary shopping motivations: hedonic and utilitarian.


Utilitarian shopping is all about actual need and function. We need clothes, we need food, we need dental floss, and utilitarian motives drive these needs. (My dentist recently advised me to “only floss the ones you want to keep.” Good one, dentist).

Our utilitarian motives for shopping include meeting our basic needs, finding greater convenience, seeking variety, seeking greater quality of merchandise, and searching for better prices. For these shoppers, purchasing is a problem-solving activity that follows a series of logical steps.

Alternatively, hedonic shopping is driven by our desire for fun, entertainment and satisfaction. It’s derived from the perceived fun or playfulness of shopping experiences.

We don’t do it because we need to. We do it because we’re huge jerks.

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Hedonic shopping stirs emotional arousal within us—both physiological and psychological. The individual is deeply involved in the satisfaction of shopping, and the higher the level of involvement, the greater the level of hedonism experienced by the shopper.

Kind of makes us sound like a pack of lunatics, doesn’t it? There’s actually a more innocent explanation.

In their 2003 paper “Hedonic shopping motivations”, Mark Arnold and Kristy Reynolds argue that there are six categories of hedonic shopping:

  1. Adventure shopping for stimulation and excitement.
  1. Gratification shopping to enhance one’s mood.
  1. Social shopping to experience pleasure from interacting with others.
  1. Idea shopping to stay current with trends.
  1. Role shopping to gain pleasure from buying for others.
  1. Value shopping to gain pleasure from finding deals (not necessarily acting on them).

Hedonic shopping predates ecommerce, but it’s amplified on the web.

Online, hedonic shoppers are free to fulfill their motives without the inconvenience, distance barriers, embarrassment, and time constraints of traditional brick-and-mortar shopping.

Hedonic shopping and virtual cart abandonment

The web is a playground of escapism for hedonic shoppers.

And within this playground, websites provide the stimuli they’re looking for.

This stimulation means the hedonically motivated shopper doesn’t need to complete the transaction. The shopping experience itself was the outcome they desired.
They don’t need to buy to get satisfaction; they need only browse.

Because of this, the effects of hedonic shopping manifest themselves most noticeably in shopping cart abandonment.

Despite placing items in shopping carts, the majority of online shoppers are quick to abandon carts without a moment’s hesitation.

Conventional wisdom tells us cart abandonment results from breakdowns in the purchasing stage. But hedonic shopping theory counters that many carts are abandoned because the consumer is satisfied—they’ve had their fun.

To dig deeper, let’s look at the most common reasons customers give for abandoning shopping carts, as per a 2013 Shopify survey.

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Looks like the usual suspects, i.e. a list of utilitarian motivations. But wait…


Oh you were “just browsing” were you, you depraved little hedonists!?

Yes, we know your game. Abandoning your cart as part of some twisted charade, laughing as site owners wrack their brains for answers.

But perhaps there’s more to it. Here’s another interesting survey of shopping cart abandoners, this one from 2009:

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Taking a closer look, we can identify three main groups of shopping cart abandoners: process abandoners, utilitarian abandoners, and hedonic abandoners.


In both surveys, we see a hedonic motive appear second on the list, with various utilitarian motives near the top. Further down, we see that ‘process’ issues are cited less frequently.
Since hedonic abandoners seem to leave carts regardless of price and functionality, what can site owners do to capture value from them? Aren’t they bound to leave no matter what?

The answer is yes and no. Yes, hedonic shoppers are likely to abandon on their first visit. But no, that doesn’t mean they can’t be converted to customers.

Here’s an encouraging stat. Although 70 – 95% of first-time visitors to a site abandon the page without taking your desired action—a number that includes shopping cart abandoners—that doesn’t mean they’ve given up on the idea.

According to SeeWhy, 75% of abandoning users intend to return at some point to continue the shopping process.

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But in the end, most don’t follow through: just 11 – 29% return within 4 weeks.

This tells us that those 81% of merchants who believe abandoners are ‘useless’ traffic are wrong in their assumption. In reality, there’s a hidden opportunity to convert these visitors.

And if you can fulfill their motivations, you will convert them. Hedonic shoppers can be some of your most valuable customers, so it’s worth putting in the effort to engage them. Like any potential sales lead, there’s value to capture.

It just takes a little longer.

Extending your engagement with hedonic shoppers

So the question now is obvious: how do we engage hedonic shoppers beyond that initial joyride?

To extend the engagement—and build a mutually beneficial relationship—you must:

  1. Get an email address or other means of contact
  2. Remarket to hedonic cart abandoners through triggered emails
  3. Promise hedonic shoppers more of the rich, engaging experiences they desire within your emails

Let’s tackle email first.

No matter what type of hedonic shopper frequents your website (and bloats your shopping cart abandonment rate), you must be able to stay in contact in order to build the relationship.

Email is key. According to MarketingLand, 77% of us prefer to receive our marketing messages by email, and second place isn’t even close.

But marketers are behind the 8-ball. BizReport states that 80% of online retailers fail to send triggered emails after shopping carts are abandoned.

These marketers are missing out on a great opportunity. A survey by Exacttarget showed that 78% of marketers experienced “good to excellent success” with cart abandonment emails.

Post-abandonment emails provide fertile ground for continuing the story you began telling hedonic shoppers on your website, and carrying that momentum towards establishing a customer relationship.

Take every opportunity you can to build your email list. Promise shoppers more of what they want—engaging shopping environments, new ideas, great value—by signing up for regular updates.

The second part of the equation is engagement.

Engagement is defined as the quality of user experience as a measurement of Focused Attention, Perceived Usability, Endurability, Novelty, Aesthetics, and Felt Involvement.


These 6 factors are critical to engaging all shoppers. The difference is how these vehicles work. Novelty, for example, means something different to different shoppers.

To be successful, marketers must address these motivations on their landing page. But when dealing with hedonic shoppers, it’s not quite enough; you’re going to need to get a bit more creative and appeal to these motivations throughout the entire remarketing process.

When an adventure shopper receives your triggered follow-up email, for example, you must convey an exciting shopping experience to come.

With novelty shoppers, you should promise a certain measure of exclusivity, something not everyone has access to already.

So accounting for the six hedonic shopping motives, here are some ideas you can employ to engage these shoppers and extend the relationship.

1. Adventure shoppers

Key engagement driver: Aesthetics

Adventure shoppers seek stimulation and excitement. If adventure shoppers are frequenting your website, you’re likely offering a fun shopping experience.

To extend the interaction, you could:

  • Test ‘teasing’ the user with more excitement to come in your follow-up emails
  • Create landing pages and emails with rich graphics and imagery
  • Test using rich multimedia experiences for users with videos, infographics and podcasts

Image Source GroPro may have the best adventure shopping experience I’ve ever seen

With the promise of stimulating their need for adventure, adventure shoppers may be enticed to return to your site to continue the process, rather than finding enjoyment elsewhere.

2. Gratification shoppers

Key engagement driver: Aesthetics, felt involvement

Hedonic shoppers who shop for gratification purposes are often doing so to improve mood. For the online retailer, the goal here is to make the shopper feel better.

  • Make the shopper feel comfortable, don’t push the sell too hard
  • Encourage and support the shopper throughout the decision-making process
  • Test using encouraging and complimentary language, for example ‘5 new candle scents you deserve’

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After a gratification shopper abandons your cart, focus on building the relationship. Pressure tactics aren’t comforting or reassuring.

3. Social shoppers

Key engagement driver: Felt involvement

This type of hedonic shopper loves to bring others along for the ride. In a traditional brick-and-mortar scenario, they would shop with friends or chat with salespeople.

On the web, it’s a bit different, but that doesn’t mean a friendly, social shopping environment can’t be created:

  • Urge shoppers to review your products, and/or read reviews from fellow shoppers
  • Try including a chat link where shoppers can leave comments and engage with employees
  • Include an embedded Twitter and/or Facebook feed with discussion related to the products
  • Create friendly, ‘people-focused’ design that relies on imagery of people using and enjoying the product with friends; stress the social aspects of products you sell in your copy

4. Idea Shoppers

Key engagement driver: Novelty

Idea shoppers like to be trendsetters. They value staying current, and the novelty of new and exciting ideas.

Fancy.com has perfected idea shopping

Try testing these ideas:

  • Play to the motivations of idea shoppers by implying they’ll be the first to jump on new trends such as tech developments, fashion ideas or food trends
  • Include a newsletter signup with a strong callout box to capture email addresses, and newsletter content that plays to the idea shopper’s motivations
  • Focus your headlines and email subject lines on ideas and creativity; remember that novelty is the key engagement driver for these shoppers

5. Role shoppers

Key engagement driver: Felt involvement

Role shoppers are stimulated by the act or idea of purchasing for others. To increase engagement with them, test out these ideas:

  • Focus on targeted messaging; examples could include “Pick one up for the kids” or “The in-laws will love it”
  • Try using imagery reflecting the joys of gift-giving and sharing
  • Create friendly, ‘people-focused’ design that relies on imagery of people using and enjoying the product with friends; stress the social aspects of products you sell in your copy

6. Value Shoppers

Key engagement driver: Novelty, felt involvement

If there’s any group of users perfectly suited to an email campaign, it’s value shoppers. Groupon built their entire empire off this strategy, and one could argue the majority of their customers are hedonically motivated value shoppers.

Groupon’s homepage focuses on just 1 goal: email signups

Promising value shoppers a steady stream of exclusive deals is a great idea for appeasing value shoppers.

You’ll absolutely need a strong email signup strategy, as the size and quality of your list will dictate success.

Email is the key profit driver

Capturing email addresses is critical to extending the relationship with hedonic shoppers, and thus reducing cart abandonment rates.

Without a strong list, you won’t be able remarket effectively or take advantage of your customers’ preferred marketing channel.

The tools you use to build email lists depend on your business, but here are 3 that should be part of every marketer’s toolbox:

1. Landing pages

Unlike homepages, a landing page focuses on a single conversion goal. It puts users into a funnel towards this single goal by reducing distractions. Test after test has shown the conversion benefits of landing pages.

Basecamp’s landing page focuses on a single conversion goal

If you’re looking for a simple and effective landing page builder, I recommend Unbounce. They have a graphical editor and tons of templates so even non-technical people can quickly build a great landing page.

2. Value-driven signup form

A clear and visible signup form is critical. The best signup forms convince users to subscribe by offering value in return. Here’s a great example from Michael Aagaard of ContentVerve:

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Signup forms can be added as a WordPress plugin, but I recommend having yours custom designed with a strong focus on your value proposition.

3. Exit-intent technology

An exit-intent tool measures users’ mouse movements to detect abandoning visitors. When an abandoning user is detected, an ‘exit overlay’ is activated to engage the user one last time to convince the user to stick around, make a purchase, or sign up.

An exit overlay from BabyAge.com, activated when the user begins to abandon their shopping cart

Exit overlays (driven by exit-intent technology) are particularly effective for building cart abandoner email lists because they a) only activate when the user is about to abandon the page, and b) they can be targeted at cart abandoners specifically.

Key Takeaways

  • Hedonic shoppers make up a significant percentage of shopping cart abandoners and bloats abandonment figures
  • Rather than bemoaning the shopper who fills your cart but doesn’t convert, treat abandonment as an expression of interest, an invitation to make contact to so it is possible to stay in touch
  • There’s a tremendous opportunity to follow up with hedonic shoppers (and cart abandoners) via email, however, 80% of marketers don’t take advantage of this opportunity
  • To effectively market to hedonic shoppers, you must appeal to their motivations throughout the entire marketing process (including in emails)
  • Building a strong email list is critical; landing pages, value-driven signup forms, and exit-intent technology are all effective tools for making this happen

Finally, reframe the task in a positive context. Instead of trying to reduce your shopping cart abandonment rate, try increasing your engagement of shoppers who abandon your cart.



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