The Attention Challenge: How Mobile Technology has Shaped Shopping Behavior

How many times has something like this happened: you pick up your phone to check a notification, then you’re on Instagram, then you remember you need to order something, get halfway through your purchase, then get a juicy message that leads to an in-depth conversation about what restaurant you should go to that weekend. Purchase forgotten.

This all-too-common scenario demonstrates how fleeting the intent to purchase is on mobile, and explains – in part – why so many great retailers are struggling to hold their mobile shoppers’ attention all the way through to conversion.

The Attention Challenge

Not only are smartphones busy places with lots of exciting distractions, they’ve actually changed the way humans interact with the world.

Distractions and interruptions have created a situation where shoppers are living in a state of continuous partial attention. The authors of The Distracted Mind, Adam Gazzaley and Larry D. Rosen, say this is “the result of interference — both distraction from irrelevant information and interruptions by our attempts to simultaneously pursue multiple goals.” However, it’s not technology’s fault. Our brains are hard-wired to always be seeking new information.

For better or for worse, we can now access whatever we want whenever we want. We reach for our phones 80 times per day partly because we have curious minds, we’re bored, or we need to do something. But we also reach for our phone so often because smartphones (and the apps and websites we use) are designed to be addictive.

We’re constantly rewarded with dopamine hits from our smartphones. Because getting rewarded from our devices makes us feel so good, experiencing mobile delays can cause more stress than watching a horror movie, according to a report by Ericsson Consumer Lab.

It’s critical for retailers to understand this and to focus on the UX issues that distract shoppers or cause a loss of attention. The most successful mobile experiences (if we measure capturing attention as success) are rewarding users with dopamine with every new notification or post. They are fast, engaging, and feel natural to interact with.

Great Expectations

When shopping, a retailers’ user experience isn’t just being compared to a like-for-like retailer, it’s being compared to all other mobile experiences. With just a few taps and swipes of their mobile device, today’s connected consumer can have a car outside their door, a meal from their favorite restaurant, and even their perfect match to share it with. We’re used to having what we want, when we want it, and that makes shoppers increasingly intolerant of digital experiences that fail to deliver.

The impact of slow performance on your shoppers.

The impact of slow performance on your shoppers.

Shoppers want to feel a connection to your brand. They want to find, browse, select, and purchase products in a way that’s natural and intuitive on any device. They also want speed and a sense that things are happening immediately wherever they are – be it riding the subway, stuck in traffic, on coffee shop wifi, or lying on the couch.

Designing for Performance

When shoppers are disappointed the results can be devastating for retailers. Performance must be factored into every new digital project if it’s to capture the attention of today’s shoppers.

Performance is too often thought of as a solely technical problem that needs to be tackled by developers. However, designers now have access to a large suite of tools and technology to help champion site speed.

By factoring performance into the design process (what we’ve coined Performant Design), designers are not only helping shoppers stay on task and shop with less frustration, they are demonstrating a heightened respect for their users’ attention – the new measure of success.

I highly recommend reading more about the 5 principles of Performant Design as you work toward creating an attention-grabbing (and holding) shopping experience.

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