StudioGerART | Nudging the purchase of perishables in web shops: the case of non-native habitats
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Nudging the purchase of perishables in web shops: the case of non-native habitats

By Martijn Volger and Gerard Loosschilder

The share of e-commerce in the global retail business is on the rise, expected to be 14.6% up from 7.4% in 7.4% in 2015. However, the growth is steeper in some sectors than others. Expenditures are highest in apparel and accessories, and in computers and consumer electronics. Foods and beverages are lagging. Walker Sands (2016) found that only 5% of U.S. customers prefer to purchase groceries online versus 92% in a store. In his thesis project, Martijn Volger designed ways to entice consumers to purchase perishables online: by tagging it to the purchases of non-perishables on an e-commerce site that consumers primarily visit to purchase non-perishables, e.g., consumer electronics.

“NudgeLab helped me in a unique and innovative way throughout the process of creating my thesis. Not only did I learned skills that are very useful in the future, I am also supported by NudgeLab from the start to the final thesis.” – Martijn Volger

The goal is to drive trial; nudge consumers to buy perishables from an online store once or a few times; thereby building trust and easing the consumer into the situation of buying perishables more often, turning it into a habit. Martijn built three experimental webstores in which he tagged the purchase of perishables onto the purchase of products that consumers are already used to purchasing online:

  • Gadgets; items with a retail price of up to 20 Euros consisting of a selection of “random” items, e.g., phone peripherals but also books or board games
  • Consumer electronics; flat-screen televisions and mobile / smartphones with a retail value of up to 500 Euros
  • Kitchen appliances; consumer electronics with a retail price of up to 200 Euros that consumers may associate with perishables.

As a side effect, promoting the perishables online may also nudge consumers into healthier nutrition by reaching consumers who already start to do many purchases online and may become less inclined to go to a supermarket for their daily groceries.

Martijn choose several products for perishables: fruits (bananas and oranges), dairy products (eggs) and meats (ham, T-bone steak and spare ribs), offered as separate units (e.g., a single orange for 50 cents) and in bulk (e.g., a bag of oranges for 5 euros). He included four types of nudges tagging the purchase of the dominant products of the web shop:

  1. Offer the perishables as another set of products among the dominant products in the web shop
  2. Same as 1, but in the introductory text at the top of the web shop, it said “50% of the visitors of this web shop have bought perishables (such as fruit, eggs and meat) in the past 10 days.”
  3. Same as 1, but in the introductory text at the top of the web shop, it said “Visitors of this web shop have bought on average for €2 on perishables (such as fruit, eggs and meat).”
  4. Same as 1, but in the introductory text at the top of the web shop, it said “The web shop offers a free fruit bowl worth €4 when buying at least one of the products with the fruit bowl symbol.”
  5. A control situation was included to study consumer purchases in absence of the nudges and act as a comparison for the other four situations.

You can find links to the web shops in the table below.

Consumers or participants in the study were given a budget in each web shop to see how they would complement the purchase of the “natural” item by perishable goods: 20 euros in the gadget store; 500 euros in the consumer electronics store and 200 euros in the kitchen appliances store. In nudge 2 and 3, a social norm of conformism was implemented, suggesting that we prefer to do what we see that others are doing, which may drive the uptake of perishables in this non-natural e-commerce habitat. In the 4th nudge, consumers did not have to spend money on the purchase of perishables. It would be added automatically upon the choice of an item that was marked with the fruit basket icon.

Results of Martijn’s experiment will be available by the end of June 2017.

© Martijn Volger, student in the Master of Marketing track, Rotterdam School of Management, cohort 2016-2017, E:

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