February 1, 2007, 12:00 AM

Studying how online consumers plan their time for shopping

Is how an Internet user approaches time management a key factor in how to successfully market to that person? Yes—a potentially significant one, a new study suggests.

Is how an Internet user approaches time management a key factor in how to successfully market to that person? Yes-a potentially significant one, a new study suggests.

“Time planning style is an important construct for marketers to consider since it impacts the specific benefits sought from web usage,” asserts the study, “Pleasure or Utility? Time planning style and web usage behaviors,” from researchers at the University of Missouri-Columbia College of Business, Quinnipiac University and the Ivey Business School at the University of Western Ontario, published in the Journal of Interactive Marketing.

The data make the case that though two consumers go online to shop, what constitutes the ideal online experience will differ depending on how each personally values time. The researchers categorized time planning habits by placing web users in two categories: “hedonistic,” those who use the Internet for pleasure or leisurely purposes, and “utilitarian,” those who go online for specific reasons or tasks.

So-called hedonistic web users pursue exploratory, entertainment purposes online, while utilitarian users more often pursue information search. But though their motivations differ, the study found both go online to shop. Since their approach to shopping online is different, so should be the approaches of online retailers out to capture either type of shopper, the study argues.

Web marketers catering to customers who are utilitarian shoppers should be less concerned with bells and whistles and offer more of a means-end driven interface. By contrast, a site delivering an experience to a spontaneous time planner might offer sounds, entertaining hyperlinks and ways to share the site experience with others.

But how about the online retailer that wants to reach both types of shopper? The researchers suggest an approach in which web sites would eventually tailor the content and the interface to an individual’s styles. A site could be designed to quickly assess a visitor’s time planning style with a few questions on a first visit, subsequently presenting alternative layouts and content on future visits based on that response.

And time-planning style isn’t the only lesser-examined individual attribute that could be of value to online marketers looking at segmentation, suggests the study report, which concluded by throwing the ball out to others in the field. “Further work that identifies other relevant individual-different variables, and clarified their links to the benefits sought from web use and actual web behavior, should provide an even better basis for marketers to customize web site content and behavior,” it says.

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