Gruen Transfer for eCommerce?

Generally used in shopping mall design, the Gruen transfer refers to the moment, when a shopper enters a mall and is purposely distracted by ‘scripted disorientation’.  The layout, the sites, the lighting, the music, even the plants are all designed to distract the shopper from their original intention. The effect of this distraction is a “slower walking pace and glazed eyes”(1).

While this is all fine and dandy for your brick and mortar stores, does the Gruen tranfer apply to online shopping and ecommerce? In a word – absolutely.

eCommerce is determined by the speed of byte or so we think. Most in ecommerce know, that the longer someone lingers, the less likely that person is to make a purchase. Right? Well, let’s say sometimes yes and sometimes no. It’s a little more complex than a fast loading page…

GoDaddy Gruen
If you have a domain hosted with GoDaddy or have registered a domain with Godaddy, you know, the checkout process is long. You’re going to be prompted with at least 4 pages of suggested additions, each more confusing to use and you’re more likely to add an item to your cart by mistake. Enough of those people proceed with checkout just so they don’t have to go back and figure out how to remove the item. I call it “the baby in the cart” technique, but I am sure there’s a better name. Regardless of nomenclature, it works and that’s the real bottom line. But beware, this method can really backfire in the wrong market. GoDaddy is the Park Place of domain registrars and they can do pretty much anything they want and get away with it.



Buffering… Loading… Please Wait?
An often under recognized function of ecommerce is patience. The patience of the shopper. Pages need to load, we know that, but what the shopper does while the page is loading is as important as the why they’re waiting. The Gruen transfer occurs on the macro and also a much more personal level with ecommerce. There’s nobody around to distract them, so you need to keep them occupied, even when they’re waiting for pages to load.

Wait for it…
The shoppers percieved time waiting for a page to load is greatly influenced by their level of participation. That participation is influence by even the simplest of methods: a “loading bar”. Two identical pages, with identical load times will be perceived as a different time, by simply adding a “loading message”. With a loading message, viewers were tuned into the loading message and their gaze (and mouse) was less likely to drift or exit.  By simply adding a loading message on checkout pages and pages that required filing, the viewer was willing to wait up to 60% longer, while their perceived wait time remained the same (2).  However, the loading message also played a role on the perceived wait time. “Loading” seemed to rank the highest in time vs. perceived time while “Please Wait” had the lowest perceived wait time. Maybe you shouldn’t tell the shopper their waiting: postponed, lagged, on-hold, delayed…. let them know something is happening and they’ll wait for it. Tell them to wait or just having a twirling cursor isn’t enough. You need to distract the shopper from realizing how long it takes and just showing the shopper something is happening has a higher conversion than no information.

You Might Also Like
Shoppers who bought widget A also bought widget B. The Gruen transfer is about culture and the culture of shopping applies to the online approach as well. New clothes, the latest styles, that must-have new device, they’re all driven by a desire to be in the herd and there’s nothing more compeling to an object as those desired by others. Enough consumers will react to this scripted distration to make it worth while. Offering suggested items in the cart that are relevant to the item they chose not only increases conversions, it also increases average checkout totals and that’s your bottom line.

Suggest to a friend, add to wishlist, add to registry, you might also like. they’re all intended to distract you to increase your time on site and increasing your cart total. And it works.

The bottom line, getting customers served quickly is important in ecommerce, but there are things an ecommerce sight can use to increase time on the site while making the shopper believe it was a fast experience. Those who do it well can expect an increase in traffic, conversions and profits.



1: Crawford M., (1992), The World in a Shopping Mall, in Sorkin M., (ed.), Variations on a Theme Park: the new American City and the end of Public Space, Hill & Wang, New York, (1992)

2: Nicholson P, (1998), Call to Non-Action; Buffer the Web, Dawhoo.com  (1998)