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Table of contents
1. An examination of consumer browsing behaviors........................................................................................ 1
Bibliography...................................................................................................................................................... 17

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An examination of consumer browsing behaviors


Author: Xia, Lan
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Abstract: Browsing is a common consumer behavior, but it has not been researched extensively. The aim of this
paper is to fill some of the gaps in the research. Drawing on literature from different areas, consumers' browsing
experiences, browsing patterns, and factors influencing browsing activities are empirically examined. A
combination of interviews and shopping trips with informants to examine the issues are used. The results show
that browsing serves both functional and recreational purposes. Consumers vary by the degree to which they
browse functionally or recreationally. Browsing behaviors are influenced by both consumer characteristics and
the retail environment. Browsing is a powerful consumer information acquisition activity and has both desired
and undesired consequences for consumer purchases. Consumers use various strategies to cope with the
undesired consequences. Exploration of browsing patterns and factors influencing these patterns suggests
important managerial implications for enhancing desirable browsing and reducing unnecessary browsing. The
conceptualization and findings of this research contribute to two areas of research: consumer information
search and consumer shopping behaviors in retail environments. An examination of the role of browsing offers
an empirical extension to the information acquisition framework.
Full text: Browsing is a common human behavior in everyday life. For example, people browse newspapers to
see what is new, go window-shopping, look for materials in the library, and scan television channels. Browsing
has long been recognized as an integral part of consumer information acquisition ([5] Bloch et al. , 1989).
Consumer browsing is also a major activity in the retail environment, and it may have a considerable effect on
store traffic and sales ([43] Bloch et al ., 1994; [30] Underhill, 1999). However, there has been little systematic
study of the concept of browsing ([18] Kwasnik, 1992). Using a combination of qualitative interviews and
shopping trips with consumers, this research examines consumer browsing experiences, factors influencing
browsing activities, and the impact of browsing on consumer purchases. In the following, an overview of
browsing behaviors and summarized literature on browsing, shopping, and the retail environment is provided.
A brief overview of browsing behaviors
[5] Bloch et al. (1989) defined browsing as ongoing information search activity that is not associated with an
immediate purchase task. [16] Jarboe and McDaniel (1987) also pointed out that browsing basically is shopping
behavior that is not directly motivated by a purchasing intent. Browsing can be simply recreational windowshopping or a way of gathering information to be used later.
In library science studies, browsing is described as different types of "looking" activities for which initial search
criteria are only partly defined ([8] Cove and Walsh, 1987). It can simply mean glances in a casual way ([40]
Bankapur, 1988). In computerized information systems, browsing tends to be defined as an activity intended to
understand the information environment, and an alternative or the prelude to a more structured search.
Browsing is used to answer the question "what's there?" without involving a higher level of information
processing and integration ([28] Spence, 1999). Definitions from various fields indicate that browsing can serve
both functional and recreational purposes. This conclusion is consistent with research on consumer shopping in
general. Browsing is an inherent part of shopping, which can be both work and fun (e.g. [2] Babin et al. , 1994).
Few research studies have examined the factors influencing browsing. [16] Jarboe and McDaniel (1987)
created an index of browsing to characterize browsers and non-browsers in shopping malls. They found that
browsers tend to be employed females, somewhat downscale compared to other mall patrons, having lower
levels of education and income. They tend to be younger than non-browsers and to have a larger family size.
Browsers have high brand awareness. They exhibit a greater level of self-confidence, social extroversion,
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tension and enthusiasm. However, demographic and personality factors do not reveal consumers' browsing
experiences and do not factor in the influence of the shopping environment.
Browsing, shopping, and retail environments
There has been little literature on consumer browsing patterns per se . However, since browsing is part of
shopping, research on shopping patterns may shed some light on consumer browsing experiences. Consumers
shop for different purposes ([44] Tauber, 1972), and shopping is both work and fun ([2] Babin et al. , 1994).
Early research has demonstrated the difference between economic shoppers and recreational shoppers ([41]
Bellenger and Korgaonker, 1980; [42] Bellenger et al ., 1977). Economic shoppers tend to be driven by task
shopping motives, and recreational shoppers tend to be driven by non-task shopping motives. The two motives
differentially influence the type of consumer interests, attention and time allocation in shopping.
[29] Titus and Everett (1995) developed a consumer retail search process consisting of a functional strategy
and a hedonic strategy; these strategies correspond to the two identified shopping motives. A functional
strategy is characterized by walking fast in a linear path, making few stops, spending little time looking at
shelves, quickly handling the searched products, and leaving the store. A hedonic strategy is characterized by
walking slowly, make many long stops and examining numerous products, and taking a complex path that
covers the entire store.
Drawing from research on consumer shopping, I propose that browsing can help consumers achieve functional
needs such as locating a target product, obtaining a specific piece of information, or getting familiar with the
layout of a store. In functional browsing, browsing is a means to an end. Many times it serves the function of
information acquisition, and browsing is dynamically intertwined with searching. On the other hand, browsing
can be an end in itself. When consumers window-shop, are attracted to some products that they are interested
in although not intending to buy, or flip through a catalog just to keep themselves informed of the latest fashion
trends, browsing becomes a recreational activity. Whether consumers buy or not, this type of browsing offers
consumers a form of entertainment.
Further, it is proposed that browsing motives and patterns depend on both consumer characteristics (e.g.
internal motivations) and the external shopping environment. The browsing index of [16] Jarboe and McDaniel
(1987) suggested some internal influences including consumers' personality traits. They compared browsers
and non-browsers with [41] Bellenger and Korgaonker's (1980) topology of economic versus recreational
shoppers and concluded that browsers can fit into both categories. Hence, instead of being purely functional or
purely recreational browsers, I expect that consumers browse for multiple purposes; the difference will be the
degree to which they browse functionally or recreationally and their experiences with browsing.
While internal motivations drive browsing goals, consumers' browsing activities and browsing experiences can
be greatly influenced by the retail shopping environment. Although little empirical research has addressed
consumer browsing behaviors and the influence of retail environments, there has been plenty of research on the
influence of the retail environment on general shopping behaviors. For example, research has shown that good
retail displays encourage consumers to browse and lead to increased sales ([30] Underhill, 1999). On the other
hand, ill-designed floor layouts or product displays may force consumers to browse in order to find a desired
product ([9] d'Astous, 2000). In addition, research has also suggested that a store layout influences consumer
information processing, development of a cognitive map, and finding targets in the store ([12] Hackett et al. ,
1993). Natural stimuli such as color (e.g. [3] Bellizzi et al. , 1983), background music (e.g. [45] Yalch and
Spangenberg, 1993), and odor (e.g. [27] Spangenberg et al. , 1996) have also been studied. Results have
indicated that these factors generally influence consumer behaviors subliminally through consumers' mood
states. [11] Donovan et al . (1994) found that shoppers who experienced pleasure in the shopping environment
spent more time in the store, spent more money on total purchases, and showed a greater desire to
communicate with the store staff.
Some social factors such as retail crowding (e.g. [15] Hui and Bateson, 1991) have also been studied. Results
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showed that store density led to perceived crowdedness, which had a negative effect on consumer affect and
shopping experiences. Finally, shopping in a traditional retail store involves a navigation strategy - physically
moving around and searching for or looking at products. [29] Titus and Everett (1995) suggested that
consumers' perceptions of "environmental legibility" and "stimulation" influence their selection of navigation
strategies in the store. Environmental legibility is defined as the extent to which the environmental design allows
people to extract and comprehend relevant information about the environment. Stimulation refers to the level of
sensory stimulation provided by the environment. Since retail environments differ in terms of these
configurations, navigation strategies may differ.
In summary, research has long demonstrated that the retail environment influences consumer behaviors ([21]
Markin et al. , 1976). A shopping environment provides a combination of various external stimuli that influence
consumers' behaviors. Although these studies did not address the issue of browsing per se , browsing is part of
shopping activities. Consumers search for information and/or just browse while they move around in the store.
How consumers browse in a store and what information is acquired may depend on how consumers interact
with the specific retail environment. Finally, although browsing is conceptualized as information acquisition
without purchase intent, browsing may nevertheless lead to purchases, directly or indirectly.
Overall, browsing may mean different things to different consumers. It can be entertaining for some consumers
but could become work for others. It can be driven by consumers' inherent motivation to browse and/or induced
by the shopping environment. The review of literature shows that no previous research has specifically
examined the consumer browsing process and experiences across different retail outlets ([4] Bloch and Richins,
1983; [16] Jarboe and McDaniel, 1987). In this research, the focus is on consumer browsing experiences and
examine factors influencing browsing patterns and activities across different retail outlets.
Methodology
In-depth interviews together with accompanied shopping trips with informants were used. Twelve informants
were recruited in a mid-sized city in Midwest USA through e-mail newsgroups and store postings. Informants
were balanced by gender, with ages ranging from 20s to 50s. Each informant went through a 30-40 minute
interview session. Interviews were constructed following [20] McCracken (1988). During the interview,
informants were asked to explain what browsing means to them and their browsing habits. Then, they were
asked to recall one of their recent shopping trips and to describe all aspects of the shopping trip including
browsing activities. They were asked when, where, and how they browse, and the influences of browsing on
their shopping activities. Eight of the 12 informants agreed to be accompanied on their shopping trips after the
first interview. The researcher accompanied each of the eight informants on one or two shopping trips. The
researcher observed informants' shopping behaviors unobtrusively while taking field notes. A 30-40 minute
follow-up interview was conducted after each shopping trip. The follow-up interview focused on that specific trip.
After asking informants to recall the particular shopping trip, the interviewer questioned how and why they
browsed in a certain way based on the field notes. The author conducted all the interviews and shopping trip
observations. The method of combining interview and shopping trip has been used in previous research ([23]
Otnes et al. , 1995). This method is particularly beneficial to this research since combining interviews and
shopping trips can provide information not only on how informants browse, but also why they browse in a
specific way. The profiles of the participants are presented in Table I [Figure omitted. See Article Image.].
Analysis and findings
All interviews were recorded and then transcribed. After each shopping trip, I explored browsing strategies and
patterns used in the shopping trips. Questions that emerged from the shopping trips were further pursued in the
follow-up interviews. Coding of the transcripts was guided by the research questions pursued and the data itself.
For shopping trips, informants' activities, including both physical movements in the store and major eye/head
movements were coded. Informants' browsing strategies/patterns were coded. In addition, special store settings
and situations during shopping trips were coded. During interviews, informants' accounts of their motivations,
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familiarity and attitude toward the store, feelings, and thoughts associated with browsing were also coded.
To identify patterns and themes in the data, the guidelines ([20] McCracken, 1988) were followed, sensitive to
both potential patterns revealed by the literature review and potential unexpected patterns revealed by the data.
The findings were organized in three parts. First, to illustrate what browsing means to consumers. Next, to
explore different browsing experiences and factors influencing these experiences. Finally, to discuss the
consequences of browsing for ultimate purchases and consumers' coping strategies with these consequences.
Consumer interpretation of browsing
First, although browsing has been defined as information search without a purchase intention ([5] Bloch et al. ,
1989), consumers do not clearly separate browsing from purchase intentions. Second, browsing does not
merely serve as an informal information search activity. Browsing helps to accumulate market as well as
product knowledge and prepare consumers for potential purchases, yet at the same time, it is casual, fun,
exciting, relaxing, and it helps to kill time. Hence, browsing is both recreational and functional. Most participants
recognize the two different purposes of browsing although they do not necessarily do both in their own browsing
activities:
If I am looking for a shirt, I don't know what kind exactly so I browse the color and style. But there's also
browsing where I am just looking for fun, I don't have intention to buy anything. So it goes either way. But you
know, my husband and I don't browse very often without intent to buy. This is not pleasurable time (Stefanie).
Similar to Stefanie, most participants pointed out the multifaceted nature of browsing but indicated that some
aspects of browsing are more important to them than others. For example, Diane emphasized the recreational
aspect of browsing; Amy saw browsing primarily as a prelude to targeted searching, while Eileen emphasized
the role of browsing as keeping up with the trends.
[Browsing is] Just looking around, not necessarily with the goal of purchasing something, getting something,
ending up somewhere, but just wandering around, to see if anything catches your eyes or to see if anything is
interesting (Diane).
Browsing is, basically, I don't know what I want and have to look around, see different things, and think. For
example, if I want to buy a shirt but don't know what kind of shirt I want, I probably will go to one store, to
another, then another, look around, and think about it (Amy).
To me, [browsing is] just looking, window shopping, not really tapping anything, just wandering, or just to see
what's going on (Eileen).
Data showed that participants exhibited different degrees of browsing for different purposes. I observed both
functional and hedonic browsing. As expected, the functional - hedonic dichotomy is overly simplistic because
many consumers shop with both motivations at the same time. Different shopping motivations could result in the
same shopping patterns, and the same shopping behaviors could be driven by either motive. Hence, I
categorize consumers into three different groups based on their browsing experiences. Next, I will describe
these three categories and the browsing experiences and forces that shape these browsing behaviors in each
category.
Consumer browsing experiences

The addicted browser. The addicted browsers browse as long as they have time in a variety of retail settings.
They are internally motivated although also influenced by the shopping environment. At a closer examination,
two types of addicted browsers were identified: one is driven by the browsing experiences, and one is driven by
the goal of finding bargains.
First, the experience seekers are inherent and intrinsic browsers. They browse whenever they can, and they
even try to find time to browse. Browsing makes them happy. For experience seekers, browsing means merely
looking around and is not necessarily associated with purchase. They intrinsically enjoy browsing and immerse
themselves in the browsing experience. Among the informants, Gina is a typical experience seeker:
I guess [browsing means] just looking at things and I don't have the intention to buy. Just to look at them,
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experience them, but not necessarily purchase them (Gina).


Shopping and browsing make experience seekers excited. They are internally motivated to browse and excited
whenever there is a chance to browse and shop. For example, when describing a trip to a mall, Gina expressed
how excited she was even before getting to the mall:
We really pushed ourselves because they are going to close at 5. So, it was a big rush to see everything by 5
o'clock. We feel really pressured and we knew that by 5 o'clock we really need to go, sit somewhere and relax.
We really didn't buy that much ... but were just excited to see those things, things we can't afford, things we
would like to afford. I think we just want to be there and look (Gina).
For experience seekers, the most important goal is not to buy, but to experience the excitement of looking at the
appealing merchandise. For example, Gina went to a Laura Ashley store. She bought a bottle of room spray but
spent a long time in the store.
I probably spent, yeah, almost one hour in that store, and I bought one Ashley spray. You know I didn't buy one
item for that long time. But I looked at everything. Even pieces of clothing that wouldn't look good on me, I still
wanted to look at them, I still wanted to feel them ... I went to the back, and at the back, they have baby clothes.
I don't even have children, but I probably spent at least 20 minutes because the clothes are so beautiful. It is
just so sweet and beautiful (Gina).
Because what matters to experience seekers is experience, they are sensitive to various stimulations in the
shopping environment. A store environment that offers a higher level of stimulation is attractive to them, hence
inducing browsing behaviors:
When I was standing outside [the Laura Ashley store] and looking at the window, it was kind of relaxing. You
are like "yeah, this feels really familiar and you want to get in" ... We walked in, and you know the store catches
you and the music catches you. The people attract you because they wear those [brand of] clothes ...
Everything is so great in that particular store (Gina).
Different stores serve different functions and offer different levels of simulation. Typically, consumers are more
likely to browse in one type of store than another. For example, gift stores, crafts stores, and specialty stores
serve primarily hedonic purposes, while grocery stores serve primarily functional needs. Consumers may find
browsing more interesting in the former rather than the latter. However, the experience seekers, due to their
strong internal motivation to browse, tend to browse in any type of store:
If I know that I have time, even if I don't have time, even from my lunch hour, even for a hardware store that I
have never had interest in, I would somehow find a reason to look at things. Once I'm there, because I entered
[the store] by chance or something like that, once I'm there, I'm like "oh, stuffs are cool. Look at those hammers
that I don't have in my house." You know these are the things I wouldn't intentionally buy myself, but I am at the
hardware store and there are these big aisles with little things and I really like to look at them. I'll almost be late
[for work], because I'm looking at things, things that I don't even need or want (Gina).
However, certain store elements can also turn the experience seekers off. These elements may include lack of
stimulation, poor store layout, noise level, crowding, and the presence of other shoppers, which make it difficult
for browsers to enjoy themselves. For example, Gina talked about her grocery shopping experience in Aldi and
Wal-Mart. Although both are grocery stores, she had different browsing experiences due to differences in the
store environments:
There's not anything really interesting to look at [in Aldi]. The food never changes. For every once a while, they
add something, but not very often. So it's always the same thing. Whereas at Walmart, they put the Harry Potter
books at the front the other day. So I think "oh, look at Harry Potter there, look at that, they brought different
things." At the July 4th, they have the Fourth of July bakery. Though I don't even eat sugar, but I looked at those
and those were interesting. [In Aldi] Their aisles are not small, but they feel small. There's always a large family
of people trying to look at everything. I don't like it, it just feels small there. It's always so busy and crowded, so
loud. It's just very uncomfortable going around people. And people are rude there ... Then I am like "oh, I just
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want to get my stuff and leave". So, I always have a list [when shopping in Aldi]. I know exactly what I'm buying
in that store ... even if it's busy, I can usually get through in 10 minutes. Once I get to Wal-Mart, I really have to
force myself to be as structured as I was. But I will still almost always go that way, and just kind of look, just see,
even if I can't afford anything. It takes at least half an hour to get through Wal-Mart (Gina).
Second, the bargain hunters/information seekers also intrinsically enjoy browsing and browse whenever they
can. However, they also browse with a mission. They gather information, monitor prices, and try to develop a
thorough understanding of the market, stores, and brands. Their enjoyment of browsing is primarily derived from
the ability to get purchase ideas, to find good deals, and to know they get their money's worth when it comes to
purchasing:
I go to the music section in the bookstore. Not that I want to buy them, but I can check out what are the new
songs out there, just in case when people ask me. Like when my mom checks with me for Christmas gift ideas, I
can give her some hints on what I like (Amy).
Usually when I buy things, I am pretty good about things like how much money I'll spend. I don't have that much
or at least I'm a person who's thrifty, I like to keep what I earned. So I try to find the best deals, I'll look around,
and then I just go and compare prices, even if that takes time (Eileen).
Eileen is a typical bargain hunter and information seeker. Talking about a recent purchase of a pair of shoes,
she said that she had been looking for over a year and half until she finally bought the shoes. During the trip to
buy the shoes, she browsed other merchandise, which potentially will prepare her for the next purchase:
I went to the mall to buy the shoes. I also went looking around because Mother's Day is coming so I was looking
around and then just try to see if there's any clothes that my mom would love. I am also looking at summer
shoes and actually I have been looking online too. I look around to see if there is something that I would like
"Oh, I want it" (Eileen).
Similar to experience seekers, bargain hunters/information seekers browse in various types of retail settings.
Eileen showed similar browsing motivations and patterns when shopping in a grocery store and shopping in the
mall. During the grocery shopping trip, she walked through most of the aisles in the store although she did not
buy anything from many aisles. She later explained why she went through the detergent aisle although she had
no intention to buy anything from that aisle:
I'll try to see what's going on and what's new on the market. I wanted to check it out. I am interested in the dry
cleaning kit. Of course I also wanted to get to the other side (of the aisle). It is convenient. So I just want to see
what's new, so that next time if I want a certain thing I can get it. That is basically why I went through the
detergent aisle (Eileen).
Browsing is a habit for bargain hunters/information seekers as well as for experience seekers. However, the
excitement and joy comes more from knowing what to buy and getting a good deal instead of the browsing
experience itself. Hence, bargain hunters/information seekers are less sensitive to external stimuli such as
various shopping environment. They lack the excitement that experience seekers have when it comes to
shopping and browsing. During the interviews, they rarely mentioned the influence of any particular elements of
the retail environment.

The balanced browser. The second major category identified is the balanced browser. To the balanced browser,
browsing is functional as well as hedonic. Browsing is necessary for becoming familiar with a new store or for
looking for a bargain. Browsing can also be fun when it concerns their favorite stores or type of products.
However, these consumers also realize that browsing takes effort and time, so they want to achieve a balance.
They try to minimize functional browsing and make sure that they do not browse excessively for fun either. The
majority of participants in the study belong to this group. For example, Jason likes cooking so he browses in
grocery stores. However, he also makes sure that his time and energy spent on browsing are not excessive, so
he goes only to one grocery store where he is familiar with the layout instead of visiting multiple stores:
I like it [browsing] because I like cooking, so I am sort of thinking about what I will make when I am walking
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around. I go at odd times when no one is busy there. I used to shop just at one store, usually at Schnuks
(Jason).
Balanced browsers enjoy browsing but are more selective than experience seekers and bargain hunters. Such
selectivity is based on both their personal interest and the type of stores. They browse mostly their favorite
products in their favorite stores. First, whether they browse for functional or recreational purposes depends
somewhat on the type of store. Many participants noted the differences in browsing activities between grocery
store or discount store shopping and other department or specialty store shopping:
I don't go to Wal-Mart and browse in Wal-Mart, or go to Target and browse in Target. Usually when I go to
Target or Wal-Mart I do have certain things that I want to buy. But when I go to a store in the Market Place Mall,
I do [browse]. These are the stores I like to browse in, to see what the trend is there. I think when we go to WalMart or Target, we have defined things to buy. I don't think we are necessarily browsing. When we go to WalMart, I know I need to buy a light bulb, to buy whatever, so there is no real need for browsing. I know I want to
buy this. But when we go to the mall, I know I have to buy clothes, but there are so many different types of
clothes, you really don't know what type, what kind you need. I think that's why elements of browsing are really
necessary to pick out things you really want. It is not just like a light bulb. It's something different than that. We
just don't go to Wal-Mart or Target just for the heck of it. There is a reason why we go there. But when I go with
my friend to the mall, when we browse, there might be no purpose to it. We might not need clothes. That's what
I am trying to get at. When I go there, I might not need any clothes at all, but I still buy one or two, a pair of
pants, a shirt, and things like that (Jeremiah).
When it comes to hedonic browsing, customers tend to have their favorite stores and they try to limit their
browsing to those stores so it is more manageable. For example, Jason indicated that he goes to Banana
Republic about twice a year and T.J. Maxx about once or twice a month. These stores satisfied his desire for
recreational browsing:
I probably would go there [T.J. Maxx] maybe once or twice a month. So I have pretty good ideas of stuff there,
like suitcases. If I want to get a new suitcase, I would go there, because they have pretty nice suitcases. I go to
Banana Republic maybe twice a year. And so, you know when you are going everything is different, because
the store is in different season. And so when I go in, I just look at the new selection, look at all the clothes and
look at the styles. It's also because I try to be stylish. Sometimes I am concerned to buy, sometimes I am not.
So browsing to me is sort of like exploring what is the offer, taking a range of options open to you (Jason).
Balanced browsers occasionally show the same excitement as experience seekers, but only for certain types of
products. Hobbies are a major trigger that gets balanced browsers to browse passionately. For example,
Maggie loves Coca-Cola paraphernalia, and Eric browses electronic products whenever he gets a chance:
Everything related to Coca-Cola will catch my attention. I collect those. I go to the Coca-Cola store on the web
and I even bought some items through auctions. I can look at that stuff for hours (Maggie).
[I browse] electronic products. I've been doing this since I was a kid as a hobby. And then I went to school, and
worked on it almost through my life. I'm all the time looking for electronic products and various parts because
that's the thing I'm interested in (Eric).
Balanced browsers try to achieve a balance between seeking stimulation and seeking efficiency. For them,
each shopping trip usually means a mixture of functional and recreational browsing. They rarely go shopping
only for recreational purposes, but once they have achieved their purchase goals, they turn to some
unstructured browsing:
I have a basic idea of what I wanted. I knew I have to get my Tylenol, I knew I have to get my glasses, but I also
want to see a little bit of clothes, and a little bit of the linens and so on ... when I do that I get an idea of how can
I decorate my own house. And I see new color patterns, and I like things with color in it. So I like looking at them
(Maggie).
Balanced browsers are attracted by at least a moderate level of store stimuli such as unique decorations or
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displays in conjunction with special occasions:


In the mall, I usually like to walk around, especially in this Christmas season, and see the little things. They set
up in the middle, you know, crafts or T-shirts, things like that (Maggie).
Balanced browsers are also sensitive to factors that inhibit efficient functional browsing. They dislike retail
crowding. To be efficient, they shop at stores that they are familiar with, and they choose stores that have a
layout that they can effectively manage. They develop shopping routines for functional shopping and use the
help of store staff to minimize functional browsing:
If there is something specific that I'm looking for, and I don't know where it is, I ask right away, because I don't
want to wander around the whole store looking for it. And there are a lot of stores where they have the greeters
or whatever they are called, then you consider whether to ask. But this time, we knew what we wanted, and I
just wanted to get there, get it over, and not being distracted. Because Wal-Mart is really big, it's a huge store
and I couldn't wander (Diane).
If I have been there, I am more familiar with the arrangements of the shelves. I can just go directly to the
shelves I need. If I go to a new store, I probably have to get familiar with the arrangements of the store by
looking around and wandering around. And, that takes time. So I usually go to a place I am familiar with, unless
that bookstore does not carry the book I am interested in (Jeremiah).

The reluctant browser. Reluctant browsers browse the least. For reluctant browsers, shopping and browsing
only serve functional purposes. These shoppers only browse when it is necessary, and browsing primarily
serves the purpose of purchasing what they need. They do not enjoy browsing, and they want to be as efficient
as possible. Among the informants, Victoria, Denis, and Stefanie are typical reluctant browsers.
Browsing is just going in and looking. I do that as little as possible. I usually have the purpose and intention
when I go to the store, unless I go with a friend. I don't just go window shopping anymore (Victoria).
If I can just sit at home, and have everything brought to me, sure I would do that. I try to maximize my efficiency
in each store (Stefanie).
I don't enjoy shopping for no reason. It's not necessarily a leisure activity for me. If I want to escape or do
something fun, [I will] read a book or go to a movie or take a walk or something like that. I see browsing as a
utilitarian activity. So, if there's something I'm in the market for, I'll go to the retailer, and I'll ask questions. It's
not like if I'm bored or it's Saturday afternoon and I'll go to a store, and look around and see what they have
(Denis).
For reluctant browsers, browsing is a task and is a means to achieve an end (i.e. purchases). While experience
seekers tend to browse in all kinds of stores, reluctant browsers typically do not find any type of stores
attractive. To them, shopping is work, and there is not much fun in browsing. It is a good experience only when
browsing helps to achieve their purchase goals.
Hence, they do not enjoy a store environment that offers a high level of stimulation such as fancy displays,
noise or crowds:
I don't really like the mall very much, to be honest. I don't know what it is, it's seems very loud inside, it seems a
little bit chaotic (Denis).
They put more in the same space. And you feel like if you turn around, you will knock into something. They are
just too crowded. I just don't go because I feel too crammed in the store. I'll leave the store if there were too
many people. I just leave my cart and come back later. I prefer to shop when it's not really crowded (Victoria).
Shopping or browsing routines are very important to reluctant browsers because routines enhance efficiency.
Therefore, they want to stick to their routines and do not like stores that frequently change layout or shelf
displays:
I don't like stores changing layout because it takes more time for me. I know where to go to get an item. If they
are at the same place, I can just walk to that place. When you constantly change it around, then it takes me
more time. It's frustrating to find things that way (Victoria).
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The changing faces of browsers


In this research, I found that browsing patterns and behaviors of the three categories of browsers outlined
above are relatively stable. However, I also found situational variations due to external factors or some
permanent changes that take place during the life cycles of consumers. One factor that causes temporary
changes in browsing behavior is shopping companions, especially for balanced browsers. Shopping
companions can either promote or constrain the individual's regular browsing pattern. On one hand, shopping
companions make browsing and shopping a social event, hence more recreational:
[Browsing] is fun. It is something I usually will not do on my own. I usually go with my buddies, or my mom. We
look at things, try things on and give opinions to each other and laugh at it. Sometimes I go shopping with my
buddies. We look at clothes and find out what's new out there. A lot of times we end up not buying anything.
Just get to know the new things that come out, you know, window shopping (Amy).
On the other hand, when shopping with a reluctant browser, balanced browsers will curb their browsing
activities:
I don't browse when I shop with my husband. He doesn't really tolerate it because he doesn't have the patience.
He is like "hey, why don't you buy the stuff and let's get out of here" (Diane).
For experience seekers and reluctant browsers, the influence of shopping companions is less prominent
because addicted browsers can always find something interesting to browse, while reluctant browsers do not
tolerate too much browsing. For example, Gina went into a Ralph Lauren store because her friend wanted to.
Although she knew she would not buy anything there, she still spent time browsing and had a good time:
The size at Ralph Lauren is little bigger than the normal size. I wear about 18 so most of the clothes I really
can't fit into. So I didn't really focus on the clothes. But again when I walked in, just being in the store was
exciting. Just seeing these clothes, just watching the people and what they were buying (Gina).
Browsing behaviors also change over consumers' life cycles. It is observed that the addicted browsers tend to
be younger, while reluctant browsers tend to be older. However, most of the reluctant browsers commented that
they used to browse more and explained how their previous behavior had changed. Consumer demographics,
such as age, income, and marital status, as well as personalities change over the life span. These changes
exert influence on consumers' browsing patterns and experiences:
When I was younger, I browsed and I was looking. Like going to the mall and looking through the clothes,
through all the records, just looking at everything there. But now, I pretty much have certain purpose when I go
some place. I could put on my blinder and bypass everything else (Victoria).
When I was in college, I used to shop for clothes, stuff like that. I didn't mind doing it. I don't find those things
pleasing any more. My character changed a lot (Stefanie).
Similarly, some experience seekers become more balanced browsers over time, such as Maggie:
I used to shop a lot more. I used to make a lot more money than I do now. I would do a lot more shopping and
end up buying a lot more stuff that was kind of useless. You know, with my tight budget now, I have to be
careful of what I do now (Maggie).
Browsing and purchases
Although browsing is conceptually defined as activity without purchase intents, this research showed various
linkages between browsing and purchase. Browsing leads to direct and indirect, planned and unplanned, as
well as impulsive purchases. Data showed that different browsing patterns are associated with different
purchasing consequences. Consumers experience different emotions with these browsing consequences and
develop various coping strategies.
First, while browsing for experience seekers is hedonic in nature and purchasing is not the major incentive for
browsing, they do often end up with purchases. Such purchases are typically impulsive purchases. An impulsive
purchase is defined as an unplanned purchase that is subjectively biased toward immediate possession, which
is accompanied by relatively rapid decision making ([25] Rook and Gardner, 1993). It is usually characterized by
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higher emotional involvement and the urge to buy when consumers see a product. For example, Gina enjoyed
browsing in the Laura Ashley store and developed the urge to buy something although she did not plan to buy.
The store environment and the excitement experienced at the time drove her to make the purchase:
When I was in the Ashley store, I thought if I didn't buy something, didn't leave with something, I just wasted the
trip. I feel like I had to buy something and take home ... I bought actually room spray for $11. You know, I can
buy room spray at Target for $3. But it's really important to me that I bought this $11 room spray. The price in
that store is really high, and within that environment $11 is really cheap. When everything in the store is $100
and $50, if you see $11, you would think "oh, this is a bargain" and then when I'm in the car back home, I can't
believe I just bought an $11 room spray (Gina).
Impulsive purchase is usually not based on rational and careful thinking, and little thought is given to the
potential negative consequences of the purchase ([14] Hoch and Loewenstein, 1991). Therefore, impulsive
purchases tend to be associated with regret or other negative feelings afterwards, as shown with Gina's
purchase. To cope with impulsive purchases, experience seekers tried to limit browsing and the effect of
browsing on purchases. Gina tried to control herself and developed several coping strategies such as shopping
with a list or buying frozen food first to make herself hurry up. However, the desire to browse versus the need
for self-control is a constant struggle for her:
Last week, I shouldn't have bought things that are not on my list, like the muffins, those fat free chocolate
muffins. I end up "oh, because they are fat free and they are my diet, so I could buy". This is not something that
is on my list, but you know, they were $2.50. They were at a different place where you would not normally find
muffins. They were back by the milk. I had to buy milk, but I just saw there was muffin there. See, I was really
good that I wouldn't go to the bakery section, but then I still saw these muffins, so I ended up buying them
(Gina).
Second, browsing activities for bargain hunters/information seekers like Eileen are also closely related to
purchases. However, compared to experience seekers, bargain hunters/information seekers are more rational
in their purchases. Even when they seemingly make unplanned purchases, these purchases were usually not
impulsive and are not associated with negative emotions. For example, on a grocery shopping trip with Eileen, I
observed her picking up some White Castle hamburgers which were not on her list. During the interview she
revealed the rationale for the purchase:
[The White Castle is] something that happened by accident. When I was looking at the Hot Pockets, I saw White
Castle, I know White Castle has frozen burgers, which is as good as those in actual restaurants, but sometimes
in grocery stores, there's no White Castle brand, so I decided to pick up a box since it was $3. That's how I go
for it. It's just by accident, but it's also something that I was kind of looking for too (Eileen).
Although bargain hunters/information seekers are also concerned about browsing too much, they do not have
strong negative emotions associated with their browsing and purchases. In addition, it seems easier for them to
control their browsing activities than it is for experience seekers:
I will go aisle by aisle. If I'm in something like the candy aisle, I'll skip over it. Because I love candy, so I try to
skip over the candy (Eileen).
Third, balanced browsers do not browse extensively, and their browsing serves both functional and recreational
purposes. Most of them go shopping with a purchase intention. Functional browsing helps them to locate the
product or help to determine a formal information search strategy, hence directly or indirectly leading to
purchases:
When I know I'm looking for something, it's pretty much the only time I go to a store. When I go shopping, I
expect to spend money. In general, when I go to a store, I just walk in, look around, and if something doesn't
catch my eye immediately, I'll just leave. If it's not an immediate attraction, I'll just forget about it. So I'll just go
somewhere else (Eric).
In addition, balanced browsers also browse for fun, especially after they fulfill their goal-directed purchase tasks.
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While they browse, they may find bargains or catch something that they think they may need, hence directly
leading to purchases:
I go in and get whatever, basically, milk, eggs, bread. And I'll go and look at the special aisle to see what's on
sale. That's just interesting. I really enjoy getting out of the store and knowing that it saved me a buck. I feel
really good (Eric).
I figured that I would find something to buy. They had a lot of stuff, especially like frames. I tried to find cheap
but nice things. So I figured out if I look around, I would probably buy something. That's why I went [with my
neighbor to T.J. Maxx], because I know they have nice and cheap house stuff (Jason).
For balanced browsers, the most important criterion is to achieve a balance between being able to enjoy
themselves and finding bargains through browsing, and not spending too much time and energy on it. They
sometimes feel they browse too much when they end up with many unplanned purchases. For example, Eric
complained about his grocery shopping:
I find that I spend more money there than I want to because I always see something that I think I need. So it
never ends up being a simple shopping trip when I put three or four things on the list. I put three or four things
on the list, and end up with 12. That's not a problem with Meijer (a grocery store), that's a problem with me
(Eric).
But balanced browsers usually are able to control themselves. To achieve the balance, they apply strategies
such as limiting the stores they shop at, sticking to their shopping routines to be more efficient, or staying brandloyal:
If I see something good I usually can't get myself to forget it. So I try not to spend too much time. Like I don't go
down the snacks aisle every time, I don't go down the cereal aisle. Usually I just stick to what I want. The one
aisle I will browse is the wine aisle, I'll see if they have any wine on sale. Maybe I'll browse the seafood to see if
they have anything really cheap (Jason).
Finally, reluctant browsers do not enjoy browsing. They typically will not browse except when they have to.
Hence, browsing is purely for functional purposes, and it is always associated with purchases. Browsing is only
a means to an end. Therefore, for reluctant browsers, the most important objective is to maximize efficiency and
reduce unnecessary browsing. To cope with this issue, they devised many strategies. For example, Jeremiah
only visited familiar stores:
If I have been there, I am more familiar with the arrangements of the shelves; I can just go directly to the
shelves. If I go to a new store, I probably have to get familiar with the arrangement of the store by looking
around and wandering around. And, that takes time. So I usually go to a place I am familiar with, unless that
bookstore does not carry the book I am interested in (Jeremiah).
Stefanie stays brand-loyal:
My tennis shoes for example, there's a certain kind of shoe I want. You know, they feel good on my foot, and so
I go buy that one. Because I haven't had in love with any other brand (Stefanie).
Victoria used a list when shopping, intentionally chose stores that have fewer product choices, and shopped by
phone when possible instead of going to the stores:
First I'll make a general list. I always take a list, unless there's just one thing I need. If there are two things, I'll
take a list. I shop at small local stores because they don't have so many brands as the supermarket. It's quicker.
I can go in and pick up what I want because it's not as many choices (Victoria).
However, even reluctant browsers do a substantial amount of browsing, but in an efficient way. For example,
Denis described himself as a grab-and-go type of shopper and tried to minimize his time in the store. I observed
him grab a pair of shorts while shopping at Sam's Club. However, while talking about buying the shorts during
the interview, he revealed that it is not as simple as grab-and-go:
They had them [the shorts] there for a while. I noticed them. It's like maybe a month or so. And I think I fairly
noticed that they were on sale. I also noticed at home that couple of shorts that I had developed some holes. I
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had them for several years, [they were] probably ready to go. So that was kind of what was really driving that
purchase. I think I probably saw [them] on sale first, and then I notice at home that I can actually use a pair of
shorts (Denis).
He further explained how he browsed efficiently, trying to minimize the time and effort spent while acquiring
sufficient purchase information:
While during each trip, I probably don't spend very much time browsing, but if you add up, like all the browsing I
did during shopping trips, it ends up to a lot of time. Rather than spending a block of time just going and looking,
I'll try to look while I'm doing something else. Try to be as efficient as possible, maximize what I get during the
time I spend on shopping for other things. Like the shorts, for example. There're a lot of other items in Sam's,
too. From time to time, they had like a set of lights and the laundry hamper. We needed something like that. We
looked around, and after we saw them there in a month or so, we bought them. I don't spend a lot of time
browsing. You know I remember what I'm seeing from my previous trip, so I would count that as sort of
browsing (Denis).
Overall, although browsing is information acquisition without purchase intent, this research showed that
browsing has both direct and indirect influences on purchases. Browsing leads to impulse purchases driven by
consumers' motivation to browse and the stimulation of the retail environment. Impulse purchases are typically
associated with negative emotions after purchase. Not all unplanned purchases are impulsive. Browsing may
stimulate recognition of needs and help consumers develop a desire for a certain product. Seeing a product on
display may make consumers realize that it is something that they want. Recognition of the need frequently
leads to immediate purchase or purchase in the near future although the purchase may not be planned.
Browsing also leads to indirect purchase. Obtaining information for a future purchase reference is the most
common (indirect) influence browsing has on purchases. While shopping for products that they intend to look for
and buy, consumers are also visually attracted to other products. Such browsing may provide ideas and
information for future purchases. Browsing may also be used as a precursor of searching. In these situations,
browsing serves the function of refining consumers' needs and helping them to decide on what product they
would like to purchase. As I illustrated above, the influence of browsing on purchases varies in consumers'
browsing experiences depending on their browsing patterns.
Conclusion and implications
While browsing is common, it has not been studied systematically in marketing. This research contributes to our
understanding of browsers and their experiences as well as the impact of browsing on information acquisition
and purchases. First, little research has examined consumers' experiences in browsing. The browsing index of
[16] Jarboe and McDaniel (1987) pointed out the influence of psychographic, demographic, and personality
influences. In this research, I offer a richer description of browsers based on the examination of their
experiences. Corresponding to research in consumer shopping experiences, I identified both functional and
recreational browsing. The two browsing motivations co-exist for most consumers. However, consumers vary in
their preferred level of browsing for recreational or functional purposes; hence, their browsing experiences
differ. Browsing behavior is a function of both consumer internal forces (i.e. motivations) and external forces (i.e.
the retail environment).
In addition, the research shows that browsing patterns change over time. Changes in consumer age, marital
status, as well as income prompt changes in consumer motivations to browse, therefore altering browsing
patterns and experiences. While the retail environment has long been demonstrated to influence consumers'
shopping behaviors, it also influences browsing experiences. However, since many environment stimuli such as
color, olfactory sensations, and background music have less cognitively dominant influence on behaviors, these
factors were not mentioned as influences by study participants. These elements combined offer a certain level
of store stimulation. As the results show, addicted browsers and balanced browsers are more attracted by a
higher level of store stimulation than reluctant browsers. Two retail elements that were mentioned by most
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participants are store layout and crowding. Changes in store layout could be used to offer a higher level of
stimulation in order to enhance recreational browsing, but at the same time a stable store layout can minimize
functional browsing and enhance efficiency. Retail stores may analyze their consumer base to gauge consumer
needs. For stores with most repeat and loyal visitors such as grocery stores and drug stores, a stable layout
could be preferred. For stores with primarily new or infrequent visitors, changes in store layout together with the
products may offer a higher level of stimulation and encourage browsing.
Retail crowding was mentioned by most participants; it consistently has a negative impact on browsing, both
functional and recreational. Retail stores may alleviate the negative impact of crowding by carefully monitoring
store traffic. For example, during busy hours, stores can ensure that additional employees are on the floor to
help customers with specific needs and reduce unnecessary functional browsing. That will leave more space for
recreational browsers.
Most of the limited browsers indicated that browsing has a different role in different stores. Hence, management
of store design and store atmosphere should be based on the positioning of the store (i.e. consumers'
perception of the function of the store) and the understanding of consumers' needs. For example, grocery and
discount stores usually serve consumers' functional needs. Factors that facilitate functional browsing such as a
stable environment and a clear layout may be essential. On the other hand, a recreationally oriented store may
encourage consumers to explore by creating new displays periodically. Research has shown that browsing may
ultimately lead to increased sales, although it may not be associated with an immediate purchase ([30]
Underhill, 1999). Strategies that encourage browsing may benefit both retailers and consumers in the long run.
Second, this research contributes to the understanding of browsing as an integral part of consumer information
acquisition. Existing research on consumer information search usually assumes that consumers know what they
want to buy, thereby focusing on information search in the context of brand-level choices. Researchers have
been puzzled that consumers do not seem to search for much information although they do make reasonably
good decisions (e.g. [17] Kiel and Layton, 1981). The research on browsing suggests that existing research may
have only tapped part of consumers' information acquisition activities. For example, Eileen took over a year
paying attention to shoes every time she went shopping before she finally purchased one pair. By integrating
browsing with direct information search, the theoretical framework of consumer information acquisition has been
extended. The results show that browsing represents the more casual and less structured way of acquiring
information and has important effects on purchases.
The third contribution is linking browsing with consumer purchases. Although browsing is defined as information
acquisition without purchase intent, this research demonstrates that browsing has an important impact on
purchases, both direct and indirect. Browsing can lead to direct purchases, either impulsive or merely
unplanned. Browsing can lead to a more structured information search or just knowledge accumulation, hence
indirectly influencing purchases. Therefore, strategies that encourage browsing may benefit both retailers and
consumers in the long run.
Finally, this research is limited to browsing for products in retail settings. Future research may expand to include
browsing of services. Due to the unique intangible characteristics of services, study of service browsing will be
more challenging. Research in servicescape may offer ideas for extending browsing research to services. In
addition, since browsing is closely related to searching and purchasing and is an integral part of consumer
purchase and consumption, future research may examine the role of browsing in different consumer
consumption phases. Finally, this research examines browsing behaviors in brick-and-mortar retail contexts,
which involves both physical and eye movement. Such browsing may differ from the kind of browsing that
occurs in online shopping. Future research should explore the similarities and differences in online and offline
browsing.
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Consumer Marketing, Vol. 7, Spring, pp. 55-63.
Appendix
About the author
Lan Xia holds a PhD from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and is an Assistant Professor in the
Marketing Department at Bentley University. She is a member of AMA, ACR, and SCP. Her major areas of
research include consumer information processing, behavioral pricing, and online consumer behaviors. Her
work has appeared in Journal of Marketing, Journal of Retailing, Journal of Consumer Psychology, Journal of

Interactive Marketing , and Journal of Product &Brand Management. Lan Xia can be contacted at:
lxia@bentley.edu
AuthorAffiliation
Lan Xia, Department of Marketing, Bentley University, Waltham, Massachusetts, USA
Illustration
Table I: Summary of informants' information
Subject: Studies; Statistical analysis; Retailing industry; Market research; Consumer behavior; Shopping;
Qualitative research;

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Classification: 9130: Experimental/theoretical; 7100: Market research; 8390: Retailing industry


Publication title: Qualitative Market Research
Volume: 13
Issue: 2
Pages: 154-173
Publication year: 2010
Publication date: 2010
Year: 2010
Publisher: Emerald Group Publishing, Limited
Place of publication: Bradford
Country of publication: United Kingdom
Publication subject: Business And Economics--Marketing And Purchasing
ISSN: 13522752
Source type: Scholarly Journals
Language of publication: English
Document type: Feature
Document feature: References Tables
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/13522751011032593
ProQuest document ID: 213410513
Document URL: http://search.proquest.com/docview/213410513?accountid=61315
Copyright: Copyright Emerald Group Publishing Limited 2010
Last updated: 2014-05-21
Database: ProQuest Psychology Journals

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Bibliography
Citation style: Harvard - British Standard
XIA, L., 2010. An examination of consumer browsing behaviors. Qualitative Market Research, 13(2), pp. 154173.

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