Small changes to websites can make more people go from curiously clicking to completing purchases of goods and services in web shops, Asle Fagerstrøm shows in a doctorate study at BI Norwegian Business School.

RESEARCH @ BI: Consumer behaviour in web shops

You’re going to Barcelona for the first time, and find a hotel room through an online service like or

The room is central, a stone’s throw or two away from Ramblas, and won’t cost you an arm and a leg. You’re just about to complete the booking with your credit card.

Just as you’re about to press that final key that will seal the deal, you notice the website offers comments from other hotel guests. They weren’t satisfied with their stay, and you back out of the booking immediately.

The moment of truth in the web shop

In his doctorate study at BI Norwegian Business School, researcher Asle Fagerstrøm has been particularly focused on researching how we behave at the point of purchase in a web shop.

”Businesses that understand more about how we shop online can implement measures to increase the percentage of customers who complete their purchases,” he states.

According to Fagerstrøm, even small changes in layout could mean big increases in internet sales.

Motivating factors

Asle Fagerstrøm analyses online shopping based on how we as consumers behave in web shops.

Instead of trying to see what’s going on inside our heads (cognitive psychology), he’s interested in investigating our actions based on quantifiable measurements (behavioural science). 

What factors motivate us to complete a purchase, and what makes us pull out at the last minute?

Asle Fagerstrøm is developing a conceptual theoretical framework which makes it possible to distinguish between stimuli that motivate during the point of purchase and factors that don’t.

Experiments in web shops

According to Fagerstrøm, such an approach makes it possible for both researchers and businesses to experiment with the effects of different types of stimuli on sales.

The market researcher conducted two experiments to show that this is a fruitful way of studying online shopping.

In the first experiment, he looks at how different layouts of prices, stock information, customer reviews, procedures for completing the purchase and contributions to charity affect the group’s online shopping.

A selection of 90 customers was presented with different combinations of the five types of stimuli. In this test, customer reviews had the greatest effect on their desire to spend.

The second experiment was conducted on a larger scale and involved 268 participants. Here, Fagerstrøm presented five different versions of the two stimuli price and customer reviews. Here, the price had the greatest effect on the group’s motivation to shop.

Those who don’t shop very much on the internet were more interested in other customers’ opinions of products and services than those who shop online more frequently. But price was important to this group as well.

Advice to web shops

Asle Fagerstrøm emphasises that other combinations of stimuli may give different results than those of his two experiments.
He gives the following general advice to businesses wanting to increase their internet sales:

”The business must constantly evaluate the effect of different measures. What works, and what doesn’t work. It’s possible to arrange the conditions so that they lead to sales.”


Asle Fagerstrøm presented his doctoral thesis "Implications of motivating operations for understanding the point-of-online-purchase” 29 October 2010.

Fact file:

Asle Fagerstrøm completed his doctorate study at the Department of Marketing at BI Norwegian School of Management. He is currently Associate Dean at the Norwegian School of Information Technology (NITH).

His first opponent is Professor Sigurd Villads Troye from the Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration (NHH) in Bergen. His second opponent is Professor Ingunn Sandaker from Akershus University College. Assistant Professor Bendik Meling Samuelsen from BI Norwegian School of Management is Committee Chairman.

Professor Tor Wallin Andreassen from BI Norwegian School of Management has been the main supervisor, and Professor Gordon Robert Foxall at the Cardiff Business School, Cardiff University has been second supervisor.


Text: Audun Farbrot, Head of Science Communication at BI Norwegian Business School 



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