Maslow’s hierarchy of needs seems to be everywhere. It was the only topic that was talked about in every one of my classes, from business to biology and everything in between.

There is a reason for Maslow’s widespread acceptance. His hierarchy is simple in its design, sound in its logic, and can be applied to just about anything. In fact, it can be applied to an online shoppers needs on an ecommerce site.

A Summary of Maslow’s Theory

Maslow was a very popular because he started to look at what went right in human behavior rather than focusing on what went wrong. Maslow’s work focused on what motivates people.

Maslow argued that people are motivated by needs. We strive to satisfy our needs, and once one set of needs is met we start looking to satisfy the next level need. We are always motivated by our needs as we progress upward. Maslow’s hierarchy has 5 steps: physiological, safety, belonging, esteem, and self actualization.

online shopper maslow's hierarchy of neews

Online Shopper Needs Hierarchy

I have adapted Maslow’s theory to show how online shoppers are motivated to buy and become brand advocates based on their needs. These online shoppers start by requiring their basic needs met and move upward through the hierarchy on their way to brand advocacy.

The online shopper hierarchy is made up of 5 tiers just like Maslow’s hierarchy. The 5 tiers are: functional needs, safety needs, connectedness, individualism, and brand advocacy.

online shopper online hierarchy

First Level of Needs: Functional

In Maslow’s original needs theory he described our basic level needs as physiological needs. These were our basic life needs, such as food, water, air, and sleep. According to his theory, we needed to have these basic level needs met to be motivated to seek anything else.

Similarly, online shoppers have basic needs that a site has to meet for them to be motivated to buy. I call these the functional needs.

online shopper functional needs

The functional needs are all the site components that are required for a customer to be able to complete a purchase. These include: a shopping cart / ecommerce platform, a product catalog, and of course a domain.

Just like Maslow’s lowest level needs we have to cover the functional needs in order to have online shoppers be able to buy from our sites. Pretty straight forward.

Second Level Needs: Safety

In Maslow’s theory when someone has met their basic physiological needs they can begin to seek the next higher order need, which is safety. Safety needs for Maslow were things like shelter, employment, and law.

Online shoppers have a very similar need from ecommerce sites. So similar that I have named it the exact same thing, safety needs.

online shopper safety needs

Safety needs for online shoppers are secure checkouts, product reviews, and a credible look and feel. eCommerce sites need to satisfy a shoppers safety needs so that the shopper can trust the site enough to make a purchase.

All the safety needs mentioned play a huge role in facilitating a purchase. A Stanford study found that 46% of those viewing a website assess its credibility on looks alone. Similarly, getelastic reports that by adding a secure checkout badge beside the checkout button, sites can see a 4% – 6% increase in sales. Shoppers want to feel safe about the product they have selected (reviews) and feel safe doing business with you (secure checkout).

online shopper getelastic quote

Third Level Needs: Connectedness

For Maslow after safety came belongingness. Once an individual was able to add some security they could begin to look to fulfill their social needs. For Maslow these needs were things like friendship, family, and romantic relationships.

Our first two needs focused on what an online shopper needs to buy, the next three needs focus on what a shopper needs to become a brand advocate. When a customer has reached advocacy it is similar to an individual reaching self-actualization.

Online shoppers have similar needs in this stage to what Maslow said we need in the belongingness stage. Shoppers need social interactions.

online shopper connectedness need

A shopper needs both interactions with the site they are purchasing from as well as social interactions with others in their social network. It is hard for a customer to become a brand advocate if they feel that they are not being listened too. Similarly, they cannot become advocates if they don’t have a network to tell.

Fourth Level Needs: Individualism

In Maslow’s hierarchy, the fourth step was the start of the higher order needs and is known as esteem needs. These needs include respect from others, achievement, and confidence. In the online shopper hierarchy the next level needs started with connectedness and continue here with individualism.

Once a shopper feels they have a voice they will begin to seek individualism needs. This is the customers need to be recognized for who they are and not just as a shopper / customer of the site.

online shopper individualism needs

Sites can satisfy an online shoppers individualism needs in a couple of ways. They can have tailored marketing campaigns. These can be promotions that offer products that the customer has bought in the past or campaigns that make recommendations based on personal interests.

Sites can also appeal to individualism by doing simple things like remembering customer information, so that they don’t have to log in every visit or re-enter billing / shipping information.

Fifth Level Needs: Brand Advocacy

For Maslow, everyone was striving for self-actualization. Every need that was satisfied was a means of reaching this end goal. Maslow argued that when all our needs are met we can begin to look at creativity, morality and problem solving.

online shopper brand advocacy

For our online shoppers, if their previous needs are met they will evolve into brand advocates. Brand advocates are customers who love your site, your brand, and everything about you. Read our brand advocate specific post for more information.

Shoppers at this level not only prefer your product and service they insist it. They will go out of their way to choose you over a competitor. These customers also are willing and wanting to share your site with their friends and family. Make sure you are giving them the opportunity to share. One way to do this is rewarding for social shares and customer referrals with points using

Having brand advocates is a high honor for any site. If you have loyal and active customers sharing your products you have led your shoppers through this hierarchy and can now enjoy all the benefits brand advocates provide.

The Online Shopper Hierarchy

online shopper online shopper hierarchy

The online shopper hierarchy is similar to Maslow’s hierarchy in many ways. An online shopper’s first two needs revolve around getting to a purchase, while the final steps focus on becoming a brand advocate.

Much like in Maslow’s theory, a shopper cannot just jump from the bottom of the pyramid to the top. They must progress up the pyramid by satisfying needs along the way.

Stay tuned for the adaptation of Aldefer’s ERG theory to the ecommerce world.

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