A Grounded Theory of Online Shopping Flow

Rolf Mahnke, Alexander Benlian, and Thomas Hess
International Journal of Electronic Commerce,
Volume 19, Number 3, Spring 2015, pp. 54-89.


With the increasing number of websites that have found their way into our daily lives, substantial resources are invested in enhancing user experience beyond mere functionality. Optimizing flow—the psychological state of deep focus while conducting a fluent activity—seems a promising approach, resulting in a win–win situation for both users and website operators. Flow has been found to result in “optimal” user experience leading to intrinsically motivated behavior, engagement, and loyalty. However, to date, there is little concrete knowledge of or advice on how to design a website for flow. This study develops a grounded theory of flow experiences in the context of online shopping, and sheds light on the theoretical relationships between concrete realizable website design options, corresponding latent constructs, and flow experience. Based on our findings we derive theoretical as well as practical implications for understanding and designing flow experience on the web.

Key Words and Phrases: Flow theory, digital service innovation, user experience, human—computer interaction, e-tail, grounded theory.