MarketingCharts: Online Shoppers’ Path to Purchase Becomes More Complex and Personal

Discussion
Feb 13, 2013

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from MarketingCharts, a Watershed Publishing publication providing up-to-to-minute data and research to marketers.

Seventy-three percent of online shoppers agree that their path to purchase is more complex and less direct than it used to be, according to an About.com study. As the traditional purchase funnel has been upended and turned into more of a "loop," per the study, shoppers indicate that shopping has taken on a more personal nature. That is, 79 percent agree that their relationship with brands is much more personal than ever before, and 68 percent agree that shopping today is less about the brands/products themselves and more about them (what they’re feeling or needing).

The survey was limited to 1,600 American respondents who own smartphones, seek information online and on mobile at least once a week, and are frequent shoppers (including browsing) in at least 2 of 8 categories (food, home, health, personal finance, tech, fashion/beauty/style, autos, travel).

The evolution of the shopping experience means that for 87 percent of respondents, there’s more to it than simply "identifying a need, exploring options and purchasing." Instead, consumers identify six common behaviors along the path to purchase:

  • Openness – "being receptive to new or better experiences"
  • Realized want or need – "something acts as a catalyst; gives the consumer a reason to start looking into things she wants or needs to do"
  • Learning and education – "understanding the fundamentals in order to make a purchase the consumer can feel good about"
  • Seeking ideas and inspiration – "looking for, noticing, keeping track of examples, thought-starters, motivators in order to take the next step"
  • Research and vetting – "compare options; look for deals; takes price, value, reviews into account, as well as personal associations with brands
  • Post-purchase evaluation and expansion – "consumer uses or experiences a purchase and decides how she feels; might post reviews, share experiences"

Consumers move in "spider webs" from one behavior to the next, influenced by different media and devices along the way. For example, social media and TV are more important for ideas and inspiration than learning/education, but the opposite is true for store visits.

Why do you think consumers in the About.com survey said the online path to purchase has become both more complex and personal? Does it make sense to now liken the path to purchase to more of a loop than a straight line? What does this all mean for e-commerce sites looking to attract and keep customers?

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12 Comments on "MarketingCharts: Online Shoppers’ Path to Purchase Becomes More Complex and Personal"


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Paula Rosenblum
Guest
9 years 3 months ago

Boy, I wouldn’t even call it a loop. I’d call it chaotic (actually I DO call it chaotic 🙂 ).

Every stop on the path can happen at any touch point (TV, mobile site, social network, retailer’s main site, etc). That’s why a consistent brand identity and price and product consistency across all those touch points are so critical.

Adrian Weidmann
Guest
9 years 3 months ago

The path to purchase is no longer a defined path that can be neatly identified by marketers. Each individual takes their own journey and the journey they take is dependent upon the desired destination.

The catalyst of the shopping experience dictates which map one chooses and determines the compass heading to the journey of brand touchpoints the shopper takes in achieving their desired results. The ‘path’ should be a loop from the brand perspective but most retailers and brands haven’t designed nor implemented the culture and systems to ‘close the loop’.

In most cases, it’s still an open-ended path where retailers and brands don’t take the time to understand or respect their customers.

Lisa Bradner
Guest
Lisa Bradner
9 years 3 months ago

In our research we define it as a flight map, but in either case the notion of the loop—that I go back to revisit sources for more information, to check prices, to look for inspiration—this is the reality of how shoppers shop. I think they always have, but the personalization and complexity has grown as the number of channels have expanded, and as devices like mobile phones bring together shopping and a deeply personal tool.

For e-commerce specifically, I believe it means transaction alone won’t be enough. Sites will have to figure out how to combine the inspiration and idea generation of Pinterest with the recommendation engine of Amazon and the vignettes of a Net a Porter. Shoppers have always browsed—giving them more ways to do so and to push them from browsers into buyers will be a prime focus of e-commerce going forward.

Lee Kent
Guest
9 years 3 months ago

Yes, the online path has become very personal. It’s stream of consciousness surfing. It starts with a trigger to look something up. The next thing you know, you are digging deeper according to your own thoughts and desires. All of this up to a point may have absolutely nothing to do with shopping, until it does.

Talk about big data, what if we could harness that? And derive path to purchase personae? Spooky! So back to the e-commerce sites? Although they could never know every path a consumer may take to reach them, they should be looking at the obvious paths in order to meet the consumers expectation when they arrive. Touchpoint mapping is a must, IMHO!

Brian Kelly
Guest
9 years 3 months ago

Linear, curvilinear, concentric rings, parabola, or funnels are all models for arranging data. Humans have never trod some sequential series of steps when making a decision. Behavior is much more organic, and it has not changed with the arrival of digital media.

As marketers, we use these models to rationalize resource investment. Categories, need state and mindset are among variables which challenge precise investment.

Martin Mehalchin
Guest
Martin Mehalchin
9 years 3 months ago

The spider web analogy used above seems like the most apt one to me. Understanding the path to purchase in an omnichannel, increasingly transparent world is the most interesting challenge facing retail today.

Whether its a physical end point or an online one, continual optimization is going to become more and more important. On ecommerce sites, retailers are going to need to continually optimize individual pages for increased conversion and the design of physical stores is going to need to become more about the science of driving specific metrics alongside the pure aesthetics of the space.

Zel Bianco
Guest
9 years 3 months ago

Shopping is personal; there’s a novel idea! I think it’s great we are acknowledging that there’s a story attached to each transaction from shoppers that include insights, research, thoughtfulness, and need, and not just the desire for a brand.

With so many media to affect and influence purchases, it’s only natural that the path to purchase is a windy yellow brick road. For e-commerce sites looking to attract and keep customers, it’s necessary for them to partner with consumers as a value-added option, instead of just shouting deals. This value is translated in the form of in depth product information, customer reviews, outstanding customer service, and lighting speed responsiveness.

James Tenser
Guest
9 years 3 months ago

Lots of truth here, but the model is too utilitarian and too linear to suit me, unless the purchase in question is a printer cable.

Where do the emotional connection, the influence of peer opinions, personal taste, pop culture, or what the behaviorists call “affective” influences fit in?

Each purchase (and non-purchase decision) is the conclusion a unique meander through the variety of shopper influences and resources, both within and without the store. This is a messy, rich, redolent reality that few e-commerce operators have a clue about.

Yes—first it HAS to work. But the glory will accrue to those merchants whose environments let shoppers pursue their own continuously shifting definitions of success.

Vahe Katros
Guest
Vahe Katros
9 years 3 months ago
Congratulations for reaching Paula’s Chaos ring! It’s the moment when you realize that linear activity maps fail to capture the emotional and touchpoint contexts you describe in this piece. For example, the customer starts the intent formation phase on Amazon, jumps to decision making at Best Buy, goes back to intent formation on their tablet, alters their journey completely based on a review on Yelp, and so on. The question of mapping experiences is a big deal and it’s an open question. Search for the following for more inspiration on how to visualize the experience: service blue prints, customer journey maps, story boarding, and cognitive maps. And of course there is the grand master Edward Tufte. Folks in the interactive design/customer experience design/service design space seem to like comic books and screenplays as visual tools to convey the movement. That’s why you’ll find folks with drama and film degrees in customer insights jobs. They know how to make films (maps) of the modern customer experience. Those maps then become the basis for ideation among those… Read more »
Jason Goldberg
Guest
9 years 3 months ago

There have been plenty of data indicating that the traditional purchase decision funnel was already dead by 2009 (if it ever existed). Such as the McKinsey consumer decision journey research.

These days, I tend to think of the path to purchase as more like the electrons in a Quantum Atom model. The shopper can be at any defined point in the purchase process at any given time. They may enter the purchase decision process at any point, and leave at any point. They also may not always progress forward. So a shopper can easily revert from a purchase process (such as a cart on an e-commerce site for example) to a consideration process (such as asking friends about a potential purchase, or visiting a store).

We really need to think about every touchpoint we have with a consumer (owned and earned) and design a set of experiences that are appropriate for every stage of the purchase decision journey.

Shilpa Rao
Guest
9 years 3 months ago

Truly, as Paula has correctly pointed out, it is chaotic. Ecommerce sites need to look deep into categories and in fact, at item level and understand the shopper life cycle—need states, information search, buying, usage, post purchase and replenishment (if any) and demand moments for that item/category.

The site is just a channel, but if we truly start by understanding shopper need states and how they vary over time, this can give cues to what the shopper will do to purchase the product and then draw a strategy around each stage of the shopper life cycle. This can be messaged/aided by your campaigns/information.

The key is to understand the shopper and her needs and message each touchpoint consistently.

Christopher Krywulak
Guest
Christopher Krywulak
9 years 3 months ago

Absolutely, it makes sense to move from a linear path to purchase to a circular (looped) path because consumers are more technologically empowered than ever before—they follow a cyclical path to purchase. They can research expert or consumer reviews; they can compare prices across different retailers and geographic areas; they can even do this type of research on a mobile phone while standing in a competing retailer’s store (showrooming).

Finally, through social media, all of this analysis is published across the consumer’s own network—allowing him/her to further examine and discuss his/her conclusions. This personalized loop is closed when the consumer actually buys something (finally decides to meet a realized need); a new loop opens when it’s time to buy something else (a new need is realized).

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