The ‘shopper journey’ doesn’t mean what you think it does

Discussion
Apr 07, 2016
Nikki Baird

Through a special arrangement, what follows is a summary of an article from Retail Paradox, RSR Research’s weekly analysis on emerging issues facing retailers, presented here for discussion.

A couple weeks ago I was on a briefing call with a vendor who started talking about shopper journey design and how to incent consumers to take desired next steps in the “journey process.”

That conversation gave me a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach because I realized that, one, a lot of people are now using the term “shopper journey” and yet we clearly don’t all mean the same thing. And two, I’m worried about the direction that one of these definitions is taking.

Shopper journeys should be about discovery, not design. You should be learning about how your customers shop, not deciding what is the best way for them to shop and then forcing them to conform.

That’s not to say that you should be completely hands-off. Far from it! But there’s a huge difference between supporting and forcing something. And let’s be realistic: many shopper journeys are pretty simple and straightforward, like the one where the consumer makes a grocery list. Retailers can go far in taking opportunities to influence that journey.

Yet as more channels and touchpoints proliferate, consumers have many more choices for how they can choose to engage with a retailer. Ultimately, that’s a more expensive selling process because every touchpoint adds more cost to the retailer’s operations. But retail has no captive audience. It’s just too easy for a consumer to switch to someone else if the retailer makes it hard to engage with them in the way they want to engage.

In that sense, journey design is very dangerous. It implies that the retailer is in control. And I thought we already figured out that you’re not — the consumer is. So quit trying to force them into the behaviors you want to see, and instead focus on how to help them achieve whatever it is they’re trying to achieve.

Once retailers internalize exactly how much “helping them” is different from “selling stuff” — once they see that “selling stuff” is an outcome, not a strategy — we’ll see real changes driven by omni-channel.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:
How effectively do you see retailers guiding consumers through shopping journeys? How should influencing shoppers along their journey be rethought to adapt to multiple channels and touchpoints?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"Today’s shopper journey is about surprise and discovery. Unless you can adapt and react in the moment and change your perspective, you will always be chasing ghosts of days gone by."
"Customer Journey Mapping is a valuable technique that is losing some of its value due to misuse and overuse. Customer journeys are best used to document and understand how customers are interacting with your brand."
"I like the article’s position on the "danger" of plotting the customer’s journey. We can’t force it. It is like branding. We want the customer to agree with the image we’re trying to portray, but in the end, their perception is the only one that counts."

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25 Comments on "The ‘shopper journey’ doesn’t mean what you think it does"


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Dr. Stephen Needel
Guest
3 years 7 months ago

I delivered a paper at last years ESOMAR Congress on this issue — whether even thinking about journeys makes sense (I don’t think so for most things we buy). As Nikki says, for grocery not so much and that’s the bulk of our purchase occasions and purchase decisions. For those few instances where a journey actually takes place (fashion, electronics, media), they should absolutely make this attempt, and it should be omnichannel.

Bob Phibbs
Guest
3 years 7 months ago

Great point, Nikki. I would posit however that helping them is selling stuff. People are looking for solutions — get the guy, marry the girl, lose the weight, play better at a sport, be a hero.

To your point, though it all starts with being curious as to why today, that woman, that man, that couple chose to leave the house, drove past a dozen competitors, took the time to park and walked through your doors on that day, until retailers incorporate curiosity — instead of pat answers to interrupt and manipulate, usually through some new shiny object – the shopper journey will be more work for the customer, instead of more wonder.

And wonder is where profitability lies.

Paula Rosenblum
Guest
3 years 7 months ago

Well, as I understand it, designing the customer experience is very different from designing the customer journey. The experience is meant to be consistent across the entire “journey.” So if you’re Walmart, you’re designing one kind of experience, and if you’re Tory Burch, you’re designing another kind of experience. But the journey for each is similarly chaotic.

The journey involves:

  • discovery or investigation;
  • making the selection;
  • paying for it;
  • taking possession of.

None of this is linear anymore and can happen in any channel or any touch point. And the notion that we can “guide them” through the journey is sort of funny. It is way too chaotic. The best thing we can do is be consistent.

Chris Petersen, PhD.
Guest
3 years 7 months ago

Nikki absolutely nailed:

“[Shopper journey] implies that the retailer is in control … we already figured out that … the consumer is”!

The difference in retailing today is the overwhelming number of choices the omnichannel consumer has available to shop and purchase anytime and everywhere. Their journey through this maze is often situational, depending on the nature of the purchase, season, time available, etc.

The real question today is where and how retailers will invest in reaching consumers where they “choose to be.”

Mohamed Amer
Guest
Mohamed Amer
3 years 7 months ago

Very timely and important article! Shopper journeys are not linear, are not predictable (end-to-end) and may not be repeatable even by the same shopper for a specific product category. Grounded in the scientific method, we love to find regularities and explain them so that way we feel we can control things. Certainly we can influence outcomes, but how we do that is very different from what had worked yesterday.

The world in which we now live takes us further away from any semblance of control (real or perceived). Ever greater variety in how we negotiate space and time and the way we live, make decisions, communicate and engage in activities is turning retailing into a brave new world where certainty will be mentioned in stories about the good old days.

Today’s shopper journey is about surprise and discovery. Unless you can adapt and react in the moment and change your perspective, you will always be chasing ghosts of days gone by.

Ben Ball
Guest
3 years 7 months ago
I like Paula’s response on this one, but would add one final step to the “journey” and that is “joining the community.” Perhaps this doesn’t apply to all very low involvement purchases — but I’m not even sure about that. The fact is that our shopping journey these days is really more of a wander through an ecosystem. And as we take any of the varied paths that get us to the desired end — whether that is stopping at three different stores to complete the party shopping or pushing the Dash button to get more Tide— we will look for familiar sign posts and friendly faces along the way. It is simply more comfortable, and it reinforces that we are doing “the right thing.” Segmenting the customer experience from the shopper journey is splitting hairs IMHO. The customer doesn’t know the difference. When conversations start making our business this complex, my head starts to hurt and I recall a scene from the movie Jeremiah Johnson. Greenhorn Jeremiah (Robert Redford) is on his first attempt to hunt… Read more »
Dave Wendland
Guest
3 years 7 months ago

Great article, Nikki. And indeed timely.

For those retailers that feel they can “manage” a consumer’s journey by examining it in a linear fashion, they are overlooking something crucial. Every consumer enters their journey at a different point along the path.

Because our company primarily resides in the retail healthcare space, we are constantly examining the entry point for shoppers. Some view their path beginning with prevention, others may look at maintenance, and still others may be providing care, among others. Each of these journeys is unique — personal. Retailers must begin to recognize and adapt their cultures, their shopping environments, their messaging and their strategy to respond uniquely and relevantly wherever a consumer begins their pursuit.

Adrian Weidmann
Guest
3 years 7 months ago
The shopper journey is exactly that — the shopper’s, not anyone else’s! As a CMO once said to me, “we’re using technology to politely interrupt her journey.” And yes, the journey is controlled by the shopper not the brand and/or retailer. That being said, retailers and brands can influence that journey by valuing each step of that journey. The shopper’s journey with your brand should be defined as a long and winding road over the life of that customer, not limited to guiding her like a pinball in an arcade game on every single shopping trip. When a young couple purchase their first stackable washing machine and dryer from a brand (Maytag, Meile, Samsung, Whirlpool, etc.) it should be that brand’s mission and responsibility that those two individuals never purchase another washer/dryer brand over the course of their lifetime. Period. If they do it is the brand’s fault. That brand should influence and manage that relationship and journey over the course of that lifetime. Conversely, if you try to guide and force their behavior you will… Read more »
Kevin Kearns
Guest
Kevin Kearns
3 years 7 months ago

Retailers need to focus on investing in meaningful ways to reach customers on their journey, and give up on trying to control the journey itself. Several retailers are effectively adapting to this challenge while others are lagging.

For example, Sephora recently launched a chat bot on Kik. This move illustrates how a retailer can learn about their core shoppers and adapt their operations to include a relevant touchpoint. By embracing shoppers’ existing behaviors (their penchant for technology), Sephora is able to help them achieve their goal (in this case, it’s gaining relevant product information, tips, etc.) and ultimately influence a shopper’s journey in a positive way.

Prugh Roeser
Guest
Prugh Roeser
3 years 7 months ago

Don’t think of it as a “journey,” but rather as a “cycle.” While shopping journeys are as unique as each customer and each shopping instance, the cycle all shoppers go through every time they shop is pretty much the same (whether explicit or not):

  • Have a need;
  • Decide what’s required to meet this need;
  • Shop;
  • Make a selection;
  • Pay for it;
  • Own/return it.

So perhaps the most cost-effective way to help shoppers on their journeys is not to design paths or try to anticipate next steps, but to offer milestone-specific assistance at each stage of the shopper cycle, and let shoppers choose when they’re ready to take advantage of it.

All the wonder and discovery of the shopping journey will be maintained, yet we’ll be there helping them along the path toward purchase — which is, after all, why we’re here in the first place.

Joan Treistman
Guest
3 years 7 months ago

Kudos for starting this conversation. I’m reminded of the movie title “I’m Dancing as Fast as I Can.” It’s true for retailers and consumers alike. We’re all quickly and continuously adapting to new technology, new media and time pressures.

For retailers the understanding of how consumers try to consciously control their transaction destiny helps them better engage, help, guide and facilitate that process. From the consumers’ perspective it’s still about the experience. How easy and satisfying was it for me to decide what I wanted and then buy it?

Multiple channels, as they are part of the customer’s shopping pattern, can be controlled and directed by retailers in terms of message placement. But content is also a critical component and can’t be overlooked as the execution and message must fit the “touchpoint” or the medium’s role becomes ineffective.

Lee Kent
Guest
3 years 7 months ago

Those of us who are into Customer Experience know that understanding a customers journey and then giving them what they need/want along the path are key to creating a great experience. It is NOT the other way around!

We also know that the experiences are what make the difference between one retailer and the next.

One of the great things that journey maps often expose is the wrong thinking on the part of the retailer in the first place. They were just so sure this was what the customer wanted from them but they were wrong.

It’s not about the retailer, it’s about the customer!

And that’s my 2 cents.

Kate Blake
Guest
Kate Blake
3 years 7 months ago

I agree with the writer in that we tend to treat customers like rats in a maze, with the cash register being their ultimate destination.

If you do retail right, the shopper will do more than buy — they will come back and tell all their friends how great their experience was and how many great things they found.

Have the goods they want and the staff to make the purchase decision easy. Have lots of cool stuff they can’t resist. Make parking easy and safe and stores accessible. Make the staff want to stay and make them so familiar to your customers that they are on a first name basis. Allow the staff to develop relationships with customers so that they will call them when that great item they want comes in stock. Have events in the store that are fun-driven, not fund-driven.

Apple is a destination store — Walmart is not. You know the difference. Imagine the store as a place you’d take a date. Would you go there and hang out? If not, you are doing retail wrong.

Martin Mehalchin
Guest
3 years 7 months ago

Customer Journey Mapping is a valuable technique that is losing some of its value due to misuse and overuse. We recently published an infographic that explains four lenses on customer experience and how to use each one.

Customer journeys are best used to document and understand how customers are interacting with your brand. You then use that understanding to develop new affordances and individual interactions that, when well executed and orchestrated, can become part of a future shopper-driven journey.

Herb Sorensen
Guest
3 years 7 months ago
As others have noted, the bulk of purchase events in FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) do not involve much selling, other than the shopper “selling themselves,” SELF-service retail. But don’t think that that “selling themselves” platform can’t be massively assisted. See: “Selling Like Amazon… in Bricks & Mortar Stores!” This is the greatly expanded focus of the second edition of my book coming out in July: “Inside the Mind of the Shopper: The Science of Retailing (2nd Edition).” But my son James has an important chapter in the book on “Long-Cycle Purchasing.” He describes the FOUR progressive EMOTIONAL, that is, “moving,” steps as: Wish – we need to plant the seed and inspire the consumer to see what might be possible Want – we need to help the consumer envision how the product could benefit their lives Need – we need to show the consumer how the product will solve a pain point in their life Got – we need to help the consumer decide on a specific purchase and easily facilitate the transaction You… Read more »
Roger Saunders
Guest
3 years 7 months ago
Retailers need to view the Consumer from a 360 degree perspective. No need to fall victim to the buzz words of the day — e.g.,omnichannel — unless you’re ready to do something about it. Find out how different segments are … consumers are shopping for different retail merchandise segments on a tractable basis. Know what media forms, out of some 32+ different forms that are influencing purchase today, are driving the consumer to select merchandise categories and to select stores — yours and your competitors. Having these insights, retailers will be better positioned to travel along with consumer on the journey in which they are in charge. Nikki is correct — the retailer doesn’t “drive” the behavior of the consumer. They do, however, want to accompany the consumer on their journey. Insights are available. Let’s say that the marketing group thinks they have a killer creative idea for smartphones and tablets. They want to test it with your line of linens. If you’re Target or one of their vendors, and your merchandise line is Linens & Bedding, you’ll want… Read more »
Vahe Katros
Guest
Vahe Katros
3 years 7 months ago
I love the title! It reminds me of that line: “Meditation isn’t what you think!” Stating the obvious: There is a small j journey which is more about how we shop and a big J Journey which is why we shop. The big J journey: “we just moved from Idaho to NYC!” “It’s obvious these people have never thought about helping moms shop.” “I just had a heart attack.” represents one design context. The small j journey issues: “Now that I commute on public transportation, I’ve changed what I buy.” “Don’t even try to shop on game-day.” “I don’t shop there anymore, the no left turn thing, ya know…” represents another. But design is a process — fail early, fail often, etc. — but often clients don’t want to pay for process, they want answers, so we have the experience described in this article (I am being kind). For designers there’s a problem as well, one that Alan Cooper described so well in the following long quote: “Sometimes being an interaction designer can be so frustrating! If,… Read more »
Adam Herman
Guest
3 years 7 months ago
We are always selling in retail, sometimes simply making information about your brand more easily accessible and digestible is ultimately a key step in the sales funnel. The shopper journey is about discovery, experience, choice, social sharing, money in my pocket that moment, purchase, delivery, loyalty and then the process cycles again for the next purchase. Maybe some steps in the journey are condensed or expanded based after the first purchase. Maybe some steps are added or remove based on the first purchase. There is never one linear path for one person each time, let alone, for all shoppers. Are consumer in control? Of course they are and always have been. Unless we go back to a time when consumers could buy any car as long as it was a black Model T Ford, consumers will have choices of what they want to buy. A marketer’s role in the shopper’s journey then is three-fold. First, get your brand in the consideration set of the shopper’s next purchase during the journey. Two, try to remove as… Read more »
William Hogben
Guest
3 years 7 months ago

There’s no good alternative to anticipating and designing a shopper’s journey — without some framework to analyze their behavior, it’s impossible to make measurable improvements. However a good journey does not mean an absence of choice. I’m reminded of a recent movement in architecture, led by people like Toyo Ito, who design buildings that include multiple routes between features to provide a sense of choice and freedom, while still keeping the same building features. A good shopper journey should follow the same principals, with choice and flexibility built in.

Ken Morris
Guest
Ken Morris
3 years 7 months ago

“Designing” and “guiding” are not necessarily bad words when it comes to the customer shopping journey. The key is to provide customers ultimate flexibility in their shopping journey so they can choose when, how and where they shop.

If a retailer “designs” a seamless, cross-channel shopping experience, the customers wins. If a retailer “guides” the shopping experience with suggestions based on a customers’ individual preferences and previous purchases, it helps the customer narrow down choices and make more educated purchase decisions. These approaches don’t need to “force” a rigid shopping journey but complement it. As long as they are focused on providing consumers more choices, they are good for retail and shoppers.

I believe we can gain true insight from mapping the customer journey, leveraging the data we have about the customers journeys and determining how best to enhance that journey, not change it to our vision but augment it to create brand enthusiasts who live in the top two deciles of great customers.

Shep Hyken
Guest
3 years 7 months ago

I like the article ‘s position on the “danger” of plotting the customer’s journey. We can’t force it. It is like branding. We want the customer to agree with the image we’re trying to portray, but in the end, their perception is the only one that counts.

I would say that some retailers — both online and brick-and-mortar — do a good job of controlling the experience. Yet like branding, the customer has the final say in how they accept the journey the retailer imposes on them.

Best suggestion is to plot the journey from what you think the customer’s experience should be. Then observe and interview customers to determine if you are right. And, adjust and tweak as needed.

Ken Silay
Guest
3 years 7 months ago

It’s time to stop talking about channels and discrete transactions and start talking about the life cycle of the customer and is each one truly profitable or not. It’s not only about sales, it’s about returns, shopping frequency and customer margin. If we keep providing incentives for the unprofitable customers we’ll keep losing money on them, and more volume won’t make up the difference.

Bill Hanifin
Guest
3 years 7 months ago

There are rare occasions where an online retailer offers not only a frictionless path towards product discovery, selection and purchase, but also enhances that journey with suggestions, information, and tips to add value.

That process is can be one that is defined as being supportive to the consumer. It’s not about “funneling” or “directing,” i.e. there is no trickery or expectation of undue influence. That itself might be the difference between a purchase-driven journey design and one that is created to benefit the customer. And, as most of us agree, being helpful to the customer and giving them options will lead to a better result with higher potential for return visits.

Chris Weigand
Guest
3 years 7 months ago

Agree, retailers that embrace the model of helping consumers instead of selling stuff will be most successful. This is the case for any good business — focus on helping people and the sales will follow. Hopefully omnichannel will drive more retailers to focus on providing experiences, information, and tangible engagement. Some of my favorite stores as a consumer to journey through include electronics and book stores. Grocery is probably a great example of a consistent journey that is highly orchestrated.

Mark Bees
Guest
Mark Bees
3 years 7 months ago

Yes, each retailer has their own definition of “shopper journey.” However, each definition should include examples of the retailer empowering the customer to research and discover on their own terms. Retailers can create searchable content — a promotion, for example — that consumers can access in real-time on their mobile device while they are at the mall. This can be executed effectively via card-linked offers, which create purchase incentives while marketing directly to consumers to redeem in-store.

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Braintrust
"Today’s shopper journey is about surprise and discovery. Unless you can adapt and react in the moment and change your perspective, you will always be chasing ghosts of days gone by."
"Customer Journey Mapping is a valuable technique that is losing some of its value due to misuse and overuse. Customer journeys are best used to document and understand how customers are interacting with your brand."
"I like the article’s position on the "danger" of plotting the customer’s journey. We can’t force it. It is like branding. We want the customer to agree with the image we’re trying to portray, but in the end, their perception is the only one that counts."

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