The consumer journey doesn’t end at checkout.
Today’s consumers certainly behave differently than they did in years past. No longer are their shopping habits defined by what they see in commercials or what store associates tell them as they casually browse. Consumers now know more about products before even setting foot in a store or adding a product to their cart.
They also aren’t confined to specific times of “going shopping.” Today’s consumers are in a constant, 24/7 state of consumerism where they’re bombarded by information, armed with more knowledge and conditioned to expect more from brands and retailers than ever before.
Consumers Have the Power
Thanks to the ever-expanding online landscape, consumers have access to more information, which has forever transformed how they shop. They’re not passive participants waiting to be fed whatever information is given to them; they’re going online and finding that information for themselves. And in most cases, they prefer it that way, with 81% of retail shoppers saying they research before making a purchase.
Consumer behavior has been evolving for many years, but constant technological innovations — smartphones, laptops, tablets and smart TVs — have also given consumers an “always-on” mentality. They aren’t limited by time or place anymore; now, they shop anytime and anywhere. But with the new ways people shop, what does the modern path to purchase look like?
The Modern Consumer Journey
Although the number of digital touchpoints in a consumer’s journey can vary wildly depending on the specific individual, product, category or brand, the journey that consumers take to purchase — their psychological journey — is largely linear.
Think about your own journey as a consumer. We, as consumers, all start and end at the same place. We begin by becoming “aware” of a product. Then, we “consider” that product. Until, finally, we decide to “purchase” the product. It’s the same, linear process — whether it takes us five minutes or five months.
What’s evolved is what shoppers do along that path, their expectations and the various digital touchpoints. Consumers now are more informed, demanding and impatient, all of which impact each stage of their journey. Not meeting the modern consumer’s needs at each point can result in the loss of a sale.
Let’s look at the consumer journey stages, how they’ve changed and how to keep up with them.
Awareness is where consumers first learn about a product or service. In years past, this was done through commercials, word of mouth, promotions, ad placements, etc. — all still in use today. But this stage has become much more varied due to the number of digital touchpoints available now: online stores, online searches, apps, marketplaces, email and social media.
The numerous channels available now mean consumers are constantly inundated with product exposure in real-time, making it hard for brands and retailers to gain visibility amongst competitors. Brands and retailers now need to develop specific strategies to be present and active on these channels — at least the ones relevant to their verticals — to gain exposure and reach consumers.
Once consumers are actively aware of a product or service, they come to the consideration stage, where they begin weighing their options. Just as there are multiple online channels to buy from, there are also numerous online channels to conduct research from. Consumers will start to shop for comparisons, visit a brand’s website and review products on marketplaces and designated retailers. In fact, according to a recent ChannelAdvisor consumer survey, Amazon and search engines were the primary channels consumers used to research products online.
Providing valuable information is crucial to keep consumers interested at this stage because they want viable reasons to buy a product. If brands and retailers don’t give them that reason, they’ll find it elsewhere. Content — such as product descriptions, images, blogs, case studies, etc. — should be engaging and accurate to interest consumers and answer any questions they could have during their search.
Not only are consumers searching for the best product to buy, they’re also searching for the best place to buy it, whether that be in-store, on the brand website or an online marketplace. Wherever consumers choose to buy, brands and retailers should ensure that the information they need is easy to find, consistent across all their channels (whether the brand sells directly to consumers or through a retailer) and their experience is without any friction.
Once consumers have made their considerations and settled on a product, they’re ready to purchase. But where they purchase depends on how well a brand or retailer stands out among the competition and how seamless they make the purchase process.
The online shopping landscape is crowded, so winning a sale rests on differentiating factors and incentives, like competitive pricing, engaging content and good delivery options. Offering consumers discounted or BOGO prices, developing “how-to” videos on how to use a product or having a same-day delivery option at checkout are just a few ways to convince consumers to choose your product and ensure the sale.
A friction-free checkout experience also makes a huge difference to consumers conditioned to a simple, two-click purchase experience on marketplaces like Amazon. Even if you’re a brand that doesn’t sell directly to your customers, you must provide a seamless experience from your product page or promotional campaign to your preferred retail checkout option. Otherwise, you risk losing that once-interested consumer to competitors or other distractions.
The consumer journey doesn’t end at checkout. A new customer’s delivery experience is essential to their overall journey and informs whether they later become advocates (or vocal online detractors) for your brand or product.
Like the checkout process, fulfillment and delivery should be as seamless as possible. But with the current supply chain crisis plaguing businesses worldwide, a frictionless delivery experience isn’t always achievable. What matters is transparency. Brands and retailers should always strive to keep customers in the loop with status updates on where their package is and when they can expect it to arrive. Being on-time with packages can establish trust and loyaltybecause if customers know they’ll get what they ordered in a timely manner (or when the brand said they would), they’ll order again.
The evolution of the consumer journey reflects the world’s changes in recent years. While it looks different today, it doesn’t have to be daunting to brands and retailers. Once they can adapt to how the modern consumer buys, they can lead them seamlessly down the path to purchase.
Bradley Hearn is a product marketing manager at ChannelAdvisor, a multichannel commerce platform that enables retailers and manufacturers to integrate, manage and optimize their merchandise sales across hundreds of online channels including Amazon, Google, eBay, Facebook and more.
Photo by Emilio Garcia on Unsplash.
This is an excellent tour of how the tech revolution has changed the customer journey. It inspires thinking about how to make our brands competitive. I am going to read this several times over to flesh out my approaches to winning journeys.