The path to purchase: Tracking the consumer journey

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The relationship between shoppers, brands and consumers has changed. The internet, combined with the growth in the number of channels, devices and means by which the average consumer shops and considers purchases, has made the path to purchase a very different process.

Although the five steps, awareness, consideration, interaction, purchase and advocacy are unchanged, the means by which consumers engage with them is very different.

Google have referred to the process as the path to purpose, arguing that consumers are 42% more likely to purchase from brands that engage with them on their passions and interests rather than purely encouraging someone to buy a product.

The search engine's view comes from the belief that the growth in media and content driving purchases has made engagement based on purpose much more important for brands.

Purchasing managed by retailers

Largely, the path to purchase has been something predominantly managed by individual retailers, or in the FMCG world the supermarket giants, as it is these that have traditionally held all of the shopper data. Tesco’s Clubcard, Sainsbury’s Nectar and the work being done by companies supporting these schemes such as dunnhumby and Aimia, are clear examples of highly successful retail loyalty schemes.

However, these schemes have naturally focused their marketing on getting individuals through the door, with predominantly generic offers of ‘low prices’ across a range, rather than specific brand loyalty. We are yet to see brands really able to utilise their shoppers data on the same scale as the supermarkets.

At Shopitize, we know from our data that the average customer shops at almost four different supermarket chains. This means that there is therefore a big gap in shopper understanding, unless you have the ability to track each shopper across different retailers.

The brands that can do this will therefore have a distinct competitive advantage, and be able to engage directly with their shoppers, increasing overall brand loyalty to their products. There is little to stop brands engaging with their shoppers in this way, and the latest technology is providing the opportunity for them to own the conversation, rather than the supermarkets.

Building that relationship with a customer and ascertaining key data on their likes, dislikes and often critically, their location will make engagement throughout the path to purchase much more effective.

As a TNS report on ‘Winners and losers along the digital path to purchase’ points out, the most successful brands will engage along the path to purchase with information about “the products a shopper needs, the offers they want and [with] the right tone and timing of communication.”

Personalisation and relevance are therefore key. Few consumers will want to hear about offers miles away from their homes for example.

The mobile opportunity

The success of pure brand advertising, until more recently, has been very difficult to trace. Brands advertise, but without a trackable call to action, little is known about how successful that advert was in its specific location. As it becomes more critical to tie in a call to action with brand advertising, in turn brands can encourage consumers to engage via mobile.

For example, including a call to action or incentive to download a mobile discount within an advert, or increasingly within a relevant piece of media content, allows a brand to track an individual consumers journey right up until the moment they make the purchase with the discount.

The brand will be able to see which advert or piece of content pushed that user to make a purchase, no matter which store or retailer a consumer chooses to buy from.

The growth in multi-platform retailing, especially in mobile, has also really made measuring effectiveness much easier than before. Through mobile incentives and calls to action, organisations can trace exactly where an individual first engages with a brand, allowing for the measurement of each stage of the path to purchase, from awareness and consideration through to purchase and beyond.

Technological progress

With all of the advancements in technology, organisations are able to track the path to purchase across multiple channels, with approximately 67% of shopper journeys starting online, 65% of these purely on mobile. According to Pew, almost 60% of shoppers use their smartphones as a key part of their shopping experience, whether that be to get mobile discounts, phone a friend for advice, or try to find a store which stocks a product cheaper.

This power that mobile has over consumers is becoming more significant, and is helping drive shoppers to make purchases. A Nielsen and Google study revealed that 93% of those who use mobile to research a product will go on to complete a purchase, with most of these taking place in-store.

Therefore understanding and engaging during the path to purchase, or purpose, could not be more important for brands, especially in a market with rising competition amongst retailers. This competition is creating a unique number of opportunities, with brands increasingly able to themselves secure loyalty and increase their shoppers sales, as opposed to relying on the whims of retailers.

Looking forward to 2015, as is tradition at this time of year, I would expect to see significantly more brands communicating directly with their customers rather than through third party retailers. Thereby increasing their bottom line by utilising more effective shopper engagement strategies and the power of direct one-to-one shopper marketing.

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