The way we shop has changed over the years. Take a moment and think about the process you’d go through when buying a new car, booking a hotel room or purchasing a new computer – and perhaps doing all three at once. Where do you start and what sources came to mind? If you “played along,” then I’m sure a variety of sources came to mind to help you make the best purchase decision in each scenario.
More than a decade ago, we began to experience a monumental shift from a primarily “bricks and mortar” shopping environment to an e-commerce model that provides consumers 24/7 convenience. In order to survive and thrive, businesses had to take advantage of this and begin to incorporate a multi or omni-channel approach into their marketing methodology. With this new methodology, consumers pick the most effective and convenient channel, or channels, to accomplish their goals at each stage of their purchase process, and very often, they’re “all over the place” when doing so.
Studies show that 81% (and some studies state a higher percentage) of shoppers research online before buying. They also ask their friends and family and go to stores and talk to salespeople, but internet research is something they can do anytime, anywhere, and take as long as they want. When they research online, they use search engines, go to company websites, go to other websites that sell that company’s products (like Amazon), look at product reviews and comparisons, read user reviews and go to user forums, read articles, refer to social media, etc.
In an article titled, “People Comparison Shop, Stupid,” we learned:
- The average consumer visits 3 websites prior to making a purchase,
- The more expensive the purchase will be, the more research they’ll do and the more time they’ll spend doing it
- Even if they end up going to a store to make a purchase, over 80% of consumers will do online research first (confirmed by various studies)
To further prove the point, an article on Go Digital Marketing.com says 59% of consumers will buy products online that don’t need to be seen first-hand like DVDs and books. The other 41% want to see their items in person, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll buy them that way. When a consumer finds a product in-store and then buys it online, this is called “showrooming”.
Marketing Tech News.net says that as well as researching before they even leave the house, 1 in 4 consumers will use their mobile phone while in the store to look for more information to support their purchasing decision. Some of the interesting stats from this study show that 81% of consumers research online before making a purchase, up 20% from the prior year. Plus, customers spend an average of 79 days gathering information before making a major purchase. While online research plays a bigger role throughout the major purchase process, 60% of consumers start by visiting a search engine, then go to the retailer’s website. A large percentage of those folks will still end up going to a brick and mortar store to buy.
As the web and multi-channel accessibility shifts people’s buying and shopping habits, brands must also divide their distribution amongst those channels.
WHY DO CONSUMERS DO THIS WHEN IT TAKES SO MUCH TIME AND EFFORT?
Another article notes that power has shifted from the retailer to the consumer, creating the idea of ‘me-tailing’. Consumers have endless amounts of information to help them make their purchase. They can also shop anytime, anywhere and any way they choose.
This multi-channel retailing has created a buying method to suit any customer, whether they like to research online and buy in store, browse in store but buy on their smart phone, or browse in store but buy a different variation of that product online. It caters to the indecisive, the innovative, the extremely busy, the bargain shopper and the night owl internet surfer alike.
Consumers do all this research for the following reasons:
- To find the best price, including shipping
- To find the highest quality
- To find coupons or discounts
- To get more information overall, find the best fit
- To check other consumers’ satisfaction
- To check retailers’ reputation
- To feel good about themselves
With regards to that last point, one of the major takeaways from these recent surveys has been finding out that most consumers do not consider having to do this kind of a research an issue, but a welcomed opportunity. They feel better informed and more in control.
Do you remember making major purchases prior to using the internet? Anyone? J You basically picked your most convenient store, like Sears, maybe had a copy of Consumer Reports, talked to a salesperson whom you couldn’t necessarily trust, and did your best, hoping you made the right choice, which you couldn’t be sure about until a couple weeks after using the product you purchased.
NOW, you take a much different path to purchase and you feel good about it, you did your homework. You’re not getting taken advantage of.
If you choose to ignore that one-star review stating “this hotel sucks” review, well, maybe you kick yourself for it. But you were warned.
Actually, I recently bought a computer after doing a whole lot of online research and I hated it and returned it two days later. Turns out I needed to also research user forums for product deficiencies and known issues, which there were, but not until I was trying to find the solution to those same problems. The next computer I bought after that, you can be sure I checked every angle, and I’m much happier with that purchase. And when I turned around after the experience, you can bet I left a review on the retailer’s website about the first one!
A lot of people use reviews as part of the purchase process, myself included, so I must point out there’s a certain amount of bias involved…both with who is leaving the reviews, and what kind of reviews are being left. People tend not to leave reviews on average experiences, so you’re presented with bias towards both the better and the worse. Plus, the people writing the reviews are…special…. They have the time to share, they want to share, they want to influence, they want to drive business toward or away. And again, they might not be sharing average experiences. As the buyer, it’s also likely that if your heart is already pointing in one direction, you may ignore some of what you’re reading. Your own desires influence how you digest what’s being presented to you.
To return back to our general topic, let’s keep in mind these two facts:
- Fact #1: People do their homework before purchasing a product or service.
- Fact #2: But… people are lazy to some extent, and everyone has their saturation point.
WHAT CAN MARKETERS DO?
Here are some quick recommendations to help you refresh your customer experience:
- MAKE IT EASY FOR CONSUMERS TO FIND YOU: People use Google. If you’re smart and you plan for it, you can have dedicated pages pop up highest on the list. In the case of looking for a new computer, I did a search on “best computers of 2014” and pretty much stuck to the first page of my search results. Research keywords and use them wherever you can so searches find you. Place ads on the search pages.
- MAKE IT EASY FOR SHOPPERS TO COMPARE PRODUCTS
- Make essential information “pop”
- If you can utilize a website to do the comparisons for consumer, focusing on the key elements for each product or service, then consumers are likely to be more satisfied and rely on the information.
- Compare your products to other brands, your products to similar products you also sell, as well as loyalty program tiers where applicable. Here are a few examples: credit card comparison tool or table comparison, that will make it easier for the buyer to gather information:
- SHARE YOUR PRICE – And the prices of others if you can. And drive home what the customers gets for the price, give guarantees, etc. People want to feel like they’re getting a good deal.
- USE AND MONITOR SOCIAL MEDIA – You want to see what people are saying about your product or service. Influence what’s being said, get media focus, and utilize social media marketing and sharing. In the case of finding a hotel, as a consumer, I’m focusing on reviews of people who stayed there. One one-star review out of 20 can ruin things for me. However, if there are 700 reviews and one one-star review, I’m probably not going to give it much weight.
- MAKE THE SHOPPING EXPERIENCE EASY – From searching and filtering to buying and shipping and future purchases and reorders.
- OPTIMIZE FOR MOBILE – I recently did a search on restaurants close to home and came across one with an HTML site that looked like it was designed in 1995. NO. There is way too much competition out there for that to be acceptable.
- Finally, think about how you will influence buyers who make store visits a large part of their decision, whether starting there or ending there. Salespeople are a given, but what about if the stores or brands gave out easy references or comparison tables in the stores for certain product groups, especially electronics and appliances. I’ve never been handed one that I can remember, but I certainly wouldn’t ignore it if I were.
WHERE DOES LOYALTY FIT IN?
If customers are researching from various angles, where can loyalty possibly fit in? Kind of an oxymoron. However, loyalty can both influence the decision if the person is already in the program, and make future decisions easier if you snag a new customer. It has a large impact on HABIT…get your customer in the door and then start making their choices a habit by influencing their future purchases.
You can also have a mobile app that makes item searches, store location, comparisons and purchasing easier. The goal of your loyalty program is to try and remove extraneous factors from their future purchases by being foremost in their minds from the start and by offering rewards for shopping with you.
We are in the digital age of marketing, and therefore must take steps to ensure our success and firm hold in both the digital and physical marketplaces. Knowing that our customers will consult information gathered from various sources, it is imperative to cover all of those same bases.