The smartphone has dramatically changed the way people shop. Consumers have information machines in their pockets that can do more than ever. Smartphones give consumers the ability to: access abundant information at any time, communicate directly with brands (via social), and even make purchases right from their devices. Because of these innovations, brands must become more visible in this increasingly digital and mobile landscape.
Here at Ipsos, Path-to-Purchase is one of our core product offerings. So, to get to the bottom of this I interviewed Mark Berry, who currently runs Ipsos’ Retail and Shopper Insights Practice in the US. Berry provided first-hand insights and shared his thoughts on the industry’s changes when he said:
“It’s really easy to say [digital is] just making things more convenient or cheaper – but the reality is that it’s changing everything across our retail buying universe. So, it’s a very exciting time to be in shopper and retail, and to be in the research business that’s analyzing where it’s all going.”
Shoppers today seek products and services that will help improve their daily lives. While marketers of the past were obsessed with influencing customers at the ‘moments of truth,’ the reality today is that these moments no longer exist because smartphones have completely changed the way consumers shop all together. Here is how the consumer’s traditional path-to-purchase has changed and what marketers can do about it:
In the past, the first moments of truth (FMOT) in the stores were very influential for purchase decisions and brand attitudes. But today, people have already done the research and have preconceived ideas about products/ brands before they even see them on the shelves.
This new digital way of shopping, coined by Google in 2011 as the ZMOT (zero moment of truth), ought to be what modern marketers pay more attention to. The internet allows consumers to receive tremendous amounts of information before they even leave their homes. Consumers browse, search, compare, and even dream about products/ brands and then determine through their research which items will make the list, and where they will decide to do their shopping. This means that their path-to-purchase is ultimately influenced by their search for information early on, making the ZMOT very important for modern marketers.
To inform purchasing decisions, people search on their devices in many ways, and not just through search engines, like Google. Berry touched on this complexity when he said:
“Today… the world has become much more omni-channel, and that’s what’s making the path-to-purchase really a needed requirement for people to understand [consumers] on a much more detailed and granular level.”
While path-to-purchase dramatically differs between every industry and often even between different brands, there is one undeniable trend: the digital disruption. As Google explained, the internet has rapidly sped up the modern consumer’s access to information, and this information is not going to waste. Consumers utilize reviews, social media and forums to research brands and products before making purchase decisions. In fact, Google reports that consumers use an average of 7.3 sources to inform their CPG grocery decisions, 10.2 sources for travel decisions and 18.2 sources for the purchase of an automobile.
Berry is not surprised by Google’s findings. He also thinks that this abundance of information on the internet removes shopping risk and encourages consumers to pay more than they normally would for a product. He explained this theory when he said:
“If I do a lot of research online and buy online, I typically start to buy products that are lot more expensive than I would normally buy. I can read comments and reviews about a product that is three times more expensive than I would normally buy, but the comments and descriptions take out that risk, so I’m willing to buy that product… it also makes that category more of an exploratory category, one where I am more willing to take risk, spend more, and spend more time looking at products I probably never would have thought of, because [digital] eliminates the risk. ”
So, what exactly are consumers searching for?
Four years after Google spoke about ZMOT, they released another finding called: ‘Micro-moments’. Utilizing their search engine data, Google identified four key instances (micro-moments) when people turn to their devices to act on a need. These four moments include: “I-want-to-know,” “I want-to-go,” “I-want-to-do,” and “I-want-to-buy” moments.
What Does This Mean for Marketers?
Consumers know what they want and are drawn to brands that deliver what they want quickly. We know customers are searching for answers and seeking advice from others online, so as a marketer you need to make sure your brand is visible and available to answer the questions consumers are asking.
How do we do this?
For and foremost, you need to identify what the micro-moments are for your product/ brand and industry. What are people searching for in your industry? What questions are they asking? Where can consumers find you? Once you answer questions like these, you need to be there. If customers constantly search “best gluten-free cookies,” as a brand who manufactures gluten-free snacks, you want to be the first search result.
Once your brand is there and visible for consumers, it is also extremely important to be useful. If consumers are constantly asking a question in your industry and you do not answer their question, they will continue to search for the answer elsewhere. It is very important to first meet the customers’ needs, and then try to sell them your product/service. Finally, after you optimize the customer experience, you must accommodate for all relevant devices and platforms and measure your efforts closely to make future adjustments.
A Complicated Feat
While Google indicates seemingly simple steps, the reality is that it’s not that easy. A consumer’s path-to-purchase and online behavior is extremely unpredictable. Berry explained that path-to-purchase isn’t as simple as was thought in the past, and that consumers do and think things that they don’t even realize. Ipsos’ effort to recognize this nuance is apparent when Berry said:
“We now have a much better understanding of how people are influenced in ways that we weren’t thinking about before. They’re influenced socially – they’re influenced by all kinds of things that we don’t necessarily equate with traditional advertising and promotion. We’re also coming to a greater understanding of how people are influenced by things that they can’t even tell you about. They’re influenced in ways that are non-conscious. So, it’s not only going forward with the traditional things we call touch-points, or moments of influence, but it’s about how people are influenced consciously and non-consciously – and how to best communicate with them.”
In order to understand your consumers at this deeper level, path-to-purchase research can help. Here at Ipsos, our research tools accommodate to this increasingly digital environment. Berry explained that in addition to more traditional methods to get more insightful data: “we also have the ability to track people.” He continued to explain Ipsos’ methodology when he said:
“We can track people’s devices to really understand the nuances of: how they’re are shopping online, where they’re going, what they do before they go shopping, and what they do afterward. This gives us a holistic view of how you move through devices and how those devices interact with your shopping style.”
Since consumers often utilize many sources and platforms to guide their purchasing decisions, it’s very important to adjust marketing efforts to meet the needs of your consumers where they are already looking. Through path-to-purchase research, your company can better understand how you can reach your consumers. Whether that be on Google, social media or other online platforms, modern marketers must make their brands stand out in this newly digital path-to-purchase.