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Shoppers Take a Nonlinear Path to Purchase

Journey is complex and multidirectional

A lingering recession, coupled with consumers’ rapid adoption of digital tools, has inexorably altered shopping behavior in categories like groceries, home electronics, apparel and quick-service restaurants. Consumers engage with a variety of digital platforms as they research small and large purchases, when they’re in physical stores and during post-shop activities such as product reviews and referrals. Further, the path to purchase is increasingly nonlinear, according to the findings of a global retail study conducted by Microsoft Advertising and Carat.

The study, conducted in March 2010, examined how the recession has changed shoppers’ purchasing habits and how different media touchpoints affect consumer shopping behavior, including the way people learn about, research and discuss their purchase decisions. This shift has altered the traditional purchase funnel whereby marketers move consumers from awareness to sales to include digital media. For example, consumers may first learn about a product based on a tweet from a friend or a post on a social network, then go online via computer or smartphone to research the product, search for the product and consult product reviews. Beyond that, offline word-of-mouth and media remain influencers, making for a complex multimedia experience along the path to purchase.

Using mobile devices in-store to help make a final decision on an item is a newer and notable influence along the purchase path: The study found 38% of US shoppers said they used their mobile devices to help make a final decision to make a store purchase. And 31% of those polled purchased a new item after using their phone in-store. This finding signifies the rise of yet another media channel in the convoluted path to purchase.

Further demonstrating the need for brands and retailers to evaluate the impact of digital touchpoints, the study found that post-shop, 11% of those blogged about the purchase experience, posted a comment about the purchase on a social networking site and 11% posted a review online, respectively.

In addition, the research found that in the low-involvement grocery segment, 39% of those surveyed engaged in social network conversation about potential purchases but 47% of grocery reconnaissance occurred on the phone with friends and family. It is worth noting that not all social networking is digital.

Another study, “Engaging Consumers: The New Normal,” conducted by Chadwick Martin Bailey, iModerate Research Technologies and SageBerry Consulting, underscores the findings. That report found that since consumers have reduced spending, the shopping process becomes all the more important. The bottom line: Entirely new shopping, research and media consumption habits are emerging—and retailers and brands need to figure out how to address them.

“We found that the way people shop has changed and that during the period where people are making and refining lists, owned media from retailers is a top source of information,” said Beth Uyenco Shatto, global research director with Microsoft's ads unit.

By “owned” Shatto means media that originates from retailers online, in-store and elsewhere. Owned media created by marketers that appears on the retailer’s site (e.g., banners, video and microsites), along with in-store media, are also influential.

As consumer purchasing habits change, so must retailer and marketer communications. They need to collaborate to engage consumers on every channel that has the capacity to influence purchase and result in post-purchase satisfaction.

Keep your business ahead of the digital curve. Learn more about becoming an eMarketer Total Access client today.

Check out today’s other article, “Corporate Blogging Goes Mainstream.”

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