Understanding the Path to Purchase: It’s not a straight line

Peter Shafer, Vice President, Digital Solutions

All too often, sellers think the route consumers take to purchasing their products is a straight superhighway, with no detours or exits along the way. But they couldn’t be more incorrect. The journey buyers take to making a purchase or perhaps becoming part of a loyalty program is hardly linear—especially these days, when they have so many distractions in both the real, bricks-and-mortar world and the whole online universe. And it’s up to us in the insight gathering industry to use agile research to help our clients understand how buyers take the trip to their brands and what they can do to ensure their customers don’t take an exit ramp before completing their journey.

Distractions and Influences Along the Way

As an example of how someone can wander off course from the buy, let’s take a look at someone who goes online to purchase business travel. While looking for that travel package for a conference in Chicago, they may be seduced by sites offering fantasy travel packages to Tahiti. After spending time indulging their exotic fantasies, it’s uncertain if they’ll find their way back to the original point of departure on the path to purchase.

Detours and distractions are made so much easier than ever with the array of devices, applications and online experiences available to consumers.  By enabling a consumer to jump from one device to another without “losing their place”, these tools allow buyers to gather and collate so many more options, that it opens many new paths to purchase.

Then, of course, everyone is surrounded by people who might influence their buying decisions. In the case of the person buying business travel, a spouse or business associate might point them in a direction away from their original destination.

Bottom Line: The balance of power when it comes to making purchases is now definitely in the buyers’ camp. The vast array of choices for consumers has made the path to purchase much more circuitous. But we can help clients make changes that will help them navigate this new path to purchase.

Changing Mindset and Processes

In this new environment—with the balance of power residing with the buyer—sellers need to rethink how they interface with consumers. They need to make the buying process shorter, easier and more attractive. Amazon is a great example of a seller that has shortened the path to purchase to just a few clicks. That raises the bar for everyone; consumers are now demanding this kind of simplicity. Without it, they are apt to abandon the path to purchase.

It’s also critical that—with our help—brands tap into agile research practices to bring together data from a variety of sources, in order to better understand how their customers get to the point of purchase. For example, surveys for CVS link back to the retailer’s loyalty card. But because many consumers are spending significant amounts on medication, it’s hard to use the data to determine the path to purchase in the front of the store. Transactional data needs to be added to the equation to gain a full picture of customers’ buying habits.

We in the insight gathering industry have begun to understand the changes that need to be made to keep a consumer on the path to purchase. It’s up to us to help our clients make those changes.