On a B2C Road to Nowhere? Here’s How to Navigate Your Consumer’s Complex Purchase Journey

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In the wake of massive changes to the retail landscape and the growing focus on zero- and first-party data collection, it’s particularly important to understand the purchase channels and touchpoints that are most important to your target consumer. But understanding your target consumer’s path to purchase without a purchase journey study is a bit like driving in a new city without a map: it’s not easy to navigate without one.

A consumer journey study is research conducted through direct interaction with or observations of your target consumers by way of interviews, field studies, focus groups and other methods that can help you better understand your customer’s path to purchase. Beginning with initial purchase inspiration to the final stages of product purchase and post-purchase product usage, a well-crafted study will illuminate purchase trigger behavior and influential touchpoints, and help guide the marketing team with actionable insights that can better influence those touchpoints along that path. 

The study can also help identify gaps in the consumer purchase funnel to help marketing turn product considerers into product buyers. For example, you might ask participants in your study why they decided to purchase a competitor’s product instead of your own to identify the main purchase barriers for your product and uncover potential solutions to overcoming these barriers.

Ready to initiate a consumer journey study? Here are some things to consider.

The Dos (and Don’ts) of Conducting a Study

The questions that you and your team decide to ask in a consumer journey study should help you better understand how to connect with your target consumer and pave the way for an ongoing relationship. Many common questions focus on purchase triggers (i.e. the reasons behind deciding to purchase a new item), different shopping channels (i.e. in-store and online channels), and satisfaction with the newly-purchased product. Oftentimes, it will also be important to gather demographic data about your key shopping segment (such as age, gender, parental status and household income) to better understand who is actually purchasing your products.

Let’s look at some best practices for launching and executing a consumer purchase journey study. These best practices are based on our own experience working with our clients and are designed to help you navigate the complex consumer journey landscape.

Focus on primary decision makers. In many households, it’s common for one or two people to be in charge of purchase decisions, such as a parent on behalf of his or her children. In this scenario, the parent would be considered the primary decision maker, not the children. In your consumer purchase journey study, it’s important to ask survey respondents about their role in the purchase decision-making process because you want to understand the purchase triggers and most influential shopping touchpoints of those who will ultimately decide whether or not to purchase your product. 

Consider long-term versus short-term purchase behaviors. The COVID-19 pandemic rapidly reshaped the retail landscape and transformed many consumers' typical purchase behaviors. For example, according to eMarketer, “click and collect” sales (i.e. sales of products purchased online and picked up in-store) increased 106.9% in 2020. However, not all of these COVID-driven changes are likely to stick, and it’s important to determine what behaviors are likely long-term versus short-term. For example, you can ask survey respondents in your study how they anticipate purchasing a product or service a year from now and compare that to how they have recently purchased a product or service. 

Understand the attributes and behaviors of those who considered, but did not purchase, your product. In your research, you will likely identify a few consumers who considered your product but ultimately did not purchase it. What happened? Why did the shopper decide to buy a competitor’s product? By understanding the attributes and behaviors of those who considered but ultimately did not purchase your product, you can identify potential product features or capabilities that might convert some of these considerers into purchasers. 

Conduct your consumer purchase journey study on a recurring basis. As the retail landscape continues to evolve, there will always be new channels and influential shopping touchpoints that emerge, such as livestream video shopping channels on Amazon and the recent emergence of in-app shopping on TikTok. Depending on your team’s resources and capabilities, consider running a consumer purchase journey study on an annual or semi-annual basis in order to capture the ongoing changes in your target consumer’s purchase journey. 

Partner with retailers and manufacturers to implement consumer journey findings at the retail level. Given that global eCommerce retail sales grew 27.6% while overall retail sales declined 3.0% in 2020, it’s no surprise that the websites of retailers and manufacturers are some of the most important and influential shopping touchpoints. Consumers turn to these channels to learn about products, read customer reviews and compare items. Once you have completed your consumer purchase journey study, consider sharing these insights with your key retail partners in order to implement these best practices at the retail point of sale.

By implementing these best practices in your next consumer journey study, you’ll strengthen your brand or product’s relationship with your target shopper and identify new ways to connect with your key consumers. Instead of being on a “road to nowhere,” you’ll have a clear roadmap of your intended consumer’s path to purchase.

Considering a consumer journey study? Our team of experts can help. 

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