BrainTrust Query: Debunking The Myths Of ‘Path To Purchase’

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Nov 04, 2011
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Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of an article from GfK insights4u, an interactive online community developed by GfK Interscope and designed to connect marketing professionals, product managers, brand managers and market researchers.

The prototypical path to purchase is evolving away from a simple linear model of "pre-store, in-store, in-aisle" to a multi-stage web of sourcing information, products, and channels; evaluating needs; selecting brands; and maximizing value post-purchase. The point where a purchase is made marks the beginning of the journey and not the end.

The purchase provides the chance to build relationships. It tees up the next purchase, and the chance to extend brand connections post purchase through everything from rewards clubs to loyalty cards to online communities. The upshot is that with this new, more nuanced path to purchase, the potential shopper touchpoints are exploding. They extend well beyond traditional media forms to a plethora of potential influences including:

  • Word of mouth (opinions of friends and family, sales attendants)
  • In store (demos, info desks, kiosks)
  • Online (Google, websites, social media, online communities, shopping sites)
  • Mail (newspaper flyers and direct mail from retailers and brands)
  • Mobile (location based shopping assistants, price comparison apps)

In many ways, the linchpin of this revolution is the smartphone which is fundamentally changing the way information is accessed, organized and shared. But interviews with industry leaders clearly show that they’re aware but not ready for the wave that’s coming. According to the 2010 Futurescope study:

  • Three of four respondents (73 percent) agree or strongly agree that digital/mobile will transform shopping over the next four years
  • Half of respondents (50 percent) disagree or strongly disagree with the notion that their organization is prepared to manage the impact of digital/mobile.
  • Six of ten online retailers either don’t have (26 percent) or are in the early stages of developing (36 percent) a mobile strategy.

Mobile technology is bringing in a lot of insights through a conduit that wasn’t available before — new research approaches such as Shopping Ethnographies (real time, pre-, during and post-shop), Mobile Diaries (ongoing feedback in the moment via photos and video), and Location Tracking (GPS-enabled shopper pathway identification).

Big picture, there is simply too much potential for organizations not to commit the resources and make staying on top of mobile technologies and other emerging touchpoints a top priority. Throw out the old models of path to purchase and embrace the expanded view of the shopping process. There is simply too much to lose.

Discussion Questions: Is the traditional path to purchase model — pre-store, in-store, in-aisle — becoming less relevant? How would you qualify the disruption to the path to purchase caused by smartphones as well as other newer touchpoints such as store cards and online communities?

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15 Comments on "BrainTrust Query: Debunking The Myths Of ‘Path To Purchase’"


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Joel Rubinson
Guest
9 years 6 months ago

I think these three buckets make sense, it’s just that the activities can occur in a less linear way. I still want to know what people are doing in-aisle; if they are somehow using Google on their smartphones to build their shopping list on the fly while in aisle, that’s important to know.

Mark Heckman
Guest
9 years 6 months ago

The “Digital” Path to purchase does challenge traditional thinking as mobile technology enables shoppers to get additional information and incentives to purchase at every point of their purchase journey. Digital has already shifted much of the decision activity ahead of the store visit. Locational technology…when it becomes more exact and refined, will drive more opportunities for the consumer to alter or add to their list while they are shopping in the aisle. But whether we are talking about in-home, in-transit, or locational (in-store), these technologies must be positioned to learn from each shopper interaction and leverage this information to develop ever-increasing relevant content. No matter how convenient or how slick the technology, its success will be driven by pushing value through relevancy to the shopper. In my view, this is the only way it can be profitable for the brand and retailer and remain alluring for the consumer.

Dr. Stephen Needel
Guest
9 years 6 months ago

I agree with Joel — the three points in the path are the three points. Each has always been more complex than this simple model points out, which is why we have no viable theory of consumer behavior yet.

Smartphones are not disrupting the path — they are providing another source of input to the decision making process. The same with all forms of shopper marketing and online communities — they are just another source of input into the process.

Lisa Bradner
Guest
Lisa Bradner
9 years 6 months ago
I don’t know that the path to purchase was ever as linear as we liked to pretend it was, it’s just that we couldn’t measure the impact of things like word of mouth before they became technology enabled. We’ve always sought out opinions, done research, gone back and reconsidered a purchase and told our friends about what we bought and if we liked it. That being said there’s no question that mobile/social/digital changes the dynamics and complicates the path to purchase. My company partnered with Google to do research on the new ZMOT (zero moment of truth). Google it to download a free copy; it demonstrates the increasing complexity of trying to map the path to purchase. In an era when I can make a counter-offer to a shopper who’s already in store, when a shopper can look up a discount in store before they buy, when shoppers have near perfect price information in front of them, retailers will need to up their game. Smart retailers will figure out how to use these tools to… Read more »
Doug Stephens
Guest
Doug Stephens
9 years 6 months ago

Totally agree. The old idea of the marketing funnel beginning with advertising to generate awareness is archaic. In fact, the purchase may be the first stop on the path to consumer brand awareness. Forget about their being one path and focus on being excellent, consistent and remarkable at all conceivable touch points.

Dr. Emmanuel Probst
Guest
Dr. Emmanuel Probst
9 years 6 months ago

I think the foundations of the traditional path to purchase remain the same, although the actual process is certainly a lot more complex. Smartphones and other technologies are very disruptive as price comparison apps and consumer reviews websites allow consumers to access more information in real time and exit the path at anytime. I like that technologies give more options to shoppers and provide more data points to marketers (i.e: GPS tracking). While these technologies seem to make the path to purchase more tangible, rational and measurable, researching shoppers emotional responses remains as important (or may even become more important).

Mark Price
Guest
Mark Price
9 years 6 months ago
Absolutely, the traditional purchase path has changed and will continue to do so. While in grocery, the purchase decision process is likely to stay the same, since needs are relatively immediate, and frequency so high, other retailers are finding that the impact of mobile commerce to be significant. The risk is that the retail store becomes more of a showroom, where prospects inspect the merchandise, determine the fit and then order the products online to be delivered to the home at the most competitive price. Retailers such as Best Buy are struggling with these challenges today, and seeking to create innovative solutions to address the issue. In addition, what retailers are finding, particularly for highly considered purchases (e.g. high ticket), is that the traditional sales funnel no longer applies. Prospects, after identifying their need, bounce back and forth around social media, comparison sites, brand web sites and word-of-mouth before they make the decision to enter into the purchase process. For these considered purchases, over 80% of prospects have completed web research before even contacting the… Read more »
Anne Howe
Guest
9 years 6 months ago

The smartphone, while today a device used as a convenience tool in the traditional three step path-to-purchase could easily soon be, for shoppers, the personal dashboard that fully serves as all three steps. Not all shoppers will adopt. But there will be disruption ahead as we all have to adapt to more than one way to think about how to be relevant in more than one path to the consumer’s share of mind, wallet and heart.

Phil Rubin
Guest
9 years 6 months ago

GfK is right in terms of the traditional path to purchase being less relevant and mobile is a primary cause but that understates the disruption that’s taken place. The issue is more about the relationship potential that a purchase can (and should) lead to between customers and brands. This is where many brand and merchants especially are falling short.

The only way for companies to succeed long term is to have an enterprise oriented around customers. This means using the data from touchpoints that GfK describes and mobilizing the resulting insights to be more valuable to the customers throughout the loops.

Joel Warady
Guest
Joel Warady
9 years 6 months ago

When discussing the path to purchase, we should not get hung up on the technology as much as the philosophy and the purchasing habits of the consumer. Today we are talking about the smartphone, and the current technology that exists in the consumer’s pocket. Sometime in the near future, we will look at smartphones and muse as to how antiquated they are, as we marvel the then current technology of the day.

Rather than focus on the technology itself, it is important to understand that power comes with knowledge, and the consumer is becoming ever more powerful as they are able to gather more information, and gain greater knowledge, at multiple points along the path-to-purchase. The more retailers and CPG brands understand that their role is to provide as much content as possible to help the consumer gain more knowledge, the better they will be prepared to be a part of the decision-making process in the consumer’s mind.

Tim Henderson
Guest
Tim Henderson
9 years 6 months ago

Given the many changes in consumer lifestyles and shopping behaviors — as well as the increasing number of brand choices — the traditional path to purchase is less relevant. Today’s consumers have dozens of routes that can be taken both before and after purchase. And it only gets more complicated when we consider that consumers adopt different behaviors when purchasing one product vs. another, e.g., consider the differences in purchasing a box of cereal, a new suit and a new washing machine.

Going forward, the path to purchase will always be fluid. That doesn’t mean brands should give up trying to understand the path and how consumers arrive at buying decisions. Rather, it means brands must accept that while they have less influence at certain points along the path, they can be more influential at other key points. It’s at those latter points on the path where brands should attempt to exert more influence, e.g., at the shelf via smartphone, with follow-up customer service, in online communications, etc.

Matthew Keylock
Guest
Matthew Keylock
9 years 6 months ago

Agree with Lisa and Doug. Consumer needs and wants have been getting more complex for some time. Enabled both by technology but also many other factors that are not all about technology (e.g. greater expendable income and leisure time). The great thing about some of the technology like smartphones is that they enable us to understand these connections via the data and if we do this well, it allows us to build stronger connections with consumers.

Ralph Jacobson
Guest
9 years 6 months ago

At the moment, the overall disruption to the traditional path to purchase model in minimal, compared to the total world of retailing/commerce. Over the next two years we will see an exponential growth of the adoption of m-commerce and the model will evolve into a more complex set of touch points, but still a very linear mode of “research,” “shopping,” “purchasing.” The transactions components may change, however the agile retailer will have the ability to match the demands of the shopper by utilizing the right analytics tools available today.

Scott Nelson
Guest
Scott Nelson
9 years 6 months ago

I don’t believe the traditional path to purchase was a solid model to begin with. It forces us to examine too closely tactics that are used in shopping environments instead of broader more strategic issues: WHO are our shoppers, HOW do our products fit into their lives and WHAT does that mean for the retail environment?

That said, I don’t believe smartphones and other “newer touchpoints” are “disrupting” the path to purchase, but are ENHANCING it tremendously by EMPOWERING shoppers with more tools to make more informed purchase decisions and have more efficient and *gasp* more pleasurable purchase experiences.

Part of my issue with the question is that it’s not shopper centric. Shoppers, in their own minds aren’t on a “path to purchase.” They’re living their lives. When we start to examine the shopper exclusively and how our brand(s) fit into their lives, we alone can forecast their path to purchase, how it can be enhanced and what that means for the brands we represent.

Digital is one of many tactics we can leverage.

Ed Dennis
Guest
Ed Dennis
9 years 6 months ago
Who has attempted to codify common sense? This mumbo jumbo speak is irrelevant. What is relevant is increasing customer service which means finding ways to “LISTEN” to the customer. Mapping may be great if you aren’t charged with any P&L responsibility and have suckered someone into believing YOU have the answer. Besides, there have always been so many paths to purchase that studying them is futile in that it does little to enhance the purchase. The fact is the “PATH” is becoming linear as middle men are being removed hourly. I made a purchase on Amazon this week but was notified that the merchant (Amazon) was OOS. They suggested several other Amazon merchants with higher prices. I decided to Google the product and immediately found it direct and saved $35 over the original low Amazon price. What is the lesson here? Well if I map my purchase process I learn that there are cheaper alternatives than Amazon. I didn’t need a consultant to figure this out.
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