Shopping Behaviors: Did They Really Change?

October 7, 2019

By Jean Marc Rejaud

Lepusinensis/Getty Images

We’ve all heard or read that shopping behaviors have changed. New information and communication channels, as well as entertainment and productivity applications such as cloud-based software, have multiplied thanks to the digital revolution. Shoppers can now use more shopping pathways than ever before. The digital revolution resulted in a multitude of ways a consumer can navigate a purchase decision. For example, Facebook lets you ask for the opinions of your friends on a product or service that you are curious about; Google Search allows you to obtain information on that same product and its competitors in a way that most likely exceeds what a salesperson in the store could provide; companies such as Amazon empower you even more by providing the ability to check product ratings and make the purchase from the convenience of your home and receive the product on the same day as it was ordered, at a price that beats the competition.

 

Did Behaviors Really Change?

What remains the same, however, is the core shopper behavior. A consumer still needs to first realize and identify a need, then find information on the available options to satisfy that need, compare those options to make a purchase decision, make the actual purchase, and second guess if it was the right decision. For example, a consumer has to first realize he or she needs to eat, then find out what are the available food options, then decide what type of food to actually eat and where to buy it, then make the purchase, and finally re-consider if the choice made, was, in fact, the correct choice.

The five consumer behavior stages (need recognition, information gathering, alternatives comparison, purchase decision, and post-purchase dissonance) have been and continue to be active in the purchase behavior process.

And this is true for all verticals or industries from fashion to CPG. In fact, this is true in all manners of commerce.

 

So What Has Changed?

A More Chaotic Five-Stage Customer Journey

What has changed is the set of channels and pathways that the consumer uses to go through those stages. This change is driven by the emergence and the predominance of digital channels, which have significantly impacted the way consumers communicate, gather information, and make a purchase.

Specifically, the consumer is no longer going through a purchase process that is mono-dimensional where there is one direct journey from needs recognition to purchase. Furthermore, the purchase process is no longer linearly controlled with one stage after another. This differs from the past when brands controlled and influenced the majority of the information to the consumer as well as the channels used to do so.

With digital technology, not only does the shopper have more ownership of his or her shopper behavior “movements” (much more of the shopping flow is directly under his or her control) but the shopper also has many more choices for information gathering, evaluation, and purchase options.

These changes are potentially creating a somewhat chaotic situation in which consumers might seem to be “going all over the place,” back and forth and back again.

This apparent chaos led to new shopping path models such as the Purchase Fish by Resource Interactive/The Futures Company.

While there are multiple purchase path or journey options to reach the purchase stage (with some back and forth), these options still align with the five main stages.

To be successful, a shopper marketer needs to have a more detailed understanding of the actual steps and channels that a consumer will use at each stage of the behavior purchase process.

 

The Acceleration of the Purchase Process

Another notable and related change in consumer purchase behavior is the fact that consumers are moving through the purchase stages more quickly. The reason for this is that consumers have increased amounts of information that can be accessed more rapidly. In addition, they have access to others’ opinions to assist in making their own decision. The net result is that the consumer is more educated in both identifying the need and researching the possible solutions and purchase options. The speed of knowledge is quick and the level of emersion in the decision is deeper. That being said, they still go through the 5 stages.

 

A Dramatic Digitization of Shopping and Media Habits

There is clear market growth in the digital and ecommerce sectors as compared to traditional channels of purchase.

  • According to eMarketer, ecommerce sales will grow every year by 14 percent to 16 percent from 2015 to 2021, to reach $790 billion in the US by 2021.
  • Consumers are also embracing omni-channel, where online and offline channels are combined, to provide a seamless experience to their consumers across all channels.

Just like commerce is digitalized, news and information consumption is becoming increasingly digitalized as well.

  • According to eMarketer, while in 2014, TV, radio, and print represented 54 percent of the time spent by American adults consuming media daily; it has decreased to 50 percent in 2016 and is projected to decrease further to 47 percent by 2019 (eMarketer April 2017).
  • By 2019, most the time will be spent on digital media with mobile representing more than half of that digital time, with people listening to the radio, checking social networks, or viewing videos.

Accordingly, shopper marketers must increasingly leverage digital channels, devices, and media. One more time, this status in no way suggests that the 5 stages purchase process model does not apply anymore. It does, just online or omnichannel, rather than just offline.

Once again, all this is true for all manners of commerce, depending upon the level of digitalization of the industry segment and its reliance on digital marketing. Now, we cannot really list any industry segment that has not been touched by a more chaotic five-stage customer journey, an acceleration of the purchase process, and a digitalization of shopping and media habits. So there is no real exception.

 

Bottom Line: The Five-Stage Purchase Process Still Applies

Yes, the number of purchase path solutions has increased. Yes, the purchase process has accelerated. Yes, most of the interactions are happening online. But, behind all these changes, the core stages of the purchase process have not changed and it is important for a shopper marketer not to forget this principle. Otherwise, this will lead to chaotic shopper marketing campaign planning, chaotic touchpoints management and chaotic interactions with consumers/ shoppers/purchasers. By integrating the five stages, a shopper marketer will better plan what touchpoints for what purpose and in what sequence but also will be able to better integrate with brand campaigns by aligning brand and shopper communications with the requirements of each stage.

Jean Marc Rejaud is associate professor of advertising and marketing communications at the Fashion Institute of Technology.


The views and opinions expressed in Marketing Maestros are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.


You must be logged in to submit a comment.