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Whatever Your Channel, the Path To Purchase is Long and Winding


Attending the Market Insight Forum last month, I was struck by the number of clients interested in discussing the Customer Journey. For one or two attendees whose business model was solely focused online, this turned out to be a fancy way of describing the way their customers navigated the internet before hitting on their brand. For others, however, the phrase Customer Journey was used in a manner much closer to our own understanding, as a description of the process wherein the consumer recognises a need, becomes educated about the many options available (different brands, different retail channels, different price points), and proceeds, ultimately, to make a decision about what to buy.

P&G, as usual, developed the neatest definition of the Customer Journey when they identified the three key Moments of Truth: Awareness, Purchase and Consumption. (Google are currently keen to add a fourth – the Zero Moment of Truth – which again relates to internet navigation, but this is surely simply one avenue of Awareness – albeit increasingly important).

When Visuality first began researching shopper behaviour, nearly 20 years ago, our focus was entirely on understanding the moment of purchase – the “last 10 feet to the customer” as it has sometimes been described. At that time, nobody had heard of “Shopper Marketing”, nobody had a “Shopper Insight Team” and, crucially, nobody had a budget for shopper research. Our focus on the point of purchase was mostly because this was genuinely poorly understood, but also arose out of a need to educate clients about the difference between shoppers and consumers and to explain, over and over again, why it was impossible to learn about in-store behaviour in a focus group.

In reality, this hard differentiation between shoppers and consumers was always forced. Shoppers and consumers are often one and the same. Even when they are different (Mum buying for her family), the shopper’s involvement in the extended decision about what to buy will often be deep and complex.

It has entered the mythology of shopper marketing that most purchase decisions are made in store; this is rarely true and is always an oversimplification. For many everyday items, such as a loaf of bread, the decision about which brand to buy may have been made generations ago, and maintained ever since as a family tradition.

To really understand shoppers’ decision-making processes, it is necessary to spend time with them in their home, understanding how information is gleaned, attitudes are formed and products are consumed, as well as spending time in store watching how intentions are facilitated or frustrated by the store environment.

In short, we need to understand our customers as both consumers and shoppers, and to spend time with them all along the path to purchase, from the very beginning.

Image: Kirt Edblom

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