The Evolving E-Commerce Consumer Journey

White Paper

It’s 2pm on a Tuesday. Do you know where your shoppers are?

You’ve analyzed your traffic, fine-tuned your ad campaigns and scoured activity across your marketplaces. But do you really know what your consumers are doing?

Despite the depth of data available today, the e-commerce consumer path to purchase can often feel like a moving target. Constant changes to mobile technology, social media and search algorithms are continually reshaping how consumers interact with brands and retailers.

In 2000, nearly one out of five shoppers made a purchase the first time they heard about a brand. By 2015, that number had shrunk to one out of 100 as the average number of touchpoints it took for a person to ultimately buy had more than doubled, from two to five. Just 2% of today’s first-time visitors will complete transactions before leaving an online store or marketplace.

In other words the days of a consistent and reliable “search, click, buy” process are long gone. In its place is often a complicated web of deliberate steps, each one inching your target consumer closer to the “buy now” button over the course of many days, weeks or months.

This continually-evolving journey is no longer a clear-cut funnel, but more of a maze. Each consumer path is unique and uncertain — which means today’s e-commerce seller hasn’t reached its full potential until it’s maintaining a strong presence at every twist and turn.

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In the Beginning

Retailers and brands could map out a typical path consumers would take when making or informing a buying decision — and then apply the phases of that funnel to hundreds or thousands (or tens of thousands) of shoppers to predict behaviors at each stage.

There are scenarios where the journey is still straightforward and simple: A shopper in need of replacement filters for his vacuum, for instance, or the distance runner whose favorite water-wicking shirt is worn thin.

Increasingly, however, consumers are taking much more fragmented journeys that span a multitude of channels.

Do Linear Consumer Journeys Still Exist?

Absolutely. Consider what happened at ChannelAdvisor customer, Seismic Audio. By all accounts, this auto parts retailer’s e-commerce strategy was a success. But even as the auto parts retailer experienced high growth on eBay and Amazon, execs were aware of untapped revenue potential in additional marketplaces and search engines. Adopting a more aggressive digital marketing strategy and expanding to, Sears, Newegg and Best Buy ultimately led to 1,250% increase in gross sales from ready-to-buy consumers.

A Flash of Inspiration

A Dinner Party

Somewhere between the second and third bottles of wine, guests start gushing over details of the host’s newly remodeled kitchen. Where'd you get those pendant lights? How did you think to pair those countertops with that backsplash? Several recommended brands and retailers are discussed during the animated conversation that ensues.

A Shopping Trip

A few miles away, in a 100,000-square-foot hardware store, a shopper is approaching the last item on her list and is ambling toward the checkout line when a new display stops her in her tracks. I love those shelves! And the rug would look great next to the curtains I saw in aisle 12. She takes a picture for later reference before moving on.

As Soon As Inspiration Hits, The First “Phase” Of The Consumer Journey Has Begun. Take a thousand different consumers, and you’ll get a thousand different entry points:

  • One might be shopping for another product online when a suggested item catches her eye.

  • Another could be sitting in a conference room with colleagues when a casual conversation about weekend activities pulls him toward an unfamiliar brand

While retailers and brands are often told to prioritize awareness as the first phase in a conversion cycle or funnel, the process in fact starts much earlier: at inspiration. Consumers are frequently motivated by outside influences long before they ever become aware of specific brands and retailers. This inspiration can come from anywhere and hit at any time, whether they're scrolling through social media feeds, striking up a conversation in the checkout line or watching TV.

The more comprehensive your digital marketing strategies and marketplace presence, the more likely your brand will be able to make an impression at this stage.

The Shift to Awareness

The Dinner Guests Have Gone Home

The TV is on and tablets are perched on laps. On one screen are the search results for “stainless steel tiles.” Another screen has transitioned from “blue hanging light” to “brushed nickel and aquamarine glass pendant.” On a third are dozens of headlines resulting from a mission to discover what it takes to become a craft beer connoisseur. Still floating on a cloud of momentum, these consumers are feeling motivated and moved to unearth the latest and greatest products at their disposal.

The Office Gets Overwhelming

It’s time for a mid-morning social media break to calm the nerves, which means Pinterest is pulled up. The colors and materials in that store display were exciting, but what would they look like in a real room? Picture after picture is pinned as beautiful renditions of the ideal baby nursery appear. It’s a sharp turn for the consumer, who is slowly becoming more attuned to the products she likes. While she may not be ready to buy, she’s getting a much stronger sense of what she wants.

This Is The Moment Of Awareness

It might begin when a consumer is introduced to a brand for the first time. Or it could be a reminder of a retailer after a period away; a trigger that allures the prospective customer back with renewed interest. As brands and retailers slowly creep their ways into the consciousness of the consumer, those with the strongest search and social presence will make the most lasting impressions.

Evaluation Intensifies

A Promotion Frees Up Funds

Fast forward three months, and suddenly a promotion and pay raise have put a wishlist of home projects back on the table. Only this time, reviews and ratings are getting a lot of attention in attempts to discover what other consumers have experienced when buying and using the same items.

An Event Increases Urgency

The path takes a sharp turn as the baby’s due date looms closer. Now that the countdown is on, it’s time to start thinking about making an actual decision. As specific items come under scrutiny, Facebook is one channel that plays a central role in the hunt for advice and recommendations from peers.

This is When More Intense Evaluation Comes Into Play

It’s a critical stage for every brand and retailer. Fast decision-makers will skim a few ratings and testimonials; more methodical shoppers will scour every review site and resource they can find. Sometimes these brand interactions are triggered days or weeks after initial inspiration and awareness; other times they happen in tandem with other “phases.” Either way, there are a number of marketplace and digital marketing techniques that can play a critical role throughout the course of evaluations.

Did You Know?

  • 84% of people trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations
  • Even a product with negative reviews sells better than a product with no reviews.
  • Star ratings above 3 increase the likelihood of purchase

Are You Maximising Your Marketplace and Digital Marketing at This Phase?

Here are a few resources to help you decide:

  • 5 Mistakes to Avoid When Advertising 1P on Amazon
  • Boost Your eBay Listing Visibility with Promoted Listings
  • Sell on Walmart with ChannelAdvisor

Transition To Consideration

Website Views Lead to Email Opt-Ins and Products are Piled Into Online Shopping Carts

By now, e-commerce website visits are starting to result in email opt-ins as consumers actively seek out product discounts, updates and offers. As specific items undergo more serious consideration, products are added to shopping carts—not necessarily to buy, but rather test: What’s the free shipping threshold? How much will it cost after taxes and fees? Can I get it for less elsewhere? These are a few of the many questions being asked as consumers price compare.

Potential purchases come under serious consideration at this stage.

While many consumers aren’t ready to buy, they are willing to connect. And therein lies the opportunity for savvy brands and retailers. As prospective customers weave their ways closer to purchase, a lot can happen as they consider parting with hard-earned money while interacting with merchants, marketplaces and search engines for research.

Did You Know?

According to a TechValidate survey of ChannelAdvisor Where to Buy customers, 77% of surveyed organizations increased qualified sales traffic from their website to online purchases with retailers using Where to Buy: Buy Online. Wondering if your customers know where to buy your products?

Time to Compare

An Ad

It was intended to be a nudge; a gentle reminder of forgotten products just waiting to be shipped and enjoyed. “Oh right, I was thinking of buying that,” thinks the consumer as he clicks the retargeting ad. “Hmm...I wonder where else can I get it for less?” It’s certainly not the reaction the seller was going for, but a reality to be anticipated in today’s fiercely competitive e-commerce environments.

An Email

As the message is opened, the reaction is instantaneous: “Those items are still in my cart? Maaaaybe it’s time to buy. But will I be paying the lowest price possible?”

The Comparison Phases Can Come at Virtually Any Time

As consumers analyze their way through the journey, some will start to compare products and prices relatively quickly. Others will take days, weeks or even months to weave their ways to this phase. Regardless of when the moment hits, there are certain strategies that are guaranteed to propel them along:

  • Algorithmic Repricing
  • Comparison Shopping Engines
  • Utilising Various Marketplace "Daily Deal" Sites
  • Automated Product Listing and Inventory Management

When Price Comparing Proves Critical

How much difference can algorithmic repricing make? Just ask Direct Home Supply. Twentyfour hours after setting up ChannelAdvisor Algorithmic Repricer for Amazon, the supplier was winning 135% more of the Buy Box on Amazon. The company also saw a 26% increase in total revenue and 46% increase in gross profits.

Converting at Last

By the time consumers approach the moment of conversion, most know exactly what they want. Often a longtail, branded keyword search — be it in Google, Amazon, Walmart or another channel — is used to reveal a short list of “top picks” and prices for the product at hand. Successful capture of these coveted spots, and the checkout experiences that follow, play a big role in what happens next.

Who’s traveling on this journey? Put simply, everyone. It can be tempting to think of consumers in terms of demographic buckets: Millennials prefer interacting with brands online. Or Baby Boomers want to visit stores.

In reality, today’s shopping behaviors, choices and preferences span generations and lifestyles as well as devices. Consumers are now in the driver’s seat, and they could be on any number of platforms at any given time. That means you should be, too.

Loyalty, Advocacy, Retention, Attrition

Consumers may have made it through the maze, but their journeys are far from done. From loyalty and advocacy to retention and attrition, there’s still a lot left for them to explore—and for retailers and brands to do. Especially when you consider that e-commerce sales still account for just 8% of total retail sales in the US (and 14% in the UK). And while mobile sessions account for 59% of e-commerce website visits, they lead to just 38% of revenue.

Clearly, there’s a lot of room for growth, particularly for brands and retailers that are staying in sync with the ever-evolving e-commerce landscape. There are thousands of paths a consumer might take, each with their own set of touchpoints. By leveraging a wide range of marketplace and digital marketing opportunities, you can be sure to reach them at any stage—regardless of how they get there.

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