Online shopping continued to extend its lead over in-store buying last holiday season, with shoppers spending 51 percent of their budgets online, compared to just 42 percent in-store, a Deloitte survey found. These numbers reflect long-term shopping trends that hold throughout the year. Online shopping passed in-store shopping for the first time in 2016.
As online shopping has transformed the shopping experience, the nature of the buying cycle has also changed. Here’s a look at the layout of today’s buying cycle and what consumers expect at each stage of the purchasing process.
The first stage of today’s consumer journey begins with the initial consideration of multiple brands, a McKinsey & Company study has determined. Consumers consider an initial list of brands based on how their perception has been informed by previous marketing experiences and touches with a company. Your brand’s advertising efforts and success at distinguishing yourself from competitors play a key role in whether you receive consideration from consumers.
One way to stand out from other brands and build brand awareness with consumers is to supplement your advertising efforts with content marketing that helps inform consumers rather than merely selling to them. For instance, audio equipment provider Dolby includes content on its site that helps guide prospective buyers through the nuances of setting up a home entertainment system. Publishing this type of informative content can help position you as an authority in your market, encouraging consumers to give your brand more consideration.
Brand Evaluation and eCommerce Optimization
After making an initial list of brands for consideration, the next step consumers make in the buying process is narrowing down their list, sometimes after adding brands based on new information. In this phase of the process, consumers rely heavily on social proof, which is perceived as more trustworthy than advertising. Nielsen data shows that 92 percent of consumers trust recommendations from friends, while 70 percent trust online reviews from other customers.
The impression your site makes also has an impact on how consumers evaluate your brand. Three out of four consumers judge a brand’s credibility based on whether the company’s website looks professional, a Stanford study found. This makes it vital to follow strict branding guidelines for the design of your site. Keeping your site’s updates consistent with your brand guidelines can be challenging if you have many products or your products are sold across multiple sites. Leading brands such as Nike and Mattel that must keep branding consistent for a large catalog across multiple sites use eCommerce management software that allows them to make all updates from a single, centralized interface. Using a management tool to ensure eCommerce product page optimization can help your brand convey a professional impression to consumers.
Consumers want a checkout process and payment options that are easy to use, and failure to meet this expectation can cost you sales. Nearly seven in ten shopping carts are abandoned prior to purchase, according to data compiled by the Baymard Institute.
To promote higher shopping cart completion rates, conversion optimization provider TruConversion recommends using a simplified checkout process that makes it easy for returning customers to sign back in, while allowing new customers the option of either creating an account now or continuing with their purchase. Offering a save for later option, multiple payment options, and free shipping can also help increase conversion rates.
The final phase of the buying process is post-purchase. Here customers expect fast, convenient customer service. Customer expectations have grown higher as internet communication has grown faster, with over six in 10 consumers now expecting brands to interact with them in real-time, a recent Salesforce survey found.
The most efficient way to meet these high expectations is to support your human representatives with automated customer service tools. Tools such as chatbots and IVR systems use artificial intelligence to automatically handle routine service inquiries while routing tickets that require human assistance to the right representatives. Deploying these types of tools can speed up your contact center’s response time and boost customer satisfaction.