Retailers today have a lot to untangle. Technologies, devices, media platforms and shifting consumer motivations seem to create chaos at every turn. To clarify things, it helps to imagine customers traveling a four-stage path: awareness, browsing, purchase and support.
Customers enter these stages whenever the urge arises, using any kind of connected device. Thus, retail strategy has to align with consumer motivations within each of the four stages. DMI grappled with these challenges in What Buyers Want — a DMI Consumer Survey, an in-depth report exploring the roots of consumer behavior in today’s hyperconnected retail space.
The survey, which polled more than 1,500 U.S. adults, shed light on shoppers’ preferences throughout the path to purchase. Here’s a quick overview of the findings.
In the awareness phase, people learn about products they aren’t necessarily interested in buying. DMI’s survey asked people to name all the places where they found out about products that captured their interest in the past three months. The top four responses:
- 49% Amazon
- 49% retailers’ websites
- 45% social media
- 38% search engines
These results underscore the fact that Amazon isn’t just a place to buy products — it’s a place to find out about them as well. Moreover, social media must be central to any product-awareness strategy. People trust friends, family and influencers to provide credible guidance on products. Finally, search-optimization strategy must include Amazon, on-site search and conventional search engines.
In the browsing phase, people research products and gravitate toward a purchase decision. Mobile devices (42%) are most popular in the browsing phase, topping in-store visits (30%) and desktop computers (28%). When we asked people to name their favorite places to browse for products, the top five responses were:
- 53% search engines
- 43% store visits
- 33% single-brand websites
- 27% multi-brand websites
- 19% Facebook
The browsing phase is a great place to ensure your website answers all your customers’ questions and gives easy access to crucial documents like user manuals. If customers need information about your products, they’ll find it wherever they can. Everything you do to improve access to product information pays off in the browsing phase.
Our survey revealed a wealth of insights about purchase behavior. For instance, when we asked people to name their single favorite purchase location in the past year, the results were:
- 46% in-store
- 19% Amazon’s website
- 15% retailers’ websites
We also noted marked differences between impulse buys and purchases that were more well-thought-out. Overall, people making impulse purchases placed the highest priority on convenience, while those buying products that required substantial research were most concerned about security.
The key takeaway from the first three phases of the path to purchase is you have to meet shoppers where they are and help them accomplish their goals. Because awareness and browsing clear the way to buying decisions, retailers cannot afford to overlook these phases in the quest to close more sales.
Our survey explored the role of AI in customer service and collected consumers’ thoughts on how well brands communicate via channels like social media and email. When asked if they had encountered artificial intelligence during a customer service experience, 34% agreed they had, while the remainder either had not or weren’t sure. Of those who claimed AI encounters, 54% were either satisfied or very satisfied with the experience.
Thus, significant proportions of shoppers acknowledge the value of advanced learning algorithms in customer service. However, they also voiced strong preferences for dealing with employees versus automated chatbots. Brands and retailers have to take a strategic approach to AI, deploying it where resistance is lowest and likelihood of adoption is highest.
We also asked how consumers prefer to communicate with brands. The top five responses:
- 76% in-store visits
- 59% email
- 56% phone calls
- 45% online contact forms
- 44% live chats on website or mobile
These responses reveal the deep complexity of communicating with customers. Brands need to make every venue available on multiple devices to ensure customer frustrations do not create roadblocks along the path to purchase.
It all matters
Our survey provided welcome reassurance that people enjoy the experience of shopping in stores. But it also sounded a note of caution: People have so many choices of devices, products, and information sources that brands must align their strategies with shoppers’ preferences. That starts with optimizing the entire path to purchase.
Whether they complete the transaction today or not, helping people with awareness, browsing and support improves the likelihood of winning the purchase phase when they’re ready.
-Elisabeth Bradley, vice president connected commerce solutions