If the planners and strategists of successful brick-and-mortar stores from 30 years ago knew just how vital the consumer journey would become to the success of retailers, they’d give themselves an extra pat on the back. From walking through the fresh produce aisle in the 90’s to navigating the very wants and needs of a millennial searching for vegan moisturiser online, understanding the consumer journey has always been pertinent to retail. Decades ago, shop planners knew that placing toiletries next to dry food goods would not make sense to the shopper as they travel through each aisle. In the same way today, customer experience officers are essentially trying to do the same thing - except with the added chaos and stress of the world wide web. 

Harvard Business Review defines the customer journey as “the steps your customer goes through in engaging with your company and/or product or service.” This includes the independent, internal process a potential shopper goes through before landing on your web shop’s homepage. For example, a potential consumer may be thinking that they would like to get into running as a hobby and they are searching online for a simple training schedule. These initial internal thoughts and feelings of the consumer are an important part of the customer journey - and it begins before they’ve even discovered the retailer. What are the main drivers of a buying decision online and which categories of products do people most love to compare online? We’re answering these questions and more as we delve into the customer journey as it stands now.

How retailers can begin to better understand their customers with customer psychology and personas 

Customer psychology is a field of focus that developed from retail leaders trying to understand and monetise consumer behaviour.

"Looking at a shopper’s age, location, socio-economic background, profession, purchase and search history, and other data can help e-commerce owners understand their shoppers and retain their attention and loyalty."

Delving into the psychology of customers is a time-consuming, lengthy process, albeit a worthwhile one. To start this journey, online retailers and marketplaces could begin by creating a buyer persona or a set of personas by using customer data from: 

  • Loyalty programs. These programs are a certified way of receiving information on what’s most important to your customers based on how, why and when they use it.
  • Newsletters and mailers. By looking at what consumers click on in mailers, you can see what products they’re most interested in. You can also see what kind of sales language works best for them.
  • Organised focus groups. Based on shopper data, a retailer can organise a formal focus group of recent shoppers to ask them questions about their shopping experience, what criteria helped them choose your website, the product, the delivery and/or returns process, the intent behind choosing this product and brand, and more.

Based on the information received from all three avenues, as well as taking a deep dive into a web shop’s Google Analytics data, e-commerce stores can begin to create a customer journey map - from Google or Instagram to the checkout page.

What are the main drivers of consumer buying decisions?

If we’re truly trying to understand consumer behaviour and psychology, there’s one main question at the centre of attempting to understand the key drivers of buying decisions online: Why? The split second a consumer clicks “Pay”, a series of thoughts, emotions, and strategic comparisons have already taken place to bring the consumer to that moment. In an academic paper written by Ana Teresa Machado entitled “Drivers of shopping online: A literature review” and published in Open Edition Journals surmised that the main drivers for buying decisions are made up of:

  • Perceived benefits of online shopping. These may include the ease of shopping from the home or office; saving on time spent at the mall; finding deals specific to online shopping vs offline; or being able to easily and quickly compare prices for similar products across multiple stores simultaneously.
  • Perceived risks of online shopping. These may be finding out at checkout that there is a hefty delivery fee; not being home when the delivery arrives; having to deal with a confusing or disorganised returns system; having one’s credit card information stolen; not understanding how to navigate the online store.
  • External factors, which are:
    • Consumer traits. This may be personal brand preferences or  individualistic ideas on how frugal or frivolous one should be when shopping. It includes their lifestyle, socioeconomic background, location and personal choices, for example, if a shopper is vegan and focused on sustainability.
    • Situational factors. This includes shoppers finding themselves in a particular situation: Being in a rush and looking for one specific product; being restrained by budget; purchasing a gift for someone else; trying a new recipe for the first time, and so on.
    • Product characteristics. This may be product size, taste, texture, quality, price, and availability. 
    • Previous online shopping experiences. The number one reason for cart abandonment is finding additional, unexpected costs from online stores who don’t communicate shipping and delivery fees effectively. If a shopper feels slighted by one negative online shopping experience, this will affect the next one.

Price comparisons: Which are the best and most-loved categories to compare?

Briefly mentioned above, being able to compare prices efficiently and easily is a top reason why consumers choose online shopping over offline. One could have multiple marketplaces, branded online stores and e-retailers all open in separate tabs on their laptop with the ability to compare and choose the best product for their needs and budget. 

For example, the same New Balance running shoe may be present across 10 different e-commerce stores, however, which one is going to offer the best price, delivery time and method, returns policy and a discount for their next purchase? 

The consumer holds the power in choosing which online store will be the right choice for them, whereas brick-and-mortar shopping often leaves consumers feeling like they have no choice but to make a purchase there and then if they want a specific product. Because shoppers of e-commerce can easily compare, they also have the ability to be more informed than ever before regarding a product - or even an entire product category. Google surmises that 59% of the online shopping population today are making far more informed purchasing decisions compared to a few years ago. This trend was perpetuated by the rise in mobile shopping as searches for the “best” product surged by 50% year-on-year in the categories of apparel, home and garden, beauty and personal care, and computers and electronics.

There are some products that don’t receive a lot of comparison searches, like toothpaste, and there are some that receive a ton of online traffic. That’s because, thanks to consumer psychology, we understand that some consumers intrinsically know that some products (like toothpaste) all do the same job, pretty much. However, not all moisturizers or running shoes or wireless headphones do the same job.

A growing culture of feedback 

Luckily for the e-commerce industry, shoppers are more interested than ever to give feedback and reviews regarding their experience with a brand or marketplace. 

Google finds that 88% of consumers say they trust online reviews just as much as personal recommendations

Shoppers are using the reviews, comments and photos of a product to help make their decision in real-time. In fact, this statement is so true that when beauty brand Sephora implemented this reality and actively prioritised reviews on their mobile app, sales increased 167% in-store. Shoppers are also more open to giving data if they are going to receive relevant deals and promotions. Using both the data and the feedback, retailers can understand the customer journey now more than ever. Retailers and marketplaces can find pain points and common issues experienced among shoppers and actively target them to be remedied. It is up to retailers and brands to make good use of what the customer has to say and share to improve the consumer journey and to maximise sales.