Consumer Shopper Journeys: What Is All the Hype About?

 In Consumer Insights

It used to be that most online advertising was based on simple click attribution models. Back then, all that mattered was an efficient optimization of clickthrough rates, conversions, on the spot—on that specific context and moment. However, that is not how people behave, which is becoming increasingly apparent today, with such an abundance of products to buy, channels to use for shopping, etc. All this has given rise to consumer journey models in market research. We will explain why they matter!

Old World—Linear Models and Direct Click Attribution

In the 1990s, the early days of the internet—and particularly as online advertising was invented and put into significant play by the likes of Yahoo, Google, and (later) by Facebook, Twitter, and many others—digital advertising was very much about paying per impression or per click. This was the fundamental logic and, even though this model helped us think about the cost of our campaigns, this cost model really shaped industry thinking concerning digital advertising and how we judged online advertising metrics. After all, most first-generation optimization models and analytics platforms started with the idea of evaluating the results (e.g., dollars spent, purchases made, flights booked, new credit card subscriptions gained, new users gained) vs. the costs—with the costs measured per click or impression. Even today, if you want to get users for your apps, you typically pay ad channels per download, not per active new users, not to mention retained users. Most of this click-based thinking has been contextualized around single devices, single users (known or unknown), at specific points in time, clicking in order to buy something.

As digital advertising grew, the industry started to talk about attribution models. Attribution models essentially provide insights on how the conversion happened, and what drove what. There are hundreds of tools out there to track attribution, with Facebook and Google (naturally) providing the big ones. However, it is essential to understand that, in the past, using attribution models to understand conversions was done quite simplistically. In most cases, it went down to either first click or last-click attribution. To understand these a bit more, check out the visualizations from Lyf Solutions, from Australia (https://www.lyfsolutions.com.au/how-digital-attribution-works/), which show nicely how first click/touch attribution vs. last-click attribution works. You can also read this blog post at Ruler Analytics to understand even more. 

For a long time, the ability to count clicks and follow users’ clickstreams during the same session for a single device was the foundation for understanding digital advertising’s effectiveness. And that was good enough—back when people mostly used desktop PCs and a single web browser, and mostly went online with clear intentions (not to just boot up the PC to randomly explore things)!

New World—Non-Linear Cross-Device Shopper Journeys

If you compare your own online behavior to the above, you might immediately spot many differences. You don’t shop like that. You don’t buy on the spot. It isn’t natural for people to make sporadic decisions—neither online nor offline. Yes, some people do that more than others, but it is not the norm when shopping for anything new, or anything a bit more valuable. There are many differences today, which typically (and increasingly) lead both ad platforms and advertisers to rethink their approach to digital advertising.

How Verto Sees the Consumer Journey

There are key distinctions in today’s consumer journey models that we use to model shopping behavior in the “new world” as opposed to the “old world.”

First, one of our most profound findings—and a key part of our research—is that the consumer shopping journey now contains multiple stages rather than a single phase (you go and shop):

  1. Inspiration: Exploring how a category of products or services meets a consumer’s needs. Beginning of passive part of the journey
  2. Discovery: Further exploration of the experiences and features available within a category of products or services. The latter half of the passive stage.
  3. Consideration: Compare specific brands. The first part of the active phase of the journey 
  4. Validation: Seek further information to validate a purchase decision. The final part of the purchase

Second, the social dimension and referrals shape our journeys and decision making today—both positively and negatively. In the past, and definitely at the beginning of the internet in the 1990s, consumers made their decisions alone, and it was a one-way street: There was content and there was the reader/consumer. Today, all the purchase platforms contain reviews, guest scores, and feedback from others, and consumers can rank the alternatives based on those. Moreover, the abundance and frequency of interaction on Facebook, Instagram, Snap, Reddit, Pinterest, WeChat, and many others power and affect most of the stages of the consumer shopping journey. Social platforms can create the inspiration; they enable us to explore the alternatives; they help us create the consideration set; they help us get into the purchase—and the recent pushes to make shopping easier by, for example, Facebook, indicate that they might even be interested in enabling the actual purchase.

Third, today’s consumers are cross-device masters. They don’t use just a desktop PC for all the above; instead, they actively own and use smartphones, tablets, desktop PCs, and laptops; they engage daily with their big-screen TVs; and they are adopting still more new devices like smart watches, smarter video game consoles, digital home hubs, smart speakers, and others. This means consumers also use these devices for multiple purposes, and each device has its own sweet spot. People are liquid in moving from one device to another—maybe exploring and gaining ideas about a new e-bike on their smartphone while lounging on the outdoor sofa, then picking up their tablet to check a YouTube clip about that new bike, but then going indoors to actually buy the bike from Amazon on their PCs—where they feel more secure.

Fourth, time decay is involved—people do not normally make decisions quickly. We collect ideas and store them; we use bookmarks and Pinterest pins; and we tag products on wish lists (this goes all the way from wine to consumer electronics). We go through the stages above (sometimes even taking as long as 8-12 months). Some products have naturally shorter journey lengths (such as a refill of our favorite coffee beans online) while some take longer (like getting a new mortgage online, buying a car, leasing a new flat, etc.).

Fifth, journeys can be non-linear. While consumers may feel like they are ready to enter the Validation stage, seeing a new (naturally targeted) ad or speaking with a friend might lead them back to an earlier stage—causing them to explore more and consider new products. Maybe something makes them drop the whole idea of buying a new e-bike and instead makes them want to invest in other sports—immediately sending them back to the inspiration stage. While their main goal is the same (buying something sporty for leisure), they want to gain more inspiration first.

Sixth, journeys can involve multiple contexts—in a sequence or simultaneously. This means all kinds of things (which makes market research modeling harder). Along their journey, consumers still go into offline shops and/or use online devices. They might visit the e-bike store on Main Street but, even while they’re still in the store, they will use their smartphone to check reviews about these bikes. In some cases, people first gain ideas on a digital device, and then go and check (and buy) the product in a brick-and-mortar location. Sometimes people multitask with devices. They rank products on Amazon on their laptop, but, with their other hand, use the smartphone to see if anybody has tweeted about the product lately. There are multiple, and complex, contexts involved when people are shopping.

Conclusion

As we have seen, consumer online and offline shopping has changed a lot over the past decades, even over the past years. Therefore, the old approaches or frameworks for measuring shopping are simply not adequate.

Stay tuned, we will explain shortly a bit more about our approach for measuring consumer journeys!

If you want to learn more about Verto’s consumer journey research, and how it could help you, please contact sales@vertoanalytics.com!

Sign up for our newsletter: