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Digital’s Role In The Shopper Journey: 3 New Takeaways

Photographer: Nicky Loh/Bloomberg

Never underestimate the amount of time a consumer can spend on choosing a rice cooker.

First, the shopper looks online on his mobile phone. Then on his iPad, and then back to his phone. He compares product details, prices and reviews with four retail options, including a warehouse club and a mass discounter.

Finally, two days later, he chooses a rice cooker from a mass retailer’s mobile site based on shipping costs and timing.

Nothing in this decision process reflects the shopper’s age (44) or education (some college). However, his behavior, through the purchase path he traveled, can provide retailers much insight into how shoppers act outside the store.

These are the findings of Bazaarvoice, which helps retailers and brands develop relevant content and advertising to engage consumers. Bazaarvoice tracked the shopping journeys of four shoppers looking for very specific items: the rice cooker, a computer, a purse and a refrigerator.

The results reveal numerous sets of complex and sometimes lengthy shopper journeys, regardless of persona. Indeed, the findings amplify the message that it’s more effective for retailers to understand and target consumers by knowing where they are across devices rather than by who they are.

Extending Data Across Devices

The Bazaarvoice study revealed that individual shoppers may research a single item across several devices before making a purchase. The factors that go into that purchase decision — from price to product reviews to images — can influence the consumer more than features believed to appeal to a particular demographic.

For example, the shoppers Bazaarvoice tracked researched not only retail sites but manufacturer and editorial sites. They also valued visuals that showed how the products can be used, tapping into both the rational and emotional sides of the decision-making process.

What’s this mean for shoppers? That their names, addresses and identities are becoming less necessary in order to understand their preferences. Of greater importance, according to Conversant, a leader in specialized digital marketing, are the shoppers’ past purchases (in-store and online), the devices they used and the sites they visited.

This is an important point, because as the buying process gains significance for targeting purposes, so does the consumer’s preference for anonymity (of their personal data).

If retailers meet both criteria — using data “anonymously” by looking at patterns of behavior that indicate someone is in a buying cycle online — they can meet shopper needs without being intrusive. As Conversant states in a recent white paper: “Make sure that all your data is used anonymously, and you’ll be protecting your consumers and building trust.”

As long as retailers can then identify that individual shopper across devices, they have enough information to try to influence his or her purchase process and end decisions.

Three Personalized Takeaways

For Bazaarvoice, the studied shopper journeys proved that the most effective features of a digital shopping trip reflect those of an in-store visit. These include features that ease the shopping experience and provide the specific information the shopper seeks, quickly.

Following are the report’s three key takeaways:

  • Upgrade from personas to people: Retailers should target people, not demographics, to better meet the needs of shoppers while in market. They also can do this before the shopper visits a merchant site. The product-research part of the shopper journey can serve as an excellent opportunity to engage him or her early.
  • Create a “wow-worthy” mobile storefront: The use of mobile to research, compare and select products makes clear that the mobile experience is as important as the in-store or web experience. This means it should not only be seamless (we hear that often enough), but it also has to be useful. Are the product specifications easy to read and access? Is delivery time and cost clear? Are photos large enough to reveal product details?
  • Earn trust with the content: Interactive photos, Q&As and reviews are essential for engaging the shopper and winning her trust. But it goes beyond simply integrating product images and words into the website or mobile experience. Images, ratings and quotes from reviews should be played up across the website as well as in advertising.

Combined, it all means that in today’s retail environment, the shopper is often better understood by where she is, not who she is.

Whether the consumer is in the market for a tote bag, a rice cooker or a car, the path she takes indicates what will be relevant to her on future purchase journeys. Age and income may matter less than what she bought last week, or reviewed last month.

This article originally appeared in Forbes. Follow me on Facebook and Twitter for more on retail, loyalty and the customer experience.

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