When you see a billion consumer retail data points each month, patterns of interest and behavior begin to clearly emerge. Some of these patterns do not conform to the traditional consumer journey down "the purchase funnel," a linear process that is predictable. Instead what I see is a considerable amount of impulsive disruption of the journey, that isn’t adequately accounted for in traditional purchase models. There is instead a staccato pattern to online shopping where buyers zig and zag, dart in and out, or straddle with one foot in and one foot out.
We’ve all bought on impulse—getting that item you didn’t-know-you-needed-that-is-perfectly-positioned-at-checkout. Or seeing a recommendation from an ecommerce site that—while you didn’t initially think of it—seems just right. It is sudden and emotional, not practical and predictable. But how many marketers realize that often the journey from awareness to purchase is also disrupted by impulse?
Of course a lot of consumers go online with a clear mission to buy, but 39% of online buyers report that they sometimes shop online for entertainment, such as killing time waiting in line for coffee. For 41%, impulses take the form of a change-of-mind to buy or not buy after perusing social media. For others, it is a part of everyday multi-tasking or just making every minute count. As a working mother of two, I can relate. When you have to get something done and do not have a block of time to do it, you chunk it up and make it fit into the small bits of time you can carve out between other commitments.
Developing a model to follow these shoppers starts to look like a bowl of spaghetti. They skip in, out and around the steps in the buying process—or even balk all together. A key driver behind this is that consumers are augmenting their traditional desktop/laptop time online with their untethered, mobile devices at all times of the day (and night) and at nearly any location. The trick for retail marketers is to be where their customers are, at all times. Even if the funnel model is under siege, there are other trends we see that can help marketers cope with impulsive disruption.
Use social media for spontaneous engagement
Shopping and shopping related activities on social media sites is growing, with about 1/3 of consumers saying they have included social media in their shopping process. In two years, social media shopping has grown 26%.
What this means for retail marketers is that it is time to go beyond managing your brand within social media to more active marketing. Consider paid advertising within the social media flow of Facebook or Twitter. Additionally, doubling-down on customer support and engaging in conversations with your customers within social media is a must. Customers’ opinions matter! 41% of online buyers decided not to purchase based on a post they saw on social media while 42% were moved to purchase. Fortunately, the positive influences are stronger – but keep in mind that 1 in 3 buyers need to see negative reviews to lend credibility to the reviews overall.
Retarget to close the loop
Many marketers and advertisers can speak to the effectiveness of retargeting campaigns in terms of click-throughs and view-throughs—but what do shoppers think? In a May 2014 study, 23% of online buyers “like” these ads because they remind them of previously viewed items; this has held steady from our March-April 2012 study. What drives click-throughs by these customers is the convenience of a direct link back to the item, as well as their affinity for the product shown in the ad.
Furthermore, in a June 2014 study, 58% of shoppers agreed that an ad served as a good reminder of something they wanted to buy, surpassing both retailer emails (45%) and emails from someone they know (36%).
Use shopping intent data
There is no better data for reaching impulse buyers than shopping intent data, especially from retail shopping sites where you can get a very clear picture of consumer interests. Imagine if you could not only find all of the shoppers that look just like your happy customers, but also all of the shoppers looking to buy what you are selling! Once you have reliable signals of intent, you can often incent consumers to purchase immediately, even if haven’t moved through the classic phases of the purchase funnel. Key questions for retail marketers to ask are: is the data from a quality source; is it 1st party or derived from 3rd party; and does it relate to actual shopping behavior?
The bottom line
Taken together, these three trends point towards the opportunity to act on consumer behavior regardless of where they are (or were) in the funnel. This means knowing reliably who they are (first party data sources), being present where they spend their time (increasingly on social media) and reminding them of the great products they found (retargeting). Nothing can totally eliminate impulsive disruptions, but marketers can compensate with a few "disruptions" of their own.