The Shifting Evolution of Ecommerce Consumer Behaviors
As the ecommerce landscape has evolved, so too have the buying habits of most consumers.
In the past, a lot of the pre-purchase thinking was done in the moment at a store. You were staring at a product on a shelf and considering whether to buy it. It was either a yes or no. A buy-now or walk-away decision.
Today, this kind of decision happens over time via the internet, and with a stronger sense of skepticism at every step. The average consumer has almost infinite options of where, how and what to buy. Adweek reports that over 80% of consumers today will spend time researching before buying. On top of this, 97% of consumers will look at online reviews before buying.
For any company that sells products or services on the internet, this means that the buying process has begun to extend and the number of steps has increased. What used to be a funnel has now become an hourglass. Rather than ending at the sale, this is when a new relationship and journey begins. We can break down online shopping behavior with the ecommerce hourglass. It has two distinct phases: pre-purchase and purchase.
Phase One: Pre-Purchase
Brand Awareness is knowledge that a particular company offers what a consumer needs or wants. It is when a person begins to understand that you offer something that could be valuable to them. This the first phase of the ecommerce marketing process. It is the engagement between the brand and the person.
What helps people find your brand? It can be marketing, advertising, word of mouth, search results, or just a random coincidence. Brand awareness is the familiarity with your brand and its products and services that can help consumers.
If somebody walked up to you and said ‘you’ve got a problem’ then the chances are you would be a little offended and resistant. But if you figure out that you have a problem, then you will often go searching for a solution. This is why the internet and digital marketing are so powerful. Most of us are online looking for solutions to problems we think we have. If a company links their marketing and content strategy with solving problems, they are more likely to build interest and trust in their brand.
This is where a content strategy really matters. You must speak directly to the problems that your prospects have (or wonder if they have). Explain symptoms, scenarios, case studies. Use the keywords they type into Google, and make sure they match the intent of the search. None of these content and SEO tactics are easy to do quickly, so you must research and know your consumer.
Even though humans tend to make emotional decisions, we often try to ‘prove’ the validity of our decisions with logic and facts. With such an abundance of information, very often consumers will use filters, such as review sites, product demonstrations and social proof (other people they trust who advocate the product or service). This is why you must be aware of which channels your prospects are using. Be a part of them and ensure you have a good reputation on those sites.
Once a prospective customer has become aware of your brand, and is satisfied that others also approve of it, they will begin to consider whether it meets their needs. This is important because it is the first time the person begins to mentally spend their money on your product or service. If you solve their problem then it moves to the next phase.
When a person is convinced that your product or service can solve their problem, they will start to rationalize the cost. They will find reasons to justify that the cost in money is less than the value they will receive in trade. Very often, finding ways to quantify the monetary value can be important at this stage, especially if you are selling higher cost items.
This is the big moment – when a consumer takes out their credit card (or Venmo or Apple Pay) and clicks ‘Buy Now’. By the time this happened, it might be months from the first time they have heard of your brand or started to identify a problem that they have. Of course, this is the phase where many people lose their sales due to non-secure websites, or issues with the payment process. If there are too many steps in the transaction, a lot of consumers will abandon their shopping cart.
Also, keep in mind that a mental shift happens when a person buys online. They move from being a buyer to become an owner. They suddenly ‘own’ the product or service, and have a different mentality towards it. It is their property and they may become demanding about receiving it. This is important when it comes to understanding ecommerce consumer behavior, because even though the person may have only just clicked ‘buy now’, they immediately feel like an owner.
Phase Two: Post Purchase
Typically post-purchase covers the delivery and time period where the buyer takes possession. If there are issues with the product, this is the time that complaints and returns are happening. It is also an important phase for creating incredible customer loyalty. If you want an example of building loyalty during the post-purchase process, look no further than Amazon.com. A big part of the reason people are so confident in buying from Amazon is that they can easily return the item with no issues. This gives them the confidence to buy again from Amazon in the future.
Once a buyer becomes an owner, they then begin to adopt a new identity as somebody who purchases your brand. For small products and services this may be more subtle, but for higher cost items it is a crucial step. Apple has built an incredibly strong brand through the loyalty of their customers.
Retaining customers is one of the most effective ways to grow sales. It takes a lot less money to keep a customer buying than it does to attract new customers. The satisfaction that your customers have from your product is a big determining factor. You must be looking to the reviews and satisfaction surveys you receive to find ways to improve what you are doing. The better you satisfy the needs, the more likely your customers will buy from you again.
Not only will customers continue to buy from you, but they will consider your other services and products as well. If they have a sense that you are good at meeting their needs and solving their problems, it is much easier to upsell and cross-sell them on other offers.
The final phase of the ecommerce hourglass is crucial to your long-term success. It is when new customers who are loyal to your brand begin to share their experiences with other people. This is done both through word of mouth and also through online reviews and sharing. These customers then drive more traffic through the top of the hourglass in the form of Brand Awareness and Research. The higher the number of positive reviews (ie. social proof) the greater the chances new prospects will discover your brand and begin the purchase journey.
As ecommerce becomes the most common method of buying products, it is important to understand the pattern of consumer behavior. The better you can align your marketing, content strategy and website design with the ecommerce hourglass, the more likely you will win sales in the new marketplace.