What does the consumer journey look like?
This is among the questions most frequently asked of Google’s insights team. There are a couple of variations involving phrases like “purchase funnel” and “path to purchase” but, for the most part, they’re all asking the same thing. There’s a lot of value in questions like these, but we’ve come to realise that there is another aspect of what shoppers are doing that needs to be considered. The other question we need to answer is this: how do consumers decide what they want to buy and who they want to buy it from?
It isn’t surprising that businesses are keen to outsource this question. It’s probably the most important in all of advertising, but also the hardest to answer. Often, research in this area will focus on the journey, resulting in a list of touchpoints that people hit along the path to purchase.
But while such lists offer valuable insight into the places people go during their online journey, they can’t address the equally important question of why a shopper ended up making the decision they did. We know more about advertising performance than ever before, and can measure outcomes with amazing granularity. And yet, understanding consumer decision-making is more difficult than it’s ever been. In 2020, following the outbreak of coronavirus and subsequent restrictions on physical retail, the proportion of purchases happening online has risen to record levels.
And while the majority of purchases are still made offline, the media and information that inform those purchases are increasingly online, and the complexity of potential decision-making pathways has grown considerably. If we don’t update our thinking about consumer behaviour to account for this huge expansion in choice and attendant complexity, we’ll be trying to account for 21st century behaviour with 20th century models.