Consumers are becoming savvy users of digital tools, and they’re using them in more sophisticated ways to enable their own personal shopping needs and preferences. To gain insight into how people are using digital shopping tools in their path to purchase, Epsilon conducted an online study of over 2,800 respondents on 16 digital shopping tools. The survey measured differences in the usage of these tools in 12 channels and 12 product categories, including a series of in-depth interviews and discussion boards with over 50 shoppers across a variety of ages, genders and (U.S.) locations to better understand the strong and rapid growth of social media’s influence on the shopping process. The results led us to five key imperatives for brands and retailers to keep in mind when it comes to their use of digital tools in supporting consumers’ shopping journeys:
1. Be there when and where the shopper shops
Over the last several years, the shopper has assumed control of the shopping experience well beyond the ability to compare prices. Price-comparison websites and online reviews are certainly empowering shoppers to make educated decisions on what and where to buy, but the availability of almost unlimited information on mobile devices and shopper-friendly technologies like “buy” buttons on social media, has also put the shopper in control of how and when they buy. The shopping experience is no longer happening in the store or at the mall Monday through Saturday 10AM to 9PM. Marketers must rely on their digital “salespeople” to respond to shopper needs 24/7. It is critical to think strategically about the role of digital tools in the shopper’s decision making process for your category because these tools are the means for you to communicate with your customers just in time.
2. Exploit the new “chunked” shopping behavior
Digital tools have changed, and continue to change, the ways we shop. Mobile tools, in particular, break shopping into manageable “chunks” that are accomplished during a series of short downtime periods—sometimes occurring over an extended span of time. Think about how many times you’ve reviewed retailer emails while waiting for a meeting to start, or shopped for holiday or birthday gifts while on a train or plane. This new behavior can open up sales opportunities for marketers. For instance, a shopper may not follow through on your email immediately; she may save it and come back to it days or even weeks later when something else prompts her to make that purchase.
This new type of shopping can also create gaps, though, where competitors have a chance to steal away the sale. He may leave that new lawn trimmer in the cart and then, when he gets another chunk of time to complete the sale, he may find a better-priced one at another retailer. To remain competitive, marketers will need to find ways to manage the chunked-up shopping journey.
3. Treat shopping as an individual journey
The new shopper journey is an extremely complex, flexible and individual process. To be most effective, you will need to market to not just individual transactions, but also to individual journeys. Social is just one part of a shopping and decision-making process that involves multiple tools, with information from one tool feeding into another. It is more and more difficult for marketers to map out a series of touchpoints and to accurately predict which one will come first or last in a particular shopper’s journey. Marketers now need to focus on a multichannel approach that honors the complexity of the personalized shopper journey.
4. Give shoppers something to share
Brands are using social sites such as Instagram, Pinterest and Tumblr more than ever to create content and images that people want to share with their friends. The study shows that social activity is among the most influential of all the tools, particularly when it comes to motivating shoppers to try new products and brands. With more social platforms making it easier than ever to purchase directly through them (e.g., adding “Buy Now” buttons), these tools will become even more important in directly driving sales. More important, because our individual social media feeds are tied closely to our personal passions through friends, family and people with similar passions, this tool is an ideal way to automatically customize content. The more content you have out there that appeals to different target shoppers, the more likely it is that your target will see a brand message that is highly motivating and relevant to them personally. To be most effective, it is also important to understand how social sharing overlaps with your other digital tools, recognizing that this will vary by category, product and even shopper. Taking the time to think this through, though, will get you started on a much more effective approach which can be further tweaked as you learn more based on the results of your digital activities.
5. Create harmony
Although it is still difficult to measure consistently, social media and email (among other digital tools) are clearly driving in-store consideration and purchase decisions. Because the shopping journey has become increasingly less linear, though, it’s important to deploy multiple digital shopping tools in multiple channels, varying by your target audience. You must create a new kind of activation strategy to bring these tools and channels together to connect the virtual and real worlds in a holistic experience that is centered on your shopper.
Once you have created your digital activation plan, it’s essential to ensure the tools are all working together. With so many ways to interact with your shopper, it’s easy for your message to become fragmented. Ask yourself: Is the creative consistent? Is the message complementary? Is each tool doing what it is best at doing? Making sure all of your tools work together to create a seamless and enjoyable shopping experience for your consumer will lead to the highest likelihood of conversion.