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Navigating the new path to purchase

We used to talk about customers’ “path to purchase” and it used to be a straight line. The milestones along the path started with awareness and led through research and purchase through to advocacy, influenced by mass media advertising along the way. And the point of purchase was always at the same place – in a shop.

But customers don’t travel in a nice linear direction any more – and it’s harder to reach them through traditional media and one-to-many communications.

There’s a customer journey now, but it’s not linear – it’s turned into a loop. We talk about the convergence of online and physical shopping but in reality the use of the internet is creating divergence.

Inspiration, research, decision-making, purchase and fulfillment all used to happen in the same place – now they can happen separately, anywhere.

For customers, it works like this. You read in social media on your commute about a friend’s new gadget. You research it online at work at lunchtime. You might (or might not) go to a retail outlet to experience it in real life. Then you go home and read some reviews and compare prices. Many of us do this in store.

You make the decision to purchase and do so via Paypal from your bed. The item turns up in a designated locker at your local train station. You tell your friends about it on social media.

This isn’t a novelty for customers – it’s the new normal. And at each stage, communication plays a huge part. Consequently, the expectation of service at each stage has gone through the roof.

Clearly the physical store still plays a part in the chain. People still love to go shopping. But what makes up a shopping environment needs to change. We shouldn’t need loads of stock any more. The expectation should become less that you walk out of the store with a bag and more that your purchase is delivered.

customer journey

Going shopping will become focused on place, product and storytelling. You may not even be able to make a purchase from the retail environment itself, but you will through other channels. And personalised service will play a huge part in this journey.

So, what do shopping centres need to do?

Well I’ve just downloaded an app from the new experiential shopping centre, Siam Discovery. The first thing you see on registration is not a list of shops – it’s an invitation to list your interests. I think that’s a good way to start.

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