Think back to the last time you wanted to purchase something other than groceries or a cup of coffee. Maybe you were shopping for a new vehicle, playing with the idea of moving up to a bigger home, or searching for a coffee maker that would start brewing before your alarm sounded each morning. Think about what steps you took before removing your debit or credit card from your wallet and exchanging money for the product. If you’re in line with the shopping habits revealed by recent research, you probably took two or more of the following actions:
- Perform a search online for information regarding the product.
- Read consumer or professional reviews to see what others think about the product.
- Browse additional websites to explore alternative versions of the product.
- Flip between retailer websites to compare prices.
- Use website chat features to discuss product details with a professional or sales rep.
- Call a customer service line to ask questions.
- Use mobile apps to obtain information or continue research while on the go.
- Check social media to see what others have purchased in your situation.
- Check websites to determine product availability in local stores.
If you found yourself going online through your smartphone while standing in line at the grocery store or waiting for your child to finish football practice, you’re the perfect example of how consumer behaviors are changing. When was the last time that you stood in a store while looking a product up at competing stores to compare prices? Have you ever texted a picture of a product to your husband to make sure it’s what he wants before you make the purchase? When shopping for a new car or another item that may require some negotiation on price, have you done your research ahead of time to ensure that you know how much you might pay through another dealer?
If you haven’t done these things personally, you’ve probably seen others doing similar things while making purchasing decisions. Technological advances have put information one click away from most consumers, and it only makes sense that they use that information to their advantage. For anyone interested in making sales to those consumers, this change in shopping habits demands a major adjustment in marketing techniques.
The Zigzag Shopping Technique
One reputable consumer survey by the International Data Corporation revealed a “zigzag approach” to shopping. Consumers used their smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktops to research, compare, select and purchase products. They reported starting their search for information on one computer and then continuing on their smartphones or another computer entirely. They did preliminary research while on the go with their phones, and then they did further explorations or made purchases on their desktops at home.
Consumers zig and zag in order to use every resource available in an efficient manner. They know that the internet gives them many purchasing opportunities, so they aren’t as quick to grab a product that they see in the store. They’re more likely to look that product up online to see if they can order it from Amazon cheaper. If there are multiple brands offering similar products, they’re likely to pause the buying process in order to read consumer reviews and determine the best brand to buy.
Micro Moments are Purchasing Moments
While it may sound like consumers never buy anything without working through an elaborate process to research and compare first, that isn’t necessarily true. In research conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of Google, the concept of buying moments, also called micro moments, was discovered. These are moments in which consumers make sudden moves to find information, solve a problem, or purchase a product or service without advance preparation. Forbes recently called the perception and use of those moments a game-changer for CMOs.
It happens when a newborn baby has been crying for hours, so an exhausted mother searches online and finds a product that may help. She instantly sends her equally exhausted husband out the door to find the product, and maybe she has browsed several local stores to find one that says it has the product in stock.
It can also happen when a new laptop is dropped and you need to know the return policy for the store at which it was purchased. Perhaps you want to take your wife on an impromptu date, and you need to see what restaurants have open reservations within the hour. When it starts to snow and your children want to go sledding but they don’t have snow boots or your pregnant wife has an intense craving for tacos and you don’t know if the local taco joint is still open, these micro moments send you to the internet or out into the world in search of solutions to problems.
Adjusting to the Multi-Channel Customer Journey
Now that you understand how consumers are using technology to influence their buying decisions, how do you adjust in order to meet customer needs? You must rethink the customer journey as it relates to your product or service, and then make sure that you show up when and where your customers may need you. If you’re thinking that you aren’t a mindreading and can’t possibly know what information a consumer may need or where they may turn when it’s needed, the answer is to follow the research.
The goal of every marketer, retailer, manufacturer and startup is to create a continuous dialog with consumers across multiple platforms. Your website, blog, social media accounts, mobile app and online advertisements must all sync when it comes to delivering a consistent message. You can utilize all of these resources to provide valuable information to consumers in real time.
If you can give them what they need in the right moment, you can make a sale easier and faster than ever. In this way, technology is working for sellers just as much as it is for buyers. Some changes are fast and easy, such as changing the information provided on your website or adding a live agent chat to your e-commerce site. Other changes may take more time and financial investment, such as building a mobile app or adding real time availability stats to all products on your website. In the end, you will benefit by being the retailer that your customers reach out to in those moments of immediate need.