Beyond Segmentation: Understanding Your Customers’ Path to Purchase

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Apr 29 2015, Posted by Lisa Cramer

Segmentation, personas… Yes, they are needed for sure! How can we effectively market to our customers without understanding them first? However, segmentation and persona development is just one piece of a complex marketing strategy. What’s missing is an understanding of how a customer engages with your brand (online, on mobile, in store or a combination thereof) through their entire path to purchase, i.e. pre-purchase, purchase and post purchase. Without this understanding, you won’t be able to effectively connect with the customer or influence their purchase decision.

Before technology became so pervasive, the path to purchase was simple. The customer would maybe go to a few stores to research, find the best price and then purchase in store. But, as we all know, with the proliferation of the Internet and mobile devices, the number of channels has multiplied and therefore the path to purchase has become significantly more difficult for brands and retailers to figure out.

Each channel needs to be optimized and consistent as far as brand messaging and product information. But, where do you start? As channels continue to blur, looking at each channel first, is a recipe for a fragmented strategy. First, you need to look at each phase the customer travels (pre-purchase, purchase, post-purchase) and optimize the applicable channel(s) utilized during each phase. Where do your customers do research, find prices, purchase products, pick up products—online (desktop, tablet or smartphone), in store, on mobile while in store, etc.?

And, what about the store specifically, where over 94% of all U.S. retail sales take place (U.S. Census Bureau)? Here, you need to understand where the customer is in their path to purchase when they enter the store, since customers are entering the store at different phases of the path to purchase. Consider the following:

  • Maybe a customer wants to grab the product (bought online, pick up in store) and go. As a brand/retailer, how do you facilitate this ending point of the path to purchase? Are you making the customer go through hoops to get the product they’ve already paid for and/or already decided to purchase? And, are your sales associates facilitating or hindering this quest?
  • What about the customer that just stopped by the store—no research has occurred yet, are you helping them to learn about the product in store and supporting that via mobile? Since 75% of consumers are using mobile in store, you need to ensure they are getting valuable product information, social media interaction, price comparisons and anything else that would help the consumer accumulate the information they need via their mobile device.
  • Perhaps, the customer has done some research, but now they have specific questions and they’d like to test the product themselves before purchasing. Are your sales associates equipped with the necessary knowledge and/or technologies to answer customer questions and offer a level of expertise that customers are looking for? Or, are you giving customers an interactive self-service digital option to help guide them in their decision-making?

The complexity in this new path to purchase is challenging all of us to take a fresh look at understanding each phase of our customers’ journey to the final purchase. However, today achieving that goal is exceedingly difficult. One of the most frequent missteps with an omnichannel strategy is not stopping to first understand the customer’s path to purchase, and then overlaying the mix of channels that might be utilized during this path to optimize their experience. A winning omnichannel strategy should not focus on simply selling effectively on all channels. It should be focused on making the customer’s final purchase as easy and seamless as possible, as well as, providing the information they need when they need it and delighting them along their entire path to purchase.

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