Consumer behavior has transformed a lot over the years. And as their behavior evolves and technology advances, brands and retailers have to grow more sophisticated in how they market and sell, personalizing the customer journey.
Naturally, many sellers try to optimize their selling strategies across every ecommerce-related channel. But with the hundreds of digital touchpoints available and the convoluted paths to purchase taken by modern customers, that strategy is growing increasingly difficult to accomplish. Instead of trying to master every advertising and selling site in existence, brands and retailers could try to streamline their approach by thinking about their customers through the lens of the traditional buying journey from awareness to consideration to conversion.
Whether a consumer goes from product awareness to shopping cart in 10 minutes or 10 months, the psychological journey is the same. This linear path is similar to how individuals experience the five stages of grief: Some do so faster, some slower.
Once brands and retailers take the time to understand buying intent at each stage of the customer journey, they can structure better strategies for their products and their business.
Let’s unpack each stage and a few best practices and strategies to incorporate along the way.
As the first stage in the customer journey, awareness is both crucial and challenging.
Awareness can be broken into two subcategories: pre-awareness and product awareness. Consumers start off unaware of a product’s existence until exposed to it through word of mouth, social media presence, promotions or product placement (pre-awareness). Then, they become aware of their general desire for a product but haven’t selected a specific brand or type (product awareness).
When targeting consumers in the pre-awareness phase, brands and retailers could — depending on your vertical — invest in a more robust social media presence to capture their attention. According to a recent consumer survey we conducted, 51% of 18 to 25-year-olds have “discovered” products they’ve purchased on social media sites. Consumers are interested and open to finding new products at any time; brands and retailers should meet that openness with timely, curated content and targeted promotions.
The options are endless and they really depend on your category. YouTube channels with “how-to” or demo videos are another great option that can garner awareness if it makes sense with your industry or product. Seeing a product in action makes it more tangible and puts it on a consumer’s radar.
The product awareness phase is also where advertising obviously comes into play. Retail media has exploded in popularity in recent years and is essential for building product awareness on sites like Amazon, eBay and Walmart.
Once potential customers are aware of a product, they’ll move to the consideration stage.
Maintaining clean product data across your advertising and selling channels is essential here. Give consumers as much valuable product information as possible to build their trust. Fill product detail pages with thorough, benefit-driven product descriptions, high-resolution images, clear shipping and return policies and any other relevant details.
Developing an online branded store, such as an Amazon Brand Store, can also provide rich and engaging content that cultivates interest and motivates browsers to become buyers.
Like the other stages, the options here are limitless. How you approach them depends on your business model, your selling relationship with marketplaces like Amazon, and the products you sell.
Potential buyers then come to the pivotal motivation stage where they may need a final push to make that purchase.
One way to motivate ambivalent customers is incentivizing checkout through free shipping or discounts. First-time buyers may feel more at ease clicking the buy button knowing they’re not paying full price for a product or shipping.
Another method is low-stock inventory notifications. FOMO (fear of missing out) is real. Brands and retailers can lean into this phenomenon by notifying on-the-fence buyers that the product they’re considering is selling out, pushing them to either buy or risk losing out.
Even consumers who abandon sites can continue their journey through retargeting ads and cart abandonment emails. Personalize ads and emails to remind consumers of their almost purchase, re-establishing their initial interest and keeping the product top-of-mind.
At the conversion stage, the consumer has decided and is ready to buy. But once at checkout, consumers shouldn’t face any obstacles or barriers, which could send them to a competitor instead.
Give consumers a smooth experience by adhering to the Golden Rule: treat them the way you would want to be treated. Allow customers to check out as guests, only ask for the information needed, remove surprise fees or shipping costs and provide multiple payment options.
Innovations in social commerce are constantly emerging as well, allowing customers to buy with the least amount of hurdles possible. If customers see a product they like on social media, they can now purchase it within some platforms without going to a website, eliminating friction.
Loyalty isn’t a stage all buyers get to in their respective journeys, but it’s one that brands and retailers should still strive to reach.
Stand out from other sellers by communicating clearly and often. Send confirmation emails after a customer checks out, give updates on shipping and respond quickly to good and bad feedback.
Then, continue the conversation with post-sale emails, like personalized recommendations based on the customer’s purchase history. Buyers can also receive special offers, promotions and discounts to encourage them to return to a site.
Online buying has given consumers more options for shopping, but that doesn’t mean brands and retailers need to build strategies around every single channel or digital touchpoint. There’s no magic bullet solution for sellers. Each has to determine which strategies work best for their products and their intended audience to achieve the best results. But by focusing on their buyers’ intent at each stage of the customer journey, sellers can meet more buyers along that journey — no matter where, when or how they choose to shop.
Bradley Hearn is a product marketing manager at ChannelAdvisor