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The customer journey: How it has evolved and where it’s going

July 14, 2022

It's no secret that consumer shopping behavior has changed dramatically over the past few years. In just 90 days at the start of COVID, we jumped forward ten years in U.S. e-commerce penetration.

And the interest in online shopping hasn't waned. McKinsey & Company research from October 2021 found e-commerce sales continued to experience strong growth, rising by about 35% year over year, and online penetration remained about 30% higher than pre-COVID levels. The research also found omnichannel shopping is ascendant, with social media influencing all age groups surveyed. In addition, there has been a shakeup in consumer loyalty, making it harder for brands to keep customers.

Given this and the various shopping channels available, gaining visibility into all stages of the consumer journey — particularly those at the start of the process — is critical for every consumer brand to drive conversions and retention. But how can they do this?

Following are three recommendations around how brands can identify growth opportunities and effectively compete at the outset of the consumer journey:

1. Address all data sources. As third-party cookies are phased out, considering all customer data sources becomes more challenging. While some data sets are readily available, others may be harder to access. To address this, brands should seek solutions that can evaluate all data sources, unstructured data like social activity, browsing activity on mobile and desktop, etc. With the insight gleaned across all sources, brands can gain a complete picture of shoppers and nurture leads in a highly targeted way, reducing the chance they will interact — and convert — with a competitor.

2. Drive purchase attribution early in the funnel. One of the best ways to secure consumers' interest is when they are still at the beginning of their journeys, far before deciding what to buy. Achieving this requires visibility into the initial motivators leading consumers to enter the path-to-purchase and the capability to tie them to the end conversion. By understanding consumers' early-funnel behaviors, patterns, and trigger points that drive sales, brands can intervene at the right moment with information consumers need — to shorten the time from intent to action and maximize the ROI of marketing investments.

3. Employ prescriptive analytics. Brands need to move from reactive monitoring of competitive and market data to leveraging tools like real-time AI-driven analytics that can proactively predict outcomes and recommend actions to take. This means shifting the marketing paradigm from reactive to proactive to prescriptive. With the insights and recommendations gleaned from prescriptive analytics, brands can determine what they need to do to drive ROI, including bolstering conversions and reducing acquisition costs. They can then prioritize and optimize marketing spend to support this.

Real-world example of this in action

Using analytics that address what consumers do early in their shopping journeys for appliances and consumer electronics, for example, a brand can determine that new homeowners who are in the process of purchasing refrigerators, dishwashers, washing machines, dryers, and TVs for their homes have an overall purchase journey of 5.1 weeks on average for these appliances, with an average of 97 interactions across multiple touchpoints. These purchases typically take place two to four weeks after taking a mortgage and purchasing insurance for the new house.

Specifically, brands that are active on (617,000 monthly visitors), (1.4 million monthly visitors), and (50,000 monthly visitors), among others, are able to sell three times more products to this segment on Amazon, in comparison to brands that are not active on these trigger points as part of the digital path-to-purchase.

When focusing on the path-to-purchase of TVs specifically, brands that are active on (2.7 million monthly visitors) and (2.1 million monthly visitors), among others, are able to sell 5.6 times more TVs to this segment on Amazon in comparison to brands that are not active on these trigger points.

As the path-to-purchase becomes more convoluted and consumer shopping behaviors become harder to track, brands need a way to understand the complexities of consumer journeys so they can influence buying decisions in their favor. This is even more challenging with the elimination of cookies coupled with the "walled gardens" of marketplaces like Amazon, Facebook, and others that don't necessarily share those consumer journey details.

Using the approaches above, brands can determine how to segment consumers based on their purchase behavior (e.g., buying a home), fully understand the consumer journey, and tie the specific behaviors to purchases of other products to allow brands to nurture the leads in the relevant time frame versus spreading marketing dollars around the non-measurable "awareness world." Also, brands can learn more about consumer segments down to the product level and outside of their path-to-purchase, then sub-segment them based on their unique online activity to drive more substantial ROI for their marketing dollars by meeting them at the right place with the topics that matter to them.

How do you get there from here?

It all sounds very complicated, but it doesn't need to be with the right kinds of tools. While consumer data platforms (CDPs) are available to gain insight into consumer behaviors, they only address a piece of the puzzle. Brands really need "external" CDPs that can determine what consumers do before — and even after — they interact with their business online and where they turn to competitors specifically.

With the insights gleaned from solutions like these, brands can act accordingly to maximize marketing dollars. And they can do this while at the same time addressing the ever-increasing privacy regulations, including GDPR and the California Privacy Act.

Suppose brands are not currently leveraging available tools to gain visibility into consumer behaviors and trigger points online. In that case, they are missing out on critical opportunities to increase sales and conversions and reduce the cost of acquisitions, identify untapped segments, and reduce dropouts and abandonments.

Can your business afford to do that?

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