In a new world of choice, how do we decide what to buy?
Some people simply love shopping while others would rather endure several hours of physical torture.
But even those who would prefer having their teeth extracted to looking for a new coat will need to make regular purchases.
We all need to invest in food, toiletries, vehicles, insurance and equipment.
There’s nothing new there.
But while the types of the goods and services we purchase haven’t changed significantly, the way we shop for them certainly has.
“A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….”
Believe it or not, there was a time when we had to visit physical shops or pick up the phone if we wanted to buy anything.
Our choices were restricted to what was on offer within travelling distance and we had far less access to information about the products and services we were interested in.
Then the internet arrived.
The internet has delivered a whole new world of everything. We now benefit from access to almost anything that is available worldwide together with a raft of information about the products and services on offer.
In other words, we have choices and plenty of them.
How do we decide what to buy and who to buy it from?
The answers to those questions are crucial for any business seeking to evolve its marketing strategy.
Decoding Decisions: Making sense of the messy middle
Decoding Decisions: Making sense of the messy middle is a collaboration between Google and The Behavioural Architects. The aim is to better understand consumer decision making when purchasing online.
There’s no doubt that consumer decision making has changed thanks to the sheer scale of choice online and the attendant complexities.
The teams from Google and The Behavioural Architects analysed relevant literature and then consumer behaviour in a series of trials, to explore the mental processes that lead to purchasing decisions.
What they found should inform the marketing strategies of brands seeking to preserve their existing market share or to generate growth.
As shoppers, we must navigate our way through a complex and seemingly infinite maze of search engines, websites, advertisements and links before making our decisions.
Given the complexity of what we are faced with, the research team’s first discovery should come as no surprise – as consumers, we attempt to keep things simple.
The primary way that we do this is by narrowing our online search results through the use of adjectives or descriptors. The additional words we add to our queries are known as modifiers.
For instance, if we are looking for a new dress to wear to a wedding, we wouldn’t simply enter the word “dress” into the search bar. We would add terms such as “red” or “special occasion” to our query to narrow down the results that are returned to those that match our idea of what we are looking for.
The modifiers that consumers choose when searching provide useful insights for marketers into the needs and emotions of the shoppers they are seeking to influence. Those words also highlight what’s hot and what’s not.
It is interesting to note that Google and The Behavioural Architects’ research has revealed that the modifiers consumers tend to use have changed since the inception of online shopping.
They found that the use of the word “cheap” in searches has declined while the use of the word “best” has grown.
Naturally, the word “best” carries a plethora of interpretations, encompassing everything from superior quality and unbeatable prices to exceptional value, outstanding performance, and unrivalled popularity.
Google et al have demonstrated that the internet has transitioned from being a tool for comparing prices to a tool for comparing everything.
Google Trends has identified that the primary modifiers now used in searches are, “ideas”, “best”, “difference between”, “cheap”, “deals”, “reviews”, and “discount codes”.
We are comparing everything with everything! But when we are making those comparisons, exactly how do we do it?
The internet of everything
Research has shown that shoppers use all available resources online in their decision-making processes. This means that consumers will explore search engines, review sites, video-sharing sites, social media, comparison sites, forums, interest groups, retailer sites, blogs, voucher code sites, publications and more.
But it’s easier to understand the purchasing process if it is viewed as one featuring four stages:
- Exposure, exploration and evaluation
In other words, something triggers us to look for goods or services. We then explore our options but the options we explore will be restricted to those we are exposed to. We evaluate what we have seen in the light of our personal experience and then we make our decision.
It is the “exposure, exploration and evaluation” aspect of the process that Google and The Behavioural Architects have identified as “the messy middle”.
Most experts agree that purchasing decisions involve both reason and emotion. Considering price is an act of reason while brand loyalty (previous experience) is an emotional response. The human mind works on multiple levels! Google and The Behavioural Architects have identified six human biases that influence our purchasing Journeys:
These are shortcuts that we use to simplify our choices so that we can make good decisions quickly. Focusing on the colour of a dress or the engine size of a car would be examples of making such shortcuts to limit the number of products we need to consider.
This is the tendency to alter our opinions to those of someone we believe to be an authority on the subject.
When we are uncertain, we tend to copy the behaviour of others. Reviews can heavily influence purchasing behaviour.
Power of now
All of us favour having things now rather than later. For this reason, we are attracted to items that can be delivered quickly.
We view rare or limited resources as desirable. Therefore, if the availability of a product is limited by time, quantity or access it becomes more attractive.
The power of free
Consumers love to get something for nothing and so any deals involving freebies will drive sales.
All six biases influence our purchasing decisions, but their relative importance varies according to the nature of the product or service being considered.
So, what’s the bottom line?
Google and The Behavioural Architects explored how people behave online. They then conducted a series of experiments in which they presented consumers with fake products in a variety of ways to reveal which aspects of the way products were presented would influence consumers to switch preferences.
The team concluded that the following marketing strategies should be followed:
- Reinforce brand presence to ensure that your brand is front of mind when consumers explore their options.
- Create compelling messages by considering the six human biases identified above.
- Minimise the time between trigger and purchase to limit consumers’ exposure to the products and services of competitors.
- Ensure that any offering is as easy to explore as possible.
- Provide all relevant information that shoppers need to evaluate the offering as this will accelerate the transition from evaluation to decision making.
- Employ tactics such as basket-abandonment messages to encourage consumers to continue exploring your offering.
- Avoid barriers to purchasing including poor site speed, unclear messaging, inconsistent messaging, inadequate information, confusing navigation, too many pop-ups and limited payment options.
How Consumers Decide To Buy
Detailed and carefully conceived marketing strategies must be employed to achieve and maintain success. Google and The Behavioural Architects have identified that there are numerous factors that we, as consumers, are influenced by when making purchasing decisions. However, their findings also suggest that persuading us to buy isn’t rocket science!
Keep your brand visible and memorable. Ensure that your messages are both consistent and informative.
Display good reviews and demonstrate limited availability.
Mention your popularity and show authority. Speed up your site and make it easy to navigate. Ensure that it is easy for customers to pay and offer speedy delivery.
On the face of it, consumer purchasing behaviour is incredibly complex. But ultimately, our decisions to buy tend to be dictated by just three things – visibility, simplicity and temptation.
Everything has changed and yet nothing has changed!