Back in the Adam & Eve days of consumer research, the late 19th century, marketers thought they'd nailed it when they developed the concept of the purchase funnel: buyer behavior was a linear journey from a need to a final purchase. If only life were that simple. Since then, nearly everything about how consumers interact with brands has changed, and a new buying paradigm has developed.
Proprietary research confirms that the actions of consumers have evolved drastically, and that what most influences shopping decisions varies widely by purchase category. The linear churn of the purchase funnel has been supplanted by the "Purchase Loop," a spider web of six behaviors that steer the path to purchase, according to About.com, an online content resource.
Shopping has evolved significantly in recent years, fueled in large part by incredible growth in mobile computing and digital and social media. These factors make shopping more convenient and allow for greater sharing of ideas and opinions, the research found. The Purchase Loop study demonstrates that shopping is about the individual more so than ever before.
The research also characterized the shopping process as more complex than simply identifying a need, exploring options and purchasing. Paths to purchase are more complex and less linear than previously believed, possibly requiring a greater number of "stops" along the way. However, purchases happen more quickly.
And consumers have much more personal relationships with brands, researchers found. Shopping today is less about the brands and products themselves and more about the consumers' feelings and needs.
"With the rise of mobile and social, along with the sheer volume of information available online, the path to purchase has radically shifted for consumers, and smart marketers are taking note," said Laura Salant, director of research for About.com. "The information in this study allows marketers to understand how they can walk specific paths with consumers and add value throughout these behaviors, keeping their brands in consumers' consideration every step of the way."
The six behaviors along "The Purchase Loop" identified by About.com include:
- Openness – Consumers are receptive to new or better experiences stemming from pre-existing interest in or curiosity about a category or topic area. Consciously or subconsciously, brands, products or services may be on the consumers' radar.
- Realized want or need – Something acts as a catalyst, giving the consumer a reason to start looking into things he or she wants or needs to do.
- Learning and education – The buyer understands the broad fundamentals in order to make a purchase he or she can feel good about.
- Seeking ideas and inspiration – The customer looks for, notices and keeps track of examples, thought-starters and motivators in order to take the next step.
- Research and vetting – Consumers compare options, look for deals, compare prices, read reviews and determine personal associations with the brand.
- Post-purchase evaluation and expansion – The consumer uses or experiences a purchase and decides how he or she feels, and might post reviews and share the experience. This activity can send consumers into additional purchase loops if they experience renewed openness to the brand or inspiration to look into related products, tasks or needs.