How do shoppers purchase products online?

At Spark Emotions, we specialise in getting to a deep understanding of why people behave as they do. We have a number of online research methods that we tailor to help our clients understand how shoppers purchase products online.

This is a question that we have helped our clients to answer for many years but unsurprisingly it is a question that we are being asked more and more frequently.

We discussed in a previous post how the current global situation with Covid-19 has massively accelerated the growth of the online channel and left many brands and retailers playing catch up, click here to read it.

Answers to some of the foundational shopper research questions that we take for granted in the in-store environment, have suddenly become unknowns.

Companies that are at the forefront of retail marketing and category management at the shelf are finding that they have substantial knowledge gaps to fill.

It’s not a case of us being complacent, far from it.

Understanding how our shoppers behave online has always been in the plan and our clients that have already made good progress with that journey, did so in line with their growth trajectories.

Very few could have foreseen the pandemic and the impact it has had on shopping behaviour, and if you did please let me know, you can help to pick my lottery numbers!

Understanding shopper behaviour in e-commerce

Of course, our clients all know what they sell online and where it is sold and may have volumes of data on the different site’s shoppers visit and what they click through.

But often we are lacking the answers to the two most crucial questions to really understand how shoppers purchase products online.

  • How are our products shopped online?
  • Why are our products (or our competitors) purchased online?

Again questions and processes that we may be very familiar with in the bricks and mortar environment but present big gaps in our online strategy.

The good news is that while the research techniques may differ, we can use the same steps of the shopper insight process to get the same foundational knowledge within e-commerce as we have in-store.

Shopper flow or pathways

Just as we would track a shoppers movement around a supermarket, it is important to understand how online shoppers move around an e-commerce website and the stages of their trip.

In many ways, the homepage of a website is similar to entering a large grocery store. We may place various forms of temptation here in the shape of promotional banners as we would a promotional display at the front of the store. The truth is, just as in a supermarket, shoppers are very task focussed when entering a website. Any marketing messages have to work exceptionally hard to cut through, so it is crucial to understand how shoppers behave at this stage of the journey.

Through our work, we have been able to establish a fairly typical shopper path within grocery websites to help our clients understand where to communicate with shoppers but each site is slightly different and different types of retailer e.g. fashion are more different still.

Mindset & Mission

It’s critical to understand the impact that the shopper mindset and mission can have on the behaviour of an online shopper to really understand how shoppers purchase products online.

It is just as possible to buy the staple items we use every week in a very automatic, habitual fashion online, as it is in-store, but there are still those new items or occasions we need to purchase for which switch us back into more slow considered shopping.

It was a big (but very actionable) surprise to one of our clients that their shoppers were spending over 50% of their time in a habitual replenishment mission online and a lot of their marketing spend was being wasted as shoppers were not open to any form of communication at those stages within the trip.

Navigating and searching

A lot of the specific questions we are asked to tackle within e-commerce are around how shoppers navigate through a website and search for different products.

By using our combination of cutting edge research techniques we are able to help establish the visual cues that shoppers use to help them find a pre-planned product or to browse different options.

As in anything in life we look for mental short cuts when shopping and anything that can be processed automatically (system 1) is more likely to be seen.

We were able to help a health & beauty client of ours get their products seen more quickly by shoppers, by recommending the optimal visual cues to use within category pages, that facilitated this system 1 processing.

Making purchase decisions

Finally, how do shoppers make that purchase decision? What information do they use? Where do they look for this information?

This is possibly the biggest and certainly the most diverse and complex part of the process. Unlike the in-store shopper we can’t physically pick up, touch or feel the product so how do we decide it is right for us.

Normally (but not always) these decisions take place on the product information pages but these vary so much that it is impossible to apply hard and fast rules.

Research is vital to understand how and why a product is selected by shoppers but we can’t make the mistake of just jumping to this part of the process.

As is definitely the case in-store and online, you can have the best brand and the most beautiful packaging in the world. If nobody finds it then nobody will buy it!

So, if like so many others you are asking the question ‘how do shoppers purchase our products online’ don’t worry, you are definitely not alone.

A carefully considered insight led approach to understand online shopping behaviour will enable us to answer that question, optimise our online offering to meet our shoppers’ needs, and provide the best possible experience in this modern shopping landscape.

Written by Andy Bromley, Director of Operations at Spark Emotions
If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to Andy via email or connect with him on LinkedIn


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