With 96% UK households having internet access in 2020 (1), the ability to buy food, clothes, music, films, sports equipment, holidays, cars etc. has never been easier. Shopping no longer takes place just in the High Street but anywhere, anytime. So what is the impact on how customers shop generally and what does this mean for businesses and brands?
Customers are becoming more mobile and tech savvy
More UK customers shop online compared with other major countries. Eight in ten (79%) internet users said they ordered goods or services on-line in 2010 (2). They also spent more time on retail sites; an average of 84 minutes in January 2011 compared with 20 minutes for Italy and Poland (2).
Mobile phones are also changing shopping behaviour with significant growth in those connecting to the internet via their mobile phone. Further smartphone ownership nearly doubled in the UK between February 2010 and August 2011 from 24% to 46% and nearly half used their phone to go online in October 2011 (2).
The use of wi-fi hotspots increased seven-fold from 2007 to 4.9 million in 2011 as has watching TV online with over 27% of UK internet users watching TV online every week (2).
New opportunities and threats
Changes in customer behaviour present new opportunities and threats to ‘bricks and mortar’ and ‘clicks and mortar’ businesses and (r)etailers.
- As customers shop both in-store and online, there are increasingly complex and overlapping behaviour Thus marketers must understand them.
- Customers are increasingly multi-tasking; browsing online channels, while doing other tasks, such as watching tv, drinking coffee, and even when browsing the shelves. Thus online communication must complement or enhance the brand experience. It must inform and entertain, not just act as a functional route to purchase.
- QR code (quick response) and phone apps such as Google Goggles enable customers to find out more about products. Applications even translate languages. Thus product packaging must compete within the visual noise of the category, work harder on a computer screen, and thus make buying easy.
- Phone applications that use global positioning satellite technology (GPS), such as Foursquare, and O2 Media/Rewards present new High Street promotion opportunities. They allow marketers to target consumers ‘on the go’. Such as, by sending a timely text message when they near a shop.
- The growth of comparison websites and functions such as Amazon (reviews and star ratings), Facebook (likes), Ciao (user reviews and prices) and TripAdvisor (reviews and ratings) are increasingly influential. Positive reviews, or ‘likes’ are valued by Google as well as prospective purchasers.
- Mobile phone recording and camera applications allow experiences and ideas to be recorded and shared with friends. These help seek feedback on a prospective purchase (‘what do you think my new dress, mum?’), enhance a brand experience (for example, taking photographs with the hunky model at Abercrombie and Fitch). They also enable promotion and endorsement via tweets, Instagram et al.
Why understand the customer journey?
Understanding the sequence, nature, and importance of the steps in the customer’s journey allows marketers to what influence’s awareness and sales of a particular service or product. In turn how to promote it and where and how to add value. The traditional view of the customer journey is as a linear series of steps, as espoused by Lavidge and Steiner (3) et al.
Though this is less relevant in the online world. With the proliferation of online media, the customer journey is becoming non-linear; a more random, looping, stepping stone process. Customers use online to aid shopping decisions as well as buy. Increasingly from the comfort of their own home, desk or even bus! Retail is used to see and touch. Customers jump to and fro on their journey, reflecting, comparing and considering. They also jump from online to retail and back before finally buying.
Many factors influence if, how and when they buy, as well as their relationship with, and propensity to endorse a brand. Online media, specifically fact-finding tools and ratings on Amazon, ebay, Twitter and Facebook et al, play an increasing role.
- Don’t underestimate the speed and impact digital media is having on all markets. New technology provides a host of new communication opportunities. These change the way that customers become aware of products, and are also influenced, and persuaded to buy.
- Marketers need to stay one step ahead by using creative qualitative research to understand the offline and online customer journey. Also the relationships between the two. This will then provide a foundation for a coherent marketing communication strategy, with a persuasive message, and also appropriate media to assuage customers to .
- View the whole customer journey as a relationship ladder. Your aim is to attract a prospect, build a relationship with them and ultimately encourage advocacy of your brand.
(1) Office for National Statistics, Internet access – households and individuals, February 2020
(2) OFCOM, Sixth International Communications Market Report, December 2011
(3) Lavidge Robert J and Steiner Gary A A Model of Predictive Measurements of Advertising Effectiveness: Journal of Marketing, vol. 25, no 6, 1961.