Understanding modern buyer flow

Every morning when I wake up I immediately turn over and look at my phone for any emails that came in over the night. Without fail I typically have 5-6 emails from various brands and companies who send me an “eblast” that is time stamped at 12:00 a.m.. So naturally I jump out of bed, throw on some shoes, and run to the mall to take advantage of the sale right? Wrong. The basic problem here is something that has become rampant across digital marketing and ecommerce. Companies have began to completely ignore buyer flow.

In the old days when consumer’s main interaction with purchase decision making came inside the actual store marketers got it. Companies spend (and still do) millions of dollars studying buyer flow in a super market or retail store. Marketers analyzed where on shelves the average consumer looked first, some areas have more prestige than others  for example and make a customer feel like the product is of higher quality. They analyzed what flow customers purchased, so the cereal for example is typically placed at the front right of a store and milk in the back left because we knew that customers would purchase milk after cereal, not the other way around, and that is the movement of a typical consumer (front to back, right to left).

In retail and clothing shopping this was also true. Say you run a clothing store in a mall. You place items that typically garner attention toward the front where it is visible from the outside to draw people into the store. Once there you place low selling items between two groups of high selling in order to stimulate sales from people moving between the two product groups.

Mass marketing understood this buyer flow as well. Most high value shopping was done on the weekends. As a result markets would load the Sunday paper up with retail ads, most of them highlighting high value products in an effort to draw consumers into the store. During the week when budget shopping took place (groceries for example) marketers would send out coupons and sales with the desire to attract their spending.

Now, back to my eblast example. Something is lost here. Instead of trying to influence buying decision making moments marketers are just throwing out information to check it off their list. They ignore the flow of the modern consumer. The best time to reach a consumer is when they are about to enter a decision making scenario. Additionally, now you have to understand what device they will be receiving information at when they are into that buying flow and format it for that usage.

For example, recently I met with a large clothing retailer. Most of their purchasing still comes through a physical store rather than online. Most of their online sales are repeat items such as shirts with the same shirt size, underwear, socks, and other items like that. Why is this? Because people want to know that the item fits before they order it online to not deal with the hassle of returns. The decision making happens inside the store for the majority of consumers.

By trying to influence the decision through a midnight email (which thankfully they do not do) they would miss that influential moment. Why? Because the stores do not open until 10, by the time the person read the email in the morning until the time the store opened the influence has passed. Secondly if they did make a decision to purchase online we know that retail type online purchasing is typically done in early afternoon or, increasingly, during the prime time hours (7-10 p.m.).

In this example in order to play on buyer flow the retailer should look for ways to transfer in store buying to online buying through smart phones, because that is the device they have on them when in a store. Also we know that tablet browsing tends to spike as well during the prime time areas, so build a tablet friendly site and work on ways to drive people to that site during that time frame.

Anything marketing outside of the buyer flow decreases ROI and brand identity. The good part for marketers is that data in digital is highly reliable and very easily available. Study your analytics. Set up custom reporting to understand when people are making purchases and how they arrive at that decision. Analyze your email campaigns, don’t just look for open rates, look at click rates and then bring those into the flow of your site analytics to find out when and if those campaigns translate to purchases. Don’t be afraid to play with timing through A/B split campaigns to see what works best for an audience.

Above all learn about your customer. If a customer feels like you understand them then they are more likely to buy from you. Working into a buyer flow is as much about relationship marketing as it is about influencing buying. When I receive an email at midnight I know that the company does not understand me. When I receive one near a decision making point my relationship with the brand becomes positive.

Posted in Marketing, Strategy

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