Just a few years ago, a section of an aisle in most supermarkets was devoted to cereal. Today, a trip to the 50-foot long cereal aisle is a shock and awe experience—a baffling maze of choices. At the end of the maze you may feel a bit disoriented, with three boxes of cereal and the unsettling feeling that you’ve made poor cereal-purchase decisions.
The average consumer used 10 sources of information to make a buying decision in 2011, twice the sources in 2010. We’re drowning in information.
But we’ve learned a workaround. You can take comfort in the fact that it’s easier than ever to make an informed decision, as a consumer, about the best option for a purchase. And you don’t have to make that decision standing in the cereal aisle after a long workday.
It All Begins with Search. How did Search become so important to the customer journey?
The Customer Journey Has Changed.
The way people buy has similarities to the old way, but new technologies add to and alter that process. Now it’s a conversation with a lot more people in a lot more places.
It’s PULL, not PUSH.
It used to be that the information about a product was a message you sent out. Now people want to find and share information on their own terms. Not just what your company says, but what others say.
Now the opinion of the crowd is meaningful—in many cases even more meaningful than other research. People trust their peers more than brands. They see strength in percentages of opinion, and they seek out those opinions, as illustrated by this cartoon courtesy of xkcd.com:
Nothing Too Insignificant …
There are all kinds of places between hearing about something and the moment of purchase – the journey is much more of a continuum than it used to be. There’s no product, business, or service too small to do research on. Delving into the issues behind a large purchase like a car is the same method as for dried soup mixes.
Old Methods – Linear (Not Real Time)
The path from awareness of the product through to purchase was a straight path. And you knew your customer was somewhere on this path.
- Introduction to products came from a few sources: TV, radio, magazine, mailings….
- Visited store; got printed catalog.
- Viewed display, brochures, or catalog description.
- Solicited opinions from friends and neighbors.
- Compared listings from a category in the yellow pages.
- Went to the library and looked in Consumer Reports or other publications.
- Compared prices; looked for sales. (“Listen to your Aunt Rita–Never pay retail.”)
- Talked with salesperson and perhaps a customer rep on the telephone.
New Methods – Non-Linear (Real Time)
The path is not predictable, and the journey can be completed in minutes. There are no barriers. It’s easy and quick to find information. The newly empowered customer is having a conversation. Online, a new mother can do research on the pros and cons of baby pacifiers in minutes, on a smartphone, while nursing the baby.
- Introduction to a product comes from many sources: blogs, online communities, comments, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Yelp, email….
- Shoppers use Search in real time.
- Comparison shopping on the Internet.
- Seek out online product reviews/opinions/comments.
- Visit relevant online communities.
- Solicit opinions from friends on mobile.
- Social searches and more opinions (Facebook, Twitter).
- Go to store website; visit information portals.
Call it what you will — it’s still word of mouth. It’s talking over the fence to your neighbors–just a lot more of them.
- People are reaching out to you on the Internet whether you know it or not.
- Every category of business benefits from search engine ranking.
- If businesses understand the questions people are asking, they can answer those questions, be more visible, and thus rank higher in Search.
- Try things and track them. Rinse and repeat–quickly. Don’t be afraid to fail.
The path from awareness to purchase is a completely different path these days—the old linear methods are “once upon a time and long ago.”
Today, it all begins with Search.
- Find what you’re looking for faster with Quick Search!
- Anthony Power on the “Fluid Fog” of Social Commerce
- Understand Your Customer’s 3 Journeys to Provide Customer Service Excellence
- Announcing New and Improved Twitter Search!
- Considering the Real-Time User Experience As Engagement and CRM Strategy