The consumer decision journey or what makes people buy products or services?

Perhaps the single most important thing businesses need to understand is the consumer decision journey – that is, how customers progress from gaining awareness of a product or service to then actually making a purchase. Whilst, of course, the ideal customer buying journey for companies is for customers to see a product and make the impulse decision to purchase it immediately, this is far from the norm!

There are few organisations better placed than Feefo to properly understand the consumer decision journey, and ultimately, the customer buying journey, because of the vast amount of data and behavioural insights available.

Recently, we started a unique research journey to better understand customer behaviours, and began by surveying 2,000 adults in the UK who shopped online and in stores. The findings were interesting and, when read through, are invaluable to helping businesses better understand focus points that they may not have considered, as well as opportunities for improvement.

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As with most journeys, consumer decision journeys are not always linear, but the following helps demonstrate the key stages (in the usual order they occur) and outlines the findings reflective of each.

What is the consumer decision journey?

The consumer decision journey, or customer buying journey, is the end-to-end process of a consumer becoming aware of a product or service and covers the period beyond right through to evaluating the experience post-purchase. For example, this includes their initial motivation, the search for a relevant purchase, consideration of factors surrounding the purchase (which go far beyond the product or service itself), the purchase itself and then the evaluation of the purchase experience afterwards.

Each stage of the consumer decision journey can be analysed by brands in order for them to make improvements that make the journey simpler for customers.

Consumer behaviours and habits are evolving and this research was conducted at the end of 2020; so its output can be used to influence businesses in their development, focus and growth decisions from 2020 onward.

The stages of the consumer decision journey

Pre-Purchase

Even in the event of a customer seeing a product on a shelf and immediately picking it up to buy it, there's a conscious decision-making process that happens.

Stage 1: Problem or Need

The problem or need is the first stage in the customer buying journey – where the individual is faced with a requirement, want or need for a product or service. For example, for a convenience food product such as a bag of crisps or a chocolate bar, the need would be hunger. For a lightbulb, it may be an existing bulb blowing. For a designer piece of clothing, the motivation may just be out of want and desire rather than need. The problem or need serves as motivation for the consumer to seek out a product or service in the first place.

Feefo’s customer survey uncovered more information on the motivations that prompt consumers to seek out a purchase. 1 in 5 of those surveyed admitted their motivation for purchase was sometimes purely to impress others or to build a perceived desirable image of themselves. An impressive 70% of those responding admitted that upon uncovering a need or want to make a purchase, they immediately went online to seek out a solution. Of this 70%, 79% went straight to Google or Amazon to get started. In their initial decision of the need to make a purchase, 62% of individuals considered themselves cautious in initiating a search for the relevant item or service, and just 4% would take into account environmental or wider world issues when starting their purchase journey.

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Stage 2: Search

The second stage of the customer purchase journey is for the individual to seek out a solution to their want or need. With, as above, 70% of people immediately turning to the internet to start that search, the following largely represents searches made for a product or service to be purchased online.

80% of customers will seek out and use FAQ (Frequently Asked Question) pages to gain more information as required on a brand, product or service. However, only 48% of customers would answer one or two questions popping up in order to improve their browsing experience on an e-commerce site; so although this may prove successful for some customers to present them with relevant data and personalised shopping experiences, it won’t work for all. When it comes to customer interaction with a brand in order for them to search out a relevant or appropriate product or service, 43% of people note email as their preferred channel of communication. Whatever the channel, customer expectations for responses and resolutions are high – 3 in 10 of those surveyed expect a response within 10 minutes. This makes it clear that brands should have, as a minimum, an auto-response to relevant comms with SLAs and a link to FAQ or further information pages, which gives businesses a buffer.

Stage 3: Consideration

Once customers have carried out their research into appropriate products or services, they must weigh up their options of what to purchase, and whether to purchase it at all. This stage offers companies the opportunity to be persuasive and prompt the purchase to be with them – through the supply of relevant information, a competitive price point and in effectively communicating the USP (Unique Selling Points) of their brand in particular.

The most important factor in the consumer decision journey was product quality, which was stated by 28% of respondents – but not far behind, at 26%, is customer service. These two factors should, therefore, remain critical to retailers. When it came to customer service gripes – naturally a point in the customer buying journey at which there are a lot of variables - the most annoying customer experiences involved being passed around call centres and having to encounter automated voice systems.

Interestingly, this stage of the process also seeks out peer feedback and customer reviews - which is where we come in! Our research showed that 64% of consumers consider review website platforms ‘trustworthy’, with closed review platforms 49% more trustworthy than open ones.

Output, Purchase and Post-Purchase

A consumer has made the decision to make a purchase from a brand. The deciding factor in that purchase decision may not be singular but should always be understood by businesses – so that they can set about re-enacting the conditions to facilitate future and further purchases, too!

Stage 4: Purchase

Interestingly, and perhaps surprisingly, 55% of consumers interviewed by Feefo believed that a brand’s values influence their final decision in the customer buying journey. This cements that businesses should be upfront and steadfast in making their company values clear.

Perhaps more interesting, and certainly a ‘quick win’ for retailers, is to resolve issues that prevent customers from going through with the purchase. Not being able to find answers to questions was noted as the biggest consumer frustration (another reason to install comprehensive FAQ pages!) and a hefty 79% of customers admitted to abandoning their e-commerce shopping basket directly before proceeding with purchase. 63% of those who did so noted (perceived) high shipping or delivery costs as the primary factor for cart abandonment - an issue that could be swiftly rectified with upfront transparent communications on delivery and/or added charges before the final checkout portion of the purchase.

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Stage 5: Customer Loyalty

Once a purchase has been made, businesses should strive to engage with customers and encourage a loyal, long-lasting relationship to extend the customer lifecycle for as long as appropriate and/or possible.

Whilst the percentage of consumers who wanted communications with a business to be via e-mail pre-purchase was just over 40%, the research found that this raised to 70% once a purchase had been made. At this point, willingness to leave a written review on an online platform is at an all-time high – with 72% of customers surveyed having done so for something they’d bought in 2020. With 30% of consumers switching post-purchase to a new brand after just one bad experience, online reviews should be viewed as an opportunity for improvement and loyalty-building by businesses looking to increase and improve their market share, customer base and public perception.

Brands looking to truly capitalise on the customer insights that can be gained at all stages of the consumer decision journey toward purchase can do so utilising Feefo’s products and solution services. Without such in-depth analysis and understanding of the data received from customer reviews, it stays just that – data. Creating customer insights and intelligence from the content of reviews allows for a competitive advantage, better business development practices and continuous improvement. It’s a win-win; for both consumer and company.

The full findings from the 2020 customer survey can be found on the Feefo website.

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