Not too long ago, the consumer buying process was simple: go to the store, look at the products, ask the sales clerk any questions, maybe check out a competitive store, and buy something. Maybe friends had offered a recommendation.
It sometimes still works this way today. But increasingly, today’s connected consumer expects to interact with retailers across a variety of channels and to have access to an abundance of content to help make their buying decision.
While a digital‐driven buying process has become the norm, few retailers have fully met the expectations of the connected consumer. Those that do enjoy a distinct advantage today, but in the very near future, it will become imperative.
Here are some facts to ponder about today’s connected consumer:
Consumers are nearly always connected.
- 87% of the U.S. population has internet access
- 81% of the U.S. population has a smartphone
- U.S. adults spends 6.4 hours/day consuming digital media
- Almost 100% of millennials are internet-users, with 19% of them accessing the internet via smartphone only
Consumers use their connected devices to shop. A lot.
- By 2024, online retail sales in the U.S. are projected to reach nearly 600 billion USD
- 80% of smartphone shoppers use their phones while in a physical store
- 79% of smartphone users have made a purchase using their device in the last 6 months
- 9/10 consumers expect consistent interactions across channels
Digital content drives the purchase decision.
- 48% start mobile research on a search engine, 33% on a branded website, and 26% on branded apps
- 74% rely on social networks to help with their purchasing decisions
- 88% of consumers pre-research their buys online before making a purchase
- 56 cents of every dollar spent in a store is influenced by a digital interaction
What does all this mean?
We can take away two conclusions: today’s consumers are omnichannel shoppers who expect seamless channel integration, and they rarely make buying decisions without weighing ample content from their social contacts, retailers and other authoritative sources.
Consumers don’t distinguish between a brand’s physical presence and its online presence, they insist on flowing seamlessly between the two: research on their desktop, check out the store, read reviews online while in-store, look at Facebook posts at a coffee shop, go back online to purchase, and maybe pick up the order in store.
The connected consumer wants their experience to be consistent along that path: same products, same prices, same information, same promotions. They understand the store can’t carry every model and variation in inventory, but they don’t want any confusion when they ask the store clerk to ship something from the online inventory. They surely don’t want the store clerk to act like the online business is some kind of competitor.
For virtually every category of product, content fuels the purchase decision. According to Pricewaterhouse Cooper, 83% of U.S. consumers go online to research electronics, computers, books, music and movies before buying those items in a brick-and-mortar store. Content could include the brand’s website, consumer reports, forums and review sites with consumer-generated content.
Even for products with scant quantitative data, such as fashion, content can be vital – but here, it can also come from social connections on Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram, etc. Between selfies and these networks, friends need not be with you in the dressing room to help you choose.
What must you do now?
First, you must acknowledge that your in-store point of sale systems, your web presence, your social presence, your mobile presence, and the content you post on blogs and forums are not distinct systems and cannot have independent strategies. In the connected consumer’s mind, they are just slightly different entry points to the same you.
Whether you are selling shoes or refrigerators, your customers will have certain questions and need certain bits of information to make a confident purchase. What is this data they seek? Where will they look for it?
Outlets you control, such as your web site, your app, your emails and your social pages, must deliver the right mix of point of view information – such as how to buy or how to dress – and specific factual product data. Your customers will access this information across a variety of devices so you must ensure that the content is optimized for each, and that your app and mobile-optimized site (with right-sized buttons, larger text and pictures, and pertinent information above the fold) offers just as much information as your desktop site.
You also need a social strategy that encourages your good customers to become advocates who influence their followers to become customers as well. To enable social sharing, your brand should have a unified URL for all devices. If you employ a m.dot site and a customer shares a link to your website from their mobile device, whenever a follower clicks that link on a desktop, they will see a website designed for a small screen on their massive desktop screen. No doubt this will create a poor user experience.
The connected consumer expects brands to integrate all online and offline channels to deliver a unified customer experience, and to ensure that they have easy access content that will ultimately drive their purchase.