Written by Olivia Rizzotto (Senior Marketing Consultant) at WBC UK
In a business scenario dominated by the ever-increasing number of online sales, it is key to fully understand the shopping path undertaken by users in the digital space, and their decision-making process. Now more than ever, with the physical limitations entailed by the COVID -19 pandemic, e-commerce seems to be the most popular solution and driving customers towards the purchasing decision is the No.1 requirement. In light of that, the question arises: “What do we really know about the customer journey? Is the dear old AIDA framework still a valid model?”
Up to a certain extent, yes, it certainly is. The four phases which compose it – attention, interest, desire, action – are still representative of the sequence of essential cognitive phases undergone by an individual throughout the purchasing process. However, the massive advent of the internet in the purchasing process, clearly after the birth of the model itself, led to its inevitable evolution, introducing a fifth crucial phase: the “active evaluation”. This suggests a shift in the customers’ mind, who no longer consider the product as an offer per se, but rather as a potential choice among a bunch of appealing alternatives. They evaluate, indeed. This means that if a user is to buy a hairdryer on the internet, it is very likely that he/she/they will consider a multitude of hairdryer brands and their respective online offers. Only after evaluating this whole set of information, the actual decision-making process will commence. This was confirmed by recent research by Google, which showed how a user, after receiving a trigger stimulus, does enter a confusing network of stimuli and responses, defined as the ‘explore & evaluate loop’. In other words, this could be defined as an intricate path where no typical behavioural model can be deduced. This means that it is not the AIDA to be questioned in its core configuration, but rather the tendency to intend the purchasing process as a set of linear actions. The concept of the ‘conversion funnel’, meant as the gradual diminishment of possible choices for the user, until the purchasing decision is reached, is probably something we will feel a lot of nostalgia for from now on.
The total reshaping of the online customer journey entails substantial challenges for online retailers. First of all, the difficulty of closing the gap between the initial trigger of the purchasing process and the final purchase itself, which is key for the buying decision to happen. To this end, the cognitive load perceived by users during the “explore & evaluate” process is to be reduced as much as possible by ensuring a painless and straightforward shopping experience. Indeed, to deal with the overwhelming amount of knowledge available on the internet, users often go through a two-stage process: first, inspecting a large sample of available items, and second, assessing and comparing the best of them. As a result, persuading a customer to purchase a retailer’s product and thus break the vicious cycle of “explore/evaluate” is particularly difficult, since sending the wrong signal at the wrong time could result in the brand’s immediate removal from the user’s range of options. Overall, the longer a purchasing decision is delayed or deferred, the lower is the probability of a successful online purchase. Even for renowned brands, it is now indispensable to be present at all stages of the online shopping experience.
To lead the user through the ‘explore/evaluate loop’ and counterbalance the negatives of the information overload, it is good practice to favour a state of flow throughout the consumer online journey. As a result, users will gain a sense of pleasure as they lose track of time and space and fully immerse themselves in the online environment, with an ultimately positive effect on their cognitive performance. To favour online flow, It is critical to carefully curate customers’ online experiences in every single touchpoint which composes it. Also, it is important to ensure consistent communication for the same product and to sync the set of stimuli conveyed to ensure a clear idea in the consumer’s mind. Furthermore, obstacles that obstruct users’ fluid navigation should be reduced, such as slow website pace, ambiguous navigation, pop-ups, a lack of product information, and limited payment options.
By concentrating on the online store interface, ‘web atmospherics’ can be implemented to favour the online purchase decisions. The following is a list of the most impactful:
Informativeness: the more useful information an online retailer inserts on its web page, the more the users will feel confident towards the buying decision.
Entertainment: the more the website navigation will be fun and enjoyable for the users, the less likely it is for them to abandon e-commerce.
Social presence: the more the users will perceive a sensation of warmth and human presence throughout the online store navigation, the more the emotional bond felt towards the product and the brand will be reinforced.
Sensory appeal: the more the five human senses will be stimulated by the e-commerce interface, the more users’ perception towards the product will result in enhancement. For instance, the website could present features like images with interactive audio or moving graphics that allow the product to be viewed from different angles and through a high-definition zoom.
In conclusion, the huge amount of information available on the internet nowadays implies a consistent reshaping of online customer behaviour and makes it nearly impossible to outline a typical path. As to overcome the difficulty entailed by the cognitive burden generally experienced by users throughout the online journey, retailers can work towards inducing a sense of flow in the navigation and implementing strategic web atmospherics.