Shopping Behaviors and Touches in the Durables Marketplace

On and offline shopping used to be treated discretely.  They no longer can be treated as such from a human experience.  Forrester tells us the projected growth rate for pure digital in 2018 is $48 billion.  Forrester goes on to say the projected growth rate of in-store purchases that start digitally is $69 billion.  Understanding the on and offline purchase preference and the surrounding contextual omni channel-ness of human shopping behavior can improve business outcomes.

Shopping Context 

At a baseline level, there are two types of shopping modalities that constitute shopping behavior.  One is spontaneous shopping. Think about grabbing a roll of breath mints at the check-out in a grocery store.  Those products are there for a reason.  The behavior is really an unplanned decision to buy a product or service, made just before a purchase. And it can be tied to the idea of instant gratification. Certain durables may fall into this category but most other purchase decisions related to durable goods are considered.  Considered purchases have a more complex decision-making process with some emotional risk and reward.  The process requires varying degrees of investigation and comparison prior to the actual purchase.  The timing is dependent on the complexity, price and emotional weight put on the purchase by the person.

When it comes to durables and consideration there is new purchase and there is replacement.  There is always a first time to purchase a certain type of product. Those first-time purchases follow the classic early adopter to late adopter curve and people have an expectancy of the value the product will bring to their lives.  In the replacement decision process, voluntary replacement is not always motivated by economic or rationale factors even as markets mature and products undergo rapid improvements in quality and falling prices.

The last contextual factor is usage. What is the person going to do with the product, what will be the product usage.  We can break this down into three factors: utility, hedonism and culture. Utility comes into play as people that purchase based on practicality and functionality where hedonic (science word, not mine) purchases are more emotional and sensational – this is a fancy way to think about necessities versus luxuries.  Then throw in the components of culture which include values, symbols/artifacts, actions, and cognitions, emotions and meanings impacting behavior.  

Think about context through an example like wireless headphones. It’s not a spontaneous purchase so you’re going to investigate. And you are replacing headphones that broke so this is replacement but wireless is a new factor.  You’ve narrowed choices down to two: one is utilitarian with traditional design with long battery life.  Another has a sleek design but mid-range battery life.  The sleek designs are blowing up on Instagram. Which one you ultimately choose also can be impacted by purchase workflow. 

Purchase Workflows

A more considered purchase needs engagement and relevance throughout investigation and comparison process, ensuring the brand is always top of mind during the workflow. A considered purchase workflow requires a higher touch set of engagements at possibly over a dozen different points of interaction or touches along the path to a sale.  Here are some of the important touches in three basic purchase workflows.  

Online to Offline Purchase

Many people start with online research, review products in person at the store. and complete the transaction at the store. 

  • Search - think about focusing terms more tightly, aligning with research and information gathering for the person who may buy
  • Online information - Over the years people have become less forgiving of poor web experiences and will abandon brands/businesses quickly if not satisfied with their ability to find relevant information consumers seek, such as product descriptions, specifications and use-states on mobile experiences, microsites, landing pages, etc.
  • Online Photos - perhaps even 3D photos with 360° and zoom imaging or augmented and virtual reality can be used to illustrate quality
  • Online Comments - Authentic user comments across social platforms, ratings and reviews are places where people place a lot of trust
  • Offline Sales Associate - In this kind of workflow, a sales associate must be prepared for people with specific questions and comparisons.  These people may already be down a selection path so moving them off their own choice may be challenging

Offline to Online Purchase

Other people start by reviewing at the store and then go home to compare prices.  Ultimately many of those people finish the purchase online.  

  • Offline Sales Associate - Not only do the sales associates have to provide the relevant information for evaluation and comparison, they also can’t take offense if these people leave the store. Instead, they need to also talk about the online purchase and delivery options.
  • Online Information - Price is the differentiator so making sure your prices are lowest or at least in the competitive ball park
  • Online Service - Being able to offer any additional personal assistance at the moment of choice can prove to be valuable 
  • Online Shopping Cart - If they’ve come this far, make sure the transaction process is easy and demonstrates your commitment to security

A Note on Mobile

Mobile is now an important part of the shopping experience and should be integrated into purchase workflow.  Online and in mobile app data can be integrated into offline point-of-sale systems. This can allow a retailer to move Inventory levels, pricing and customer data across all channels. For example, a person can compare product with a sales associate and then do the online comparison of features and/or price right on premise.  Or a person can receive a push notification while in store alerting them to promotions on items of interest.

Online Review and Purchase

The prevalence of mobile behavior, a more flexible return policy and people’s comfort level with online shopping means other people may never see the product in person at store and just buy it online. 

  • Search - like we said above, here more than ever, think about focusing terms more tightly, aligning with research and information gathering for the person who may buy
  • Online Experience Design - According to Nielsen research, optimizing in a redesign can generate an average 5.5% lift in forecasted revenue over a current design.  Younger, more affluent people place emphasis on good, intuitive design.  We use a guided choice model where the person has control over the workflow but they are progressing and we are learning more about his or her preferences, continuously configuring for decision-making
  • Voice Navigation - the use of smart tech can allow people to search, navigate and find what they want using voice as the tool.  Much of this vocal search starts with category names like “microwave.” Brands will need to offer this feature with retail partners as over 40 million (Statista) units are expected to ship this year
  • Customer Support - Having trained support available 24/7 that can react to where the person is in their flow starts with great training that’s both class based and in field. Agents need to know where to get answers, use tools and resources. We’d even suggest that all those working in marketing spend some time in live chat training.
  • Delivery - After the sale, the delivery is the first and maybe only physical touch with the company.  Make this an experience worth remembering. Make the packaging stand out. Make the directions intuitive. Have help just one click away or available on their smart speaker

Today’s marketing depends on an ability to incorporate triggers within specific channels so a person’s flow cascades throughout their journey.  Working through these kinds of experience workflows will help marketers understand how all of this can and will work together and prioritize the key ingredients for business outcomes.

If you’d like to learn more or just want to share your thoughts with the author, feel free to contact Rick Shaughnessy, Group SVP, Innovation at or 312-315-0501.