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Providing Assistance on the Digital Path to Purchase

October 15, 2018


Every business selling a product or service looks for a successful end game (i.e., a consumer purchase). The rise of the Internet and mobile devices (especially smartphones) has significantly impacted the complexity of the consumer path to purchase. Hugh Williams explains, “Shopping is no longer as simple as walking into a local store and selecting an item. Today’s consumers are influenced by a multitude of digital channels, from search engines and comparison sites, to marketing emails and display advertising.”[1] Sara Kleinberg, Head of Ads Research and Insights at Google, adds, “By now it’s clear that the internet has revolutionized the shopping experience for both consumers and marketers. But shopping behavior didn’t simply settle into a new pattern with the introduction of high-speed connections and slick e-commerce sites. In fact, with the prevalence of smartphones and spread of WiFi, consumers are always shopping.”[2] This new consumer journey is most often labeled the digital path to purchase — and it’s a path consumers can easily leave at any point in the journey. According to the Baymard Institute, the average documented online shopping cart abandonment rate is nearly 70 percent.[3]


Consumers abandoning online shopping carts could be looking for help


According to Baymard Institute analysts, one of the biggest reasons shoppers abandon carts is because they never intended to buy in the first place. They explain, “A large portion of cart abandonments are simply a natural consequence of how users browse e-commerce sites — many users will be doing window shopping, price comparison, saving items for later, exploring gift options, etc. These are largely unavoidable cart and checkout abandonments.” If the “browsers” are segmented from other consumers, Baymard analysts note there remain a good number of other reasons online carts are abandoned. They include:


  • Extra costs are too high (e.g., shipping, taxes, fees)
  • Sites require an account to be set up
  • Checkout process is too long or complicated
  • Order costs weren’t easily calculated up front
  • Website problems (e.g., errors, crashes)
  • Site not trusted with credit card information
  • Delivery was too slow
  • Returns policy was unsatisfactory
  • Limited payment methods
  • Credit card declined


Lessons learned from this list include consumers appreciate quick, easily understood shopping experiences. Kleinberg reports, “84% of Americans are shopping for something at any given time and in up to six different categories. And in nearly one quarter of shopping occasions, shoppers say they turn to their smartphone first.” She adds, “Shopping across so many categories can be overwhelming for people. In other words, they’re going to need as much help as possible, providing brands an opportunity to get into the consideration set early on.” Even the so-called browsers are looking for help and every chance to help is an opportunity to put the consumer back on the path to purchase.


Keeping the consumer on the digital path to purchase


Peter Falcone, Director of Analytics EMEA at Flashtalking, observes, “When the multiple channels that contribute to conversions are combined with the numerous devices on which these channels can be experienced — including desktop, mobile, digital out-of-home, and TV — understanding an individual’s convoluted path to purchase becomes challenging. The return on investment (ROI) of each marketing touchpoint is tricky to quantify, making efficient allocation of marketing budgets problematic.”[4] Adding to the challenge, he notes, is the fact “most retail marketers [use] standard single touchpoint attribution modeling — where 100% credit for a conversion is assigned to a single touchpoint.” He asserts such modeling “is ineffective in today’s digital world.” Fortunately, he notes, “Retailers are moving away from these methods towards more sophisticated multi-touchpoint attribution models that identify the conversion path and assign credit to multiple interactions.” He adds:

“To truly understand the efficiency of different marketing channels and effectively allocate budgets, retail marketers need to take measurement to the next level through algorithmic attribution models. Rather than being based on static, pre-defined rules, algorithmic attribution uses machine learning to provide a realistic, real-time evaluation of the role each individual touchpoint plays in driving a conversion. It works across multiple digital channels and devices and allows for interactions and synergies between touchpoints. Retailers can run multiple algorithmic attribution models concurrently, with a system in place to select the most accurate model, delivering a picture of marketing performance that advertisers can trust.”

Although modeling is a critical tool for optimizing marketing spend, it’s not the only tool available. Modeling helps retailers identify consumers who might be interested in their products and path to purchase they are most likely to take; but, Kleinberg notes, “Most people don’t have a strong brand preference during the early stages of shopping.” In fact, she reports, “Nearly 9 out of 10 shoppers are not absolutely certain of the brand they want to buy when they begin looking for information online via their smartphones.” What that suggests to her is that marketers need to be helpful at each touchpoint consumers might use. She explains, “Marketers should always make the research process as easy as possible throughout the entire shopping experience. That means being present — and useful — along the way.” A retailer that becomes the go-to source of information and assistance is a lot more likely to keep consumers on their specific path to purchase. Kleinberg explains, “Retailers and brands should focus on helping shoppers get the information they need to make decisions and enable them to purchase where and when they want to, whether that’s making it easy to buy online or letting them know that physical locations have the item in stock.”




Being helpful all along the digital path to purchase helps increase consumer trust. According to Sonya Mann (@sonyaellenmann), when it comes to e-commerce, “Trust is the most important thing.”[5] She also stresses reasons for online cart abandonment (like lack of trust with credit card information and poor returns policy) must be addressed. The point, of course, is to turn browsers into buyers. To do that, Mann notes, retailers must “optimize the buying experience.” The buying experience begins with search and ends with purchase. Kleinberg notes, if you help consumers at the beginning of their shopping experience, “you just might be able to guide them all the way through the customer journey to conversion.” Mann adds, “Checkout and fulfillment help determine whether a first-time customer becomes a repeat customer. … Cheap or convenient shipping defaults can prevent cart abandonment. … The last step of shopping online — paying! — provides a final opportunity for merchants to help customers feel good about making expensive purchases.” From first step to last, a brand that helps customers is more likely to keep them on the digital path to purchase.


[1] Hugh Williams, “Illuminating the Complex Path to Purchase,” RetailTechNews, 29 August 2018.
[2] Sara Kleinberg, “Consumers are always shopping and eager for your help,” Think with Google, August 2018.
[3] Staff, “40 Cart Abandonment Rate Statistics,” Baymard Institute, 20 June 2018.
[4] Williams, op. cit.
[5] Sonya Mann, “How to Get E-Commerce Customers to Spend a Lot of Money at Once (and Then Do It Again),” Inc., 22 February 2018.

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