Consumer Shopping Behavior: What Brands Need to Know

It’s hard to sell your products if you don’t know how people shop. While every person has their own preferences, collectively, consumer shopping behavior falls into clear patterns—and the best brands leverage these patterns to increase sales. 

Retailers and brands alike have reacted to consumer behavior by developing more convenient buying methods, more competitive perks, and a wider range of distribution channels.

These innovations are born out of the patterns we can observe in consumers’ choices and the kinds of shopping experiences they gravitate toward. If you want to keep up with the competition and meet consumer expectations, you need to understand shopping behavior.

In this article, we’ll explore:

  • How buying methods are evolving
  • Consumers’ willingness to change their behavior
  • The shopping experience consumers expect
  • Where and how shopping happens
  • Showrooming vs. webrooming
  • Embracing consumers’ preferred paths to purchase

Let’s start by looking at some recent changes in the ways consumers buy.

Buying methods are evolving

Imagine if you went to the store, found what you wanted, waited in the checkout line, and then learned that the store only accepted cash. Or worse, checks. It wouldn’t matter if the store had exactly what you wanted. The buying process would be so inconvenient—archaic, even—that you might not even be able to buy. And you’d probably avoid that store in the future.

With the ubiquity of ecommerce and credit card processing systems, frustrating scenarios like that are pretty rare. But when brands can’t facilitate buying methods that have become commonplace, they’re in danger of creating a similar reaction in their potential customers. Your store becomes like a giant stone in the river of ecommerce: consumers will simply flow around it and pass you by.

It’s no secret that COVID-19 has heavily impacted the way people shop. Consumers flocked to ecommerce and alternative buying methods to avoid crowds. As a result, buying methods that were once niche have become normal. And that doesn’t show any signs of changing.

Here are a couple of buying methods consumers have strongly embraced.

Curbside pickup

Curbside pickup has been around since 2013 when Walmart first began offering it for grocery orders. Other stores experimented with the service over the years, but it wasn’t very popular until COVID-19 hit in 2020. 

Now, major retailers and even smaller stores have dedicated parking spaces for curbside pickup orders. And customers who have experienced this service’s convenience are actively looking for local stores that offer it. Even if you don’t have brick-and-mortar stores (or you have them but don’t provide curbside service), you can help your customers find retail partners that facilitate this buying method. 

Using PriceSpider’s Where to Buy tool, you can see local stores that offer the product they’re looking for and when you select the product and go to a retailer like Target, you’ll see the option for curbside pickup. This prevents someone who’s ready to buy from wandering between websites, where they may give up or stumble into a competitor.

Buy online, pickup in-store (BOPIS)

Buy online, pickup in-store (BOPIS ), also known as click and collect, is similar to curbside pickup, but there’s one major difference: the customer has to get out of their car. Ideally, there’s a clearly labeled, designated area for customers to retrieve their BOPIS orders. Some stores use lockers with keycodes to give customers a “self-serve” way to pick up their purchase.

As with curbside pickup, brands that recognize the popularity of this buying method are using store locator software on their website to help visitors find nearby options that support BOPIS.

BOPIS and curbside pickup options combine the convenience of online shopping with the ability to get your purchased items right away (and avoid shipping costs). People can grab their items on their way home from work or while they’re out running other errands, and they don’t have to pay for shipping or wait days for things they need.

Not to mention, for customers with mobility issues, these buying options are far less difficult than trying to navigate a store to find everything they need.

With a growing number of consumers getting used to these buying options and some even prioritizing it, brands need to either invest in the infrastructure required to facilitate them, or provide an intuitive pathway to sellers that do.

Consumers are changing their shopping behavior

Loyalty has always been a valuable trait for brands to cultivate in their customers. Ideally, you want your customers to choose your brand again and again. But the pandemic has proven that brand preference is less important to consumers than availability and convenience.

In a June 2020 survey of more than 2,000 US adults, McKinsey found that three in four Americans had tried a new shopping behavior since the start of the pandemic, and the vast majority of them intended to continue the new behavior after the pandemic.

They tried new brands. New stores. New buying methods. And they discovered that there are plenty of viable options.

This might lead you to assume that brands should feel more confident about selling direct-to-consumer. But this isn’t just a sign that consumers are becoming more flexible in their shopping habits. It’s a sign that more stores (online and offline) are providing high-quality experiences. Consumers have high expectations, and more brands and stores are meeting them.

The shopping experience consumers expect

Over the years, retailers and brands have competed to offer the best perks and simplest shopping experiences. As consumers took advantage of these incentives, other stores began offering them as well. It’s gotten to the point where experiences that were once novelties became the norm. 

If a brand or retailer wants to be competitive, they need to facilitate things like: 

  • Hassle-free returns
  • Prompt shipping
  • Order tracking
  • Responsive customer service through multiple channels
  • Account management
  • Convenient checkout
  • User-generated content

Consumers are comfortable switching stores, buying methods, and brands because these “gold standard” experiences are so common.

It doesn’t inspire confidence when a purchase takes weeks to arrive, and the storefront doesn’t provide tracking information. And complicated return policies or unresponsive customer service are red flags that can cause a consumer to expect a bad experience. The purchase becomes riskier when these staples of ecommerce aren’t present.

Consumers have also learned to mine user-generated content like reviews and questions to: 

  • See what kind of experience real customers had
  • Get a better idea of what the product looks like
  • Learn if the product will work for their use case
  • Gauge whether the brand is legitimate

Brands can rarely invest as many resources in the shopping experience as a retailer. So it’s crucial that these brands provide clear pathways to distribution channels people already know and trust.

Consumers shop everywhere

Now that 8 out of 10 American adults own a smartphone, most people can and do shop from anywhere. In a survey of 1,000 consumers, BigCommerce found that:

  • 43 percent of respondents shopped in bed
  • 20 percent of respondents shopped in the bathroom
  • 20 percent of respondents shopped in the car
  • 23 percent of respondents shopped in the office
  • 10 percent of respondents shopped while under the influence of alcohol

Brands can’t count on people sitting in front of a computer with focused time to shop. They’re mobile, and their attention is limited. If your website looks bad on a phone screen and people have to constantly zoom in and out to navigate your product pages, you’re going to lose sales.

But brands shouldn’t just be thinking about the physical environments where people shop. New marketplaces and online stores are popping up all the time. And the line between browsing content and shopping for products is increasingly blurry. In fact, a whole category of content has emerged to represent the blending of media and shopping experiences: shoppable media.

Shoppable media

While scrolling through social media, consumers frequently encounter products they’re interested in. But if they want to buy these products, there are often several steps before they can get to their preferred path to purchase. They have to follow a link to a brand’s site, learn about the product, then go to their preferred online retailer (or Google), then search for the product, and begin checkout. 

Each of those steps disrupts the path to purchase and decreases the likelihood that the shopper will make it all the way through. When buying a product feels like too much work, consumers don’t do it.

Shoppable media gives them a shortcut. From the same place they discover a product, they can select their preferred retailer, then learn more about the product from the same place they’d like to buy. 

It streamlines the path to purchase, so wherever people encounter your brand, they can begin an effortless buying process.

Consumers are blending online and in-person shopping

Whether consumers prefer buying online or buying in-person, there are pros and cons to either shopping experience. 

Shopping online makes it easy to browse reviews and gauge other people’s experiences with a product. And you can easily explore the product’s features, capabilities, configurations, and alternatives. You’re not limited to a single store, either, so you can quickly shop around for the best price, too.

But in person, you can physically hold the product and examine it to get a better sense of whether it will meet your needs. Depending on the store, you may also have a knowledgeable sales associate available to answer all your questions, too. Plus, you don’t have to pay for shipping or wait for the product to arrive.

While retailers and brands often treat ecommerce and in-person shopping as two competing experiences, consumers actually use them in complementary ways. The strengths and weaknesses of both shopping environments have led consumers to develop two distinct shopping behaviors: showrooming and webrooming.

Showrooming

Showrooming is the practice of going to a brick-and-mortar store to see a product in person before buying it online. Consumers do this to feel more confident about their purchase. They can inspect the product and talk to a store employee about what they’re trying to do.

Sometimes people don’t even have a particular product in mind when they engage in showrooming. They simply want to explore the options in store, or perhaps let an expert steer them toward the product that’s right for their situation.

Showrooming is incredibly frustrating to retailers. Their employees spend time providing service, but the store doesn’t necessarily reap the benefits. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot brands can usually do to remedy this situation. People are going to buy in the ways they prefer to buy. However, you can help eliminate one of the biggest reasons people buy online: inconsistent pricing. With a solid MAP policy in place and an effective enforcement process, you can ensure that online sellers aren’t going to beat in-person prices–so there’s less reason for the consumer to order online when they’re already in a store.

Webrooming

Webrooming is the opposite of showrooming, which is why it’s sometimes called “reverse showrooming.” This is when consumers shop for a product online but ultimately buy it in person. You still get the sale, but you lose the ability to connect that sale to your digital marketing and website assets.

You don’t necessarily need to “fight” webrooming or try to reduce it. But it’s helpful to think about why consumers engage in this behavior. For whatever reason, these people prefer buying in-person. Perhaps because they can get your product right away or know it will be easy to return if it doesn’t meet their needs. But they also want to make the best choice, so they start by shopping online–where they can read reviews, compare ratings, and see videos of the product in action.

By fleshing out your digital shelf experience and using quality product page content, you’re equipping in-person shoppers to feel more confident about buying the items they see in-store.

Some consumers even engage in webrooming and showrooming while they’re in the store. The two experiences are so complementary that people do them simultaneously. It’s just how they shop. And by recognizing that, you can help your customers get the best of both worlds.

Embracing consumers’ preferred paths to purchase

Every consumer has their own preferences. Some perks matter more to them. Some shopping features contribute more to their decisions. And some buying options are more convenient or comfortable for them. They have a hierarchy of stores they’d prefer to buy from.

As a brand, you don’t want to fight your customers’ preferences. You want to leverage them to make your product more appealing. But that means you can’t take a one-size-fits-all approach to the buying experience. You need to let consumers choose their preferred path to purchase. Because if you try to force D2C or your preferred retailer, you’re going to lose sales.

Want to use consumer shopping behavior to your advantage? Let customers choose their preferred path to purchase.
Schedule a demo of Where to Buy.

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