Elias St. Elmo Lewis mapped out the route that potential customers take prior to purchasing a product. It’s referred to as the Purchase Funnel because it’s depicted as an inverted triangle funneling folks down to the moment they pull out their wallet. There are four steps in the process:
- Awareness – the customer is aware of the existence of a product or service
- Interest – actively expressing an interest in a product group
- Desire – aspiring to a particular brand or product
- Action – taking the next step towards purchasing the chosen product
Mr. St. Elmo Lewis came up with this idea in 1898, slightly before the invention of the internet.
Since then, things have changed a little and that’s the subject of About.com’s latest report which they call “The Purchase Loop.”
The report states that the path from awareness to purchase is no longer a linear one. Thanks to mobile and the internet, shoppers take a more circuitous and complex path from point A to point B. And though that may sound like bad news, it actually means that brands have more opportunities to convert a potential customer into a paying customer.
Instead of four steps, the new Purchase Loop has six steps:
- Openness – consumers are receptive to new or better experiences stemming from pre-existing interest in or curiosity about a category or topic area. Consciously or subconsciously, brands, products or services may be on the consumers’ radar.
- Realized want or need – something acts as a catalyst giving the consumer a reason to start looking into things he/she wants or needs to do.
- Learning and education – understanding the broad fundamentals in order to make a purchase the consumer can feel good about.
- Seeking ideas and inspiration – looking for, noticing and keeping track of examples, thought-starters, and motivators in order to take the next step.
- Research and vetting – comparing options, looking for deals, comparing prices, reading reviews and determining personal associations with the brand.
- Post purchase evaluation and expansion – consumer uses or experiences a purchase and decides how he/she feels, might post reviews and share experience, can send the consumer into additional purchase loops if renewed openness to brand or inspiration to look into related products, tasks or needs.
Even if the consumer ends up buying offline, the internet plays a huge part in the purchase loop.
This chart shows that almost three quarters of shoppers relied on a website to advance purchase behavior. The one that really surprised me was the 73% who said the web was responsible for making them need or want an item. This is certainly true for me, but I didn’t realize this behavior was so widespread. If these numbers are correct, then the internet is driving retail sales, even when the buyer goes into a store to get the item.
TV, which used to be the product discovery engine, is now barely a blip. Even social and online video fared pretty well when it came to product awareness and education.
About says that modern shoppers take different paths depending on the product category. Customers also make more stops along the way than they used to but they actual get to the purchase point more quickly than they did with the traditional funnel.
They also found that people have a much more personal relationship with brands than they used to. The path to purchase isn’t just about finding a product that fills the need, it’s about having social support for the decision and feeling confident that they’ve made the right choice.
You can download an abbreviated version of “The Purchase Loop” for free from About.com. Just click here then click again.