Five steps that lead to a purchase

Understanding the steps that lead to a purchase can help you to market your business more effectively. Mark Fletcher, Principal Consultant at ShopScience, shows how to map the ‘customer journey’ for your target markets and make the most of the insights this provides

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Why would one person choose to do business with you while another goes to a competitor? Customer journey mapping can help you to establish the ‘path to purchase’ your customers follow – and it’s proving to be a highly effective way of boosting both sales and customer loyalty.

Customer journey mapping is a management and marketing tool which provides an insight into the processes customers go through before, during and after making a purchasing decision. This information can make it easier for you to identify new opportunities and outsmart your competitors.

“In most cases, the journey can be split into five basic steps – need identification, research, selection, purchase and usage,” says Mark Fletcher, Principal Consultant at ShopScience, an organisation that helps retailers and brands to build business by leveraging shopper insights. “Each of these can have multiple sub-steps and, depending on their circumstances, customers will work their way through them at different speeds.”

Step 1 – Need Identification

When something which is used frequently runs out or breaks a customer will often turn to an established supplier without doing a great deal of research. In this case, you’re most likely to win new business if your offer is visible when the need arises, which may mean making regular contact with potential customers until their need and your offer coincide. Where a new need has arisen or the purchase is less frequent, customers will usually conduct some research in a bid to make the ‘right’ decision.

Step 2 – Research

This stage may be as simple as asking a few people for advice or looking in the Yellow Pages –customers may not even realise that they’re doing ‘research’. More conscious research generally includes a web search, though customers may struggle to find the right search terms. For example, a business in need of more floor space might presume they have to move and start searching for commercial real estate agents. In fact, they could create more space for a much lower cost by having their current premises redesigned – and designers offering this service who understand this path to purchase will see the value of advertising in the commercial real estate web search fields.

Step 3 – Selection

Customers weigh up their options using a set of criteria which will typically include price, how well the product or service is likely to meet their need and timing – how long the solution will take to implement and continue to provide value. You can increase your chances of success by bearing these criteria in mind, considering any other criteria specific to your business, and then strengthening your offering in each of these areas.

Step 4 – Purchase

You could gain a competitive advantage by understanding and accommodating your customers’ preferred method of payment such as EFTPOS, direct deposit, credit card, BPay and PayPal. Many businesses require additional internal authorisation for purchases above a particular threshold. If you know that your prices are a little way above this threshold, lowering them so that they fall below may increase sales and result in greater overall profit.  Splitting your prices into different components or payment plans could also make your product or service more attractive for your customers.

Step 5 – Usage

In most purchasing transactions there’s an opportunity for repeat sales and/or referrals. Make it as easy as possible for your customers to buy from you again, and to recommend you to their colleagues and friends, by understanding what they want from your product or service and providing advice and support.

Mapping your customers’ journey

According to Fletcher, any business can map out its own customers’ ‘path to purchase’.

“A good starting point is asking questions like ‘Where did you hear about us?’, ‘What prompted you to come to us?’ and ‘What alternatives did you consider before buying our product or service?’” he says. “Most customers will enjoy answering these questions as they get to talk about themselves – and you may be surprised by some of things you learn.”

He also recommends running a workshop with your staff, a spare wall and some sticky notes.

“If you use the five steps as headings and summarise your customers’ answers under the appropriate one you can create an overall a picture of the different steps and pathways that led them to your door,” says Fletcher. “You should then review all of this information in the context of your current marketing and operations strategies. This way, you can identify opportunities for making the most of your customers’ journeys.”

Read The science of shopping where Mark Fletcher shares more insights on how shoppers think, and how to make the most of their changing expectations.