Recently, we partnered with About.com on a thought leadership study, The Purchase Loop, which sought to debunk the traditional idea of a linear purchase path, and re-draw it to reflect modern consumers’ behaviors more accurately. Due to the growing accessibility of web and mobile information, shoppers no longer follow a predictable journey from discovery to purchase; instead, they pass through purchase behaviors in a loop or web fashion, which may require a greater number of “stops” along the way—but allows purchases to happen more quickly, thanks to the instant, streamlined nature of mobile shopping. The Purchase Loop comes as the third in a trilogy of studies focused on understanding and redefining consumers’ relationships with brands, presenting new opportunities for advertisers in a variety of categories, including automotive, fashion, CPG, and many more.

“With the rise of mobile and social, along with the sheer volume of information available online, the path to purchase has radically shifted for consumers and smart marketers are taking note,” says Laura Salant, Director of Research for About.com. “The information in this study allows marketers to understand how they can walk specific paths with consumers and add value throughout these behaviors – keeping their brands in consumers’ consideration every step of the way.”

We reconfigured the purchase path through an exploration of shoppers’ needs and motivations, rather than just the series of actions that ultimately lead to purchase; 87% of people agree that there’s more to their buying decisions today than just “exploring options and purchasing,” while 68% say, “it’s more about me – what I’m feeling or needing.”

“The road to purchase is no longer linear,” says Neela Sakaria, EVP of Latitude. “To address that and to truly understand what drives people, we used a combination of generative and reflective techniques. We found that the variation in consumers’ needs at each stage creates new opportunities for marketers to reach people in meaningful and interesting ways.“

Methodology

The Purchase Loop explored the needs and behaviors of 1600 smartphone owners, ages 18-54 using a combination of creative qualitative and quantitative techniques:

  • Phase 1: Mapping the Loop – Immersive Online Activities with both quantitative and generative elements, designed to uncover new shopping behaviors as a result of mobile information access, and to map the new path (or “loop”) to purchase (n=600).
  • Phase 2: Quantifying Behaviors & Opportunities – Full-Scale Quantitative Survey designed to test, refine, and measure the “loop” amongst a larger audience, and identify related opportunities for marketers (n=1000).
  • Phase 3 – Welcome to the Purchase Loop – Insight Reel™ was professionally produced using HD footage from immersive in-person ethnographies and key insights from the quantitative survey.

The 6 Behaviors of the Purchase Loop

  • Openness – Brands, products and services are consciously or subconsciously on shoppers’ radars even before they take any action, meaning that people are always in a state of openness towards new experiences.
  • Realized want or need – Triggers such as an email from a brand, a friend’s recommendation or a particular moment on a TV show act as catalysts, provoking people to look actively for products or services.
  • Learning and education – Having all of the detailed information about a prospective purchase, such as a sense of personal fit or expert opinions, before moving forward is key.
  • Seeking ideas and inspiration – Shoppers receive inspiration and ideas for new purchases from a growing list of sources (e.g., brands, media, friends, etc.), which are powerful purchase catalysts.
  • Research and vetting – Shoppers compare, search for deals or coupons, read reviews, and consider their own personal needs before committing to a purchase.
  • Post-purchase evaluation and expansion – The loop doesn’t close at purchase; it continues as shoppers share and review their experiences, which can often send shoppers into other purchase loops by renewing openness to the brand and interest in related products.

Navigating the Purchase Loop Across Platforms

The growing presence of mobile commerce has changed how shoppers actually navigate each stage of the purchase loop. For example, tablets are better aligned with “Openness” and “Learning/Education,” while television is the most influential for “Ideas & Inspiration.” There are additional nuances depending on the type of purchase, the cost, and other factors.

Read the press release here.
Download the report here.

The Purchase Loop was part three in a trilogy of thought leader studies conducted by Latitude for About.com.

Learn more about Latitude’s signature thought leader offering and our retail expertise, including our latest study, Next-Gen Retail: Mobile and Beyond. We’re now accepting thought leadership projects for Q2 & Q3 2013. Visit us on the Web or email nsakaria@latd.com for more information.