Mapping customer journeys in multichannel decision-making
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This study is focused on multi-channel shopping, which refers to the integration of various channels in the consumer decision-making process. The term was coined in the early 2000s to signify the integration of offline and online shopping channels. It has since evolved to encompass the proliferating number of channels and media used to formulate, evaluate and execute buying decisions. With the explosion of mobile technologies and social media, multi-channel shopping has indeed become a journey in which customers choose the route they take and which, arguably, needs to be mapped to be understood. Existing consumer decision-making models were developed in pre-internet days and have remained for the most part unquestioned in the digital marketing discourse. Darley, Blankson and Luethge concluded that there is a ‘paucity of research on the impact of online environments on decision making’, which has also been observed in the multi-channel context. Our study adopts an inductive approach allowing for realistic patterns to emerge of how consumers use and react to different media and channels in their shopping journeys for cosmetics. It therefore provides a threefold contribution: (1) it systematizes what are widely used yet largely misunderstood practices (ZMOT, webrooming and showrooming); (2) it defines the key multi-channel influences across different stages of decision making; and (3) it segments actual customer journeys into three distinct patterns that brands can use to optimize their multi-channel strategies.
Keywordsmulti-channel shopping customer journey consumer decision making cosmetics zero moment of truth ZMOT
Background and rationale
1. Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT) — This refers to the first exposure a user has to a product or service through various social media networks. It is a term coined by Jim Lecinski at Google, defined as ‘a decision-making moment that takes place a hundred million times a day on mobile phones, laptops and wired devices of all kinds. It’s a moment where marketing happens, where information happens and where consumers make choices that affect the success and failure of nearly every brand in the world’. 5
2. Showrooming — Consumer behaviour of viewing a physical product in-store but deciding to purchase it online, possibly due to the ease of price comparison. This could result in consumers leaving the store empty-handed and placing an order online.6, 7, 8
Our paper seeks to enrich and extend prior research on multi-channel marketing by adopting the consumer viewpoint. It is a much-needed addition to marketing discourse, complementing the growing number of academic and practitioner articles on the retailer’s view of multi-channel strategy.2, 10 More specifically, by adopting inductive research, we allow for realistic patterns to emerge of how consumers use and react to different media and channels in their shopping journeys. The aim of this paper, therefore, is to explore and map those journeys, benefiting both practitioners and academia. Such insights are of direct relevance to brands, to help them manage the customer experience better and to analyse channel attribution. It is imperative for brands to embrace the multi-channel experience, yet seamlessly integrating the physical and digital worlds is an ongoing chellange. 11
Theoretical discussion — The funnel is dead, long live the loop
In the current study, first-hand consumer shopping experiences for cosmetics are analysed. Subsequently, the research maps actual shopping journeys inductively, utilizing the grounded theory approach. While the models discussed above are useful in identifying the simplified stages and sequences of consumer decision making, they are only used here to aid analysis. Explanatory utility is sought from both the linear buying stages within consumer buying models, with addition of emotional as well as impulse drivers and the fluid structure of the ORCA model. This will lead to an understanding of the role of each channel in the various stages, as well as the different journeys consumers can take to navigate the multi-channel landscape.
The resulting sample of 16 research diaries was obtained and each one was followed with phase two: an individual interview to elucidate on diary entries and collect more targeted information. The data from both phases was analysed using thematic analysis. An encoding process for qualitative information resulted in a list of themes and was useful in discovering patterns in phenomena. 26 The 16 responses were hand-drawn to represent each individual’s shopping journey. Respondents’ maps were then classified into segments, based on similarities and differences in their reported journeys.
Results and analysis
Channel usage at different buying stages in cosmetics shopping
Primary channel used
At this stage, consumers do not think of themselves as shopping. They are consciously or unconsciously scanning the marketplace and referring to their own previous experience
Friends, bloggers, product reviews, videos (from YouTube and social networks), magazines, product display (in-store and online), prior experience
Consumers have intention to shop and search for information prior to shopping. They try to get directed information from product reviews, ratings and swatches
Blogs, videos, review sites and friends
Consumers narrow down the choice of purchase and search more information on price, physical attributes, availability and purchase channels. Trying product in-store and browsing product online are widely reported at this stage
Physical store, online store, mobile channel, as well as friends, social media for confirmation
At this stage, consumers make a decision regarding final purchase. Physical store was the most preferred point of purchase for cosmetics product, followed by the online store
Physical store or online store
Consumers tend to share their shopping experience through word of mouth (WOM). Offline WOM, telling friends about their cosmetics experience, was more widely reported than eWOM through social media
Friends and/or social media
Segmenting customer journeys
These journey segments coincide with some of the decision-making types proposed by Solomon 23 in the offline setting, yet provide additional utility as the three journey types identified here have been inductively mapped as patterns in the multi-channel, multi-platform and multi-device environment. Each journey type is discussed in turn below and illustrated visually with a journey map.
During impulsive journeys, customers tend to spend less time searching for information. Instead, they refer to their previous experience, their friends and product trial as information sources to make swift purchasing decisions.
… I love products with cute packaging. When I want to buy, I don’t really search for information online. I will just ask my friends and buy it at the cosmetics counter … I don’t have second thoughts on the purchase. I rarely shop online ….
… I like watching bloggers and YouTubers. The products that they use look interesting but the information is just a brief product review. I Google for more in-depth reviews from blogs online. I also sometimes use the online store for references of colour swatches or product ratings. After I see the swatch and there is a store nearby, I would want to go in the store to try it out for myself. If not, I feel a bit more risk and take more time considering if I should buy the product. I will often ask my friends for advice ….
… Normally when I have free time, I will read forums on web boards and watch some YouTube videos, but I might not want to buy at that time. Whenever I want to buy products, I remember what I have read or watched and search for just specific information to make a decision ….
Role of ZMOT, webrooming and showrooming
One of the major findings of the study is the extensive evidence of what Lecinski 5 termed the ZMOT and what Molenaar 25 termed the Orientation Stage. This is a stage of shopping not explicitly identified in extant academic consumer decision-making models, yet one that in practice gives users first exposure to products and reviews and influences their opinions through media. Respondents reported that this happens before they think of themselves as shopping and is often seen as inspiration or ongoing horizon scanning for new trends and products.
In addition, two multichannel behaviours have been evidenced during customer journeys.
Showrooming has been reported to take place during product evaluation, where physical product attributes are important. In cosmetics, in particular, attributes such as colour and consistency of a lipstick are often evaluated in-store, as there is a limited return policy on health and beauty products once opened. The physical examination therefore reduces perceived risk of purchase, even if the product is eventually bought online.
All these behaviours have been reported by cosmetics purchasers in our study. There is evidently an urgent need to re-examine decision-making models in the light of new multichannel and multi-platform, and multi-device realities. More inductive studies are called for to help build theory through examining practice.
Conclusions and implications
While this study specifically focuses on cosmetics as a context, a similar study is planned within other product categories, where involvement and risk perceptions differ, in order to understand the impact of these factors on customer journeys in a multi-channel environment. Further research is also planned quantifying some of the inductive conclusions developed in this qualitative study. During the next stage of this research, we will continue working with practitioners, and welcome further collaborations with business-to-consumer and business-to-business companies, agencies and not-for profits. If you would like to get involved, please get in touch with the corresponding author via @co_create.
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