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The science of how we buy online

The Science Of How We Buy Online

Behavioral patterns in ecommerce consumer psychology

We’ve come a long way from seeing commerce as an idyllic space. The typical image used to imply a colorful oriental market — with spices and scarves flowing in the wind — where merchants bring the best their craft has to offer in hopes that they will come home with a handsome reward for their labor. Things have changed. Behavioral and social psychology have all steadily developed from the 20th century marketing genesis to the dramatic paradigm shift introduced by the Internet and social media. We are now at a point in our history where, more than ever, we can study, understand, learn from, and use consumer psychology to our advantage. Who’s we? Well, everyone, but especially ecommerce platforms and the PR companies working for them.

If we’re talking about how consumers behave in the digital era, the first pit stop should be personalization. According to Accenture’s 2018 Pulse Check report, no less than 90% of consumers are more likely to choose brands that recognize their identity and personalize their shopping experience. Moreover, the same study concludes that 83% of consumers are willing to share their data to enable a more personalized experience.

Platforms such as GOAT sends users an alarm when the sneakers they marked in their wish list drops below a target price selected by the shopper. Companies such as Nestlé worked with Salesforce’s data analysts and marketing managers to deliver more relevant brand content to consumers. This resulted either in sales campaigns for their candy bars (Kit Kat Giveaway campaign) or in creating entire communities based on consumers sharing their experiences, bonding and learning together — all under the Nestle umbrella.

Research, research, research

A 2018 Online Reviews Survey by ReviewTrackers showed that 64% of consumers check online reviews on Google before they make a purchase — and that’s just the go-to search engine. Platforms like TripAdvisor, Yelp, Amazon and Foursquare have become hubs that can make or break a product or a service based on star ranking systems and detailed consumer reviews.

Moreover, the eCommerce Foundation’s United States eCommerce Country Report indicates that 88% of US consumers research their purchases online before they buy. On a global scale, the figure is as high as 61%, according to KPMG’s 2017 Global Online Consumer Report. The endless palette of options offered by having all of the world’s ecommerce platforms at the tips of our fingers have made us more inquisitive, more cautious, and, of course, has raised our standards for all stages of the acquisition process.

The Transtheoretical Model, motivators, and the social psychology of ecommerce

Digital marketing company QuickSprout pinpointed a couple of top motivators for consumers who are looking to make an online purchase. One of the factors influencing their behavior is delight. In a stressful day-to-day life, what sells is the promise of pure happiness, the added value of a small wish being fulfilled. Furthermore, social influence plays a big part in the purchase decision. According to Management Study Guide, a primary group of individuals in every buyer’s life intrinsically affects his or her purchasing decisions, either by seeking counsel, validation or by working as comparison factors. Co-workers, family members, relatives, neighbors, friends and senior co-workers often form reference groups. Other top motivators are the “You” factor (there is something about this word that helps brands build an instant rapport with their audiences), familiarity, and trust and safety.

When it comes to consumer behavior patterns, there are a couple of theoretical models that have shaped the field. The Transtheoretical Model, also known as Stages of Change, was developed by Prochaska and DiClemente in the 1970s. The model focused on the life cycle of smokers who were trying to quit. However, comparing the experiences of smokers who successfully quit uncovered an amazing similarity with today’s typical online shopper’s journey. The typical process can be broken down into several distinct stages: pre-contemplation, contemplation, determination, action, relapse, and maintenance.

Another model developed by psychologist Dr. BJ Fogg, called the Behavior Change Model, theorizes that human behavior relies on three basic elements: motivation, ability, and triggers. This leads to the idea that consumers are motivated to make a purchase based on the promise of pleasure, avoidance of pain, a sense of hope, fear, or the promise of social acceptance. These are the motivators that marketers and advertisers draw upon when advertising their products.

In conclusion, within the myriad of cross-domain research that unites social psychology, marketing, sociology, and statistics, the true winners are the merchants, who strive to use tools such as behavioral analytics and digital marketing to better target their audiences — and, of course, the end-consumer, who ultimately gets precisely what they wished for.