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Path to Purchase Starts Early

Understanding the “path to purchase” – the complex interplay of factors that determine how, where and when consumers make their shopping decisions – is emerging as a priority for product manufacturers, retailers and brand marketers.

But according to Matthew Tullman, co-founder and president of research firm Merchant Mechanics, this path – often called simply P2P – is far more complex than previously thought. Findings from studies undertaken by his firm indicate that the path starts long before consumers ever set foot inside the store, and turn on its head the conventional wisdom about when and where shopping decisions are actually made.

“It is clear from converging research that the path to purchase starts a long way from the entrance to the store,” said Tullman, who is scheduled to speak on the subject at Chicago’s Shopper Marketing Expo, Oct. 18 to 20. “In fact, one of our findings is that 80 percent of shopping decisions are made before entering the store. This is a revolutionary insight – completely the opposite of the traditional thinking that 70 percent of decisions are made in-store. Obviously, it has tremendous implications on strategies for brand manufacturers and marketers as well as retailers.”

Tullman continued: “We have found that, in reality, shoppers’ decisions are based on a multiplicity of factors, some deliberate and some far more subtle in their origin. Because of this, the ideal dataset for understanding the totality of influences on purchase behavior is one that provides a complete picture of planning habits, purchasing habits, usage habits, product-specific cognition and affect, and contextual influences both in store and out of store.”

Increased access to technology is one evolutionary factor that Tullman believes is driving this shift in behavior. “Today’s shoppers are taking more advantage of the Internet and mobile devices as informational and promotional platforms before they go into the store,” he said. “We are seeing that the further away shoppers are from the point of purchase, the more aspirational they tend to be. However, the closer they get, the more convenience-oriented or appetitive they become. Marketers who understand this dynamic have an opportunity to increase their competitive advantage.”

The goal of research into the path to purchase is to better understand how the purchase behavior cycle relates to product choice and repurchase, as well as identify moments of opportunity to influence the purchase cycle, and identify key interactional opportunities in shelving, merchandising, and packaging. Because the path to purchase links together so many steps, research methodologies also need to be multilevel and involve a holistic set of techniques that observe and analyze behaviors when and where the decisions are being made.

One recently concluded study employed just such a broad set of methodologies. Each was matched to the context where the research took place, so that shoppers’ actions and underlying thought processes were studied where the actual steps along the decision-making path were made, from the home to the store. Techniques included in-home ethnography, in-store electroencephalography shopalongs, in-store consumer videography, in-store interviews and analysis of behavioral measures at point of sale.

“We also utilized ambulatory techniques for technologies that had previously been limited to deployment in laboratory settings. This provided more valid picture of shopper attitudes and behaviors in real-life settings,” said Tullman, whose firm has developed and managed research projects for several companies in both business-to-consumer and business-to-business markets to help them better understand the points of engagement that can influence the purchase decision.

“By collecting a broad base of data from integrated methodologies, we can investigate fully the path to purchase and form a comprehensive conception/model of planning, purchase and usage for our clients. What is needed is a 360-degree view of the path to purchase from home to store and back again.”

Founded in 2000, Merchant Mechanics is a leading research firm focused on helping clients in the B2C and B2B space gain insights into their customers’ path to purchase.


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