Understanding UX in the purchasing journey

1024 538 Andrew Machin

It’s easy to see how online retailers can take a blinkered view of user experience (UX). For many brands, their digital products such as apps or websites will often have a singular marketing agenda when it comes to UX consideration, whether that be converting to sale or lead generation etc. But to do that you can quickly lose the bigger picture and the bigger opportunity.

You don’t have to look much further than many automotive and travel sites to find examples of this in action. Whilst they may well be optimised to provide a good UX when it comes to browsing products conversion, they are only servicing a small part of that user’s journey.

Experience in the Zero Moment

Research carried out by Google into online behaviors identified that multiple points of online research have become highly influential in the decision-making process for consumers. They termed it the Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT) – a highly influential phase in the purchasing journey.

Yet many sites ignore this and solely focus on optimising for checkout or conversion. This means many of the purchasing decisions are being made before we enter the part of the purchasing journey typically occupied by the retailer.

For example; think about the last time you purchased a car or holiday. Chances are there was a lot of considerations over various touch points (both online and off) that made you arrive at your final decision. For instance; who hasn’t consulted Tripadvisor before booking a hotel or holiday?

And then, of course, there is the consideration of the post-purchase experience, i.e. the user’s interactions with your brand during the actual experience of the product or service itself. The ZMOT research identified that consumers are quick to share their experiences, both good and bad.

The upshot of this consumer behavior is that rather than focusing on UX at the point of purchase, to create truly persuasive user experiences we need to be engaging throughout the customer journey.

UX in the consumer purchasing journey

If we are to truly create a great user experience then we have to understand that the customer is most likely on a much bigger journey.

The simplest way to visualise this is to refer to the McKinsey model of the purchasing journey:

McKinsey Purchasing Journey Model

This model illustrates how the consumers is now a cyclic journey of four phases: initial consideration, active evaluation, the moment of purchase, and the post-purchase experience.

1. Initial consideration

The initial consideration is the first step in the consumer’s decision-making process. The consumer journey begins by quickly making recalling brands and services based on brand perceptions and previous experiences we’ve had.

Any purchasing journey starts with a trigger. The trigger is the spark that starts the consumer on the way to making a purchase. For instance, let’s say the ‘trigger’ is that you need to buy a coat for winter, you may have a few brands/retailers that immediately spring to mind. That’s not to say your not open to other options, but generally speaking when we’re in those ‘need to have’ or ‘want to have’ moments we automatically recall previous our experiences as points of reference.

The consumer may have course never been on this journey before, it might be a one-off purchase and might not be able to form an initial consideration set based on experience alone. As per Google’s research into the Zero Moment of Truth becomes pertinent. we start to turn to points of reference that we trust, whether that’s the advice of friends for searching online for recommendations.

In terms of mapping a UX strategy, this first step is actually more of a pay off for your ‘experience’ design – if you want to be part of that initial consideration set then you have provided the best experience that users love and would want to share with others.

Researching online

2. Active evaluation

The customer is now starting down their path toward making their purchasing decision. This, of course, involves researching products/services, adding and/or subtracting options to their consideration set.

This is where UX can have a huge impact if considered outside the typical conversion remit. Google’s ZMOT research identified that consumers will use circa 11 different points of reference for research for a given purchase. This is typically higher for large ticket items such as mortgages, holidays and automotive, and vice versa for cheaper items.

Brands have the opportunity to capitalise on this highly influential phase through UX strategy. That is, by serving consumers with useful tools and content that answers their questions, even before they decided that they need a hatchback, or whether they’ll opt for a sports saloon instead.
As such, ensure you fully understand into to your customer’s research phase. Take time to thoroughly understand what questions your audience has and how they find their answer (e.g. through searching online, asking friends etc.). Empathise with the consumer by listening to what difficulties users have around whilst shopping for your product or service. By discovering their pain points you can tailor digital touch-points strategy to focus on providing solutions to the problems.

The result of this is that you are continually building trust with the user, influencing their decisions, demonstrating that your business is the best place to purchase, and ultimately pushing them further down the conversion funnel.

3. Moment of purchase

The customer has now completed their research and has arrived at a purchasing decision. The job now then is to allow them to convert quickly and easily.

It’s in the 3rd step that most businesses will typically focus their UX activity, hoping to capture the customer at that moment of purchase. And it’s easy to understand why; focusing on a great purchasing user experience can have a great impact on the performance of your business.

You should then be providing a highly optimised experience that not only adheres to best practice but is as engaging as possible. What brands need to understand, however, is that whilst ensuring the user ‘can’ convert easily doesn’t mean they will want to.

By underwriting the customer’s purchasing journey with a great experience in the research phase, you can encourage a desire within the customer to ‘want’ buy from you. Why wouldn’t they? You’ve been very helpful, you’ve shown authority in your subject/industry, and therefore the consumer trusts your brand.

Therefore make sure that those interactions throughout their research integrate with the moment of purchase. For instance, is there a clear user flow that takes the customer from the research into the shopping experience?

Buying online

Also, ensure that you can then personalise the experience based on the user’s previous interactions. For instance, if the user has shown some intent towards preferring a family car over a sports car then make sure the offers they see are relevant to them.

Your website design should also be highly polished and well designed. Users simply do not trust a poorly designed or cheap looking site which means they are highly likely to bounce away from your site and shop elsewhere.

Don’t forget that the user’s device is an incredibly important factor when it comes to conversion. Learn about your customers and how they like to purchase, whether that be on a laptop, mobile sites or app. You can then ptimise your conversion experience around their needs. By expecting a user to convert on their mobile using a site optimised for use on a desktop will most likely be crippling your business through lost sales.

4. Post purchase user experience

Once a user has been converted to a customer it is very easy to overlook the value of UX. It is in this post-purchase phase that the consumer will start to build opinions and expectations based on their experience of the product or service to inform not only their next decision journey but potentially influence that of others.

Firstly, if your business wants to build loyal customers that keep coming back for more (and why would you?) then the experience the customer has to be great.

Also think back to the research phase; people will naturally make recommendations to friends and family based on their own experiences, not only of brands they enjoyed but just as importantly brands to avoid.

As such it’s very risky to overlook this highly influential part of the customer’s journey. The user’s experience of the product is a perfect opportunity to build loyalty and turn customers into brand ambassadors who will go on to influence the research journey of others.

The other benefit of greater UX through the experience of a product is that by capturing how they engage with the product or service also allows you to build better customer profiles, thus allowing better personalisation for interactions and builds a deeper relationship with the customer.

Understanding consumer decision will drive UX

By fully understanding the user’s decision-making journey we can expand the remit of what you would typically consider the remit of your UX strategy. It allows the opportunity to create more expansive user journeys that reach out to this highly influential part of the decision-making journey. Therefore, start to think about the kind of experiences you can deliver that can help make the consumer’s entire journey easier, more enjoyable, and more memorable.

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