Retail and Online Marketing; Succeed by Understanding the Customer Journey

With 77% (19 million) UK households having internet access in 2011(1), the ability to buy food, clothes, music, films, sports equipment, holidays, cars etc. has never been easier. Shopping no longer takes place just in the High Street but anywhere, anytime. So what is the impact on how customers shop generally and what does this mean for businesses and brands?

Customers are becoming more mobile and savvy

More UK customers shop online compared with other major countries.  Eight in ten (79%) internet users said they ordered goods or services on-line in 2010 (2).  They also spent more time on retail sites; an average of 84 minutes in January 2011 compared with 20 minutes for Italy and Poland (2).

Mobile phones are also changing shopping behaviour with significant growth in customers connecting to the internet via their mobile phone.  Smartphone ownership nearly doubled in the UK between February 2010 and August 2011 from 24% to 46% and nearly half used their phone to go online in October 2011 (2).

The use of wi-fi hotspots increased seven-fold from 2007 to 4.9 million in 2011 as has watching TV online with over 27% of UK internet users watching TV online every week (2).

What are the implications for marketers?

These changes in customer behaviour present many new opportunities and threats to ‘bricks and mortar’ and ‘clicks and mortar’ businesses and (r)etailers alike. For example:

  • As customers shop within a store environment and online, there will be increasingly complex and overlapping behaviour which marketers need to understand to successfully market to them
  • Customers will be increasingly prone to multi-tasking; browsing online channels, whilst doing other tasks, such as watching the tv, having a coffee, and even when browsing the shelves. Thus online content must complement and enhance the brand experience, such as, inform and entertain, not just act as a functional route to purchase
  • QR code (quick response) and phone applications such as Google Goggles enable customers to find out more about products and even translate languages. Thus product packaging must compete within the visual noise of the category, must be seen as a piece of artwork on a computer screen, and a link to find out more information
  • Phone applications that use global positioning satellite technology (GPS), such as Foursquare, and O2 Media/Rewards present new High Street promotion opportunities. They allow marketers to pinpoint and target consumers ‘on the go’. For example, by sending a timely text message when they are in proximity to a supermarket, clothes store or leisure outlet
  • The growth of comparison websites and functions to review items online such as via Amazon (reviews and star ratings), Facebook (likes), Ciao (user reviews and prices) and TripAdvisor (reviews and ratings) requires engaging and presenting a positive face to customers through all encounters. Encouraging positive reviews and advocacy via face-to-face or online channels all influences prospective purchasing

    Abercrombie and Fitch
    Daughters with the male model at Abercrombie and Fitch
  • Phone camera applications allow experiences and ideas to be recorded and shared with friends. These can be used to seek feedback on a prospective purchase (‘what do you think of me in this new dress, mum?’), enhance a brand experience (for example, taking photographs with the hunky model at Abercrombie and Fitch), or spread the word by tweeting news and taking and showing-off photographs online.

Importance of understanding the customer journey

By understanding the sequence, nature and importance of the steps in the customer’s journey allows marketers to determine the triggers, drivers and barriers to influence sales of a particular service or product, where and how to add value to an offer, as well as improve trial and retention. The traditional view of the customer journey is as a linear series of steps, as espoused by Lavidge and Steiner (3) et al risks being less relevant in the online world.

The customer journey
The customer journey

With growth of the online world, the customer journey is becoming non-linear; a more random, looping, stepping stone process.  Customers use the online world to aid shopping decisions as well as a source of purchase.  And equally so for the retail world.  They jump to and fro on their journey, reflecting, comparing and considering. And unlike in the in-store environment, all from the comfort of their own home, desk or even bus!  After comparing different retailers or service providers online, customers may then visit a shop or service provider, before going back online to look for a cheaper or better alternative and finally making the decision to purchase.

The online customer journey
The online customer journey

On the journey customers are exposed to a number of different influences which all affect if, how and when they buy, as well as their relationship with, and propensity to endorse a brand.  Online media, specifically those that enable the customer to fact-find and express views on their ‘experience’ such as Amazon, ebay, Twitter and Facebook, play an increasing role.

Marketing Inspiration

  1. Don’t underestimate the speed and impact the digital world is having on all markets. New technology is providing a myriad of new communication opportunities that are changing the way that customers become aware of products, and are influenced, and persuaded to buy
  2. Marketers need to stay one step ahead by understanding the offline and online customer journey, and relationships between the two. Only then will you be able to create coherent, and persuasive communications, and invest in the right media to reach and persuade customers to buy.
  3. View the whole customer journey as a relationship ladder. Your aim is to attract a prospect, build a relationship with them and ultimately encourage advocacy of your brand.

Get in touch to find out more about our approach to researching and understanding customer journeys and the benefits this can offer your business.


(1)   Office for National Statistics, Internet access – households and individuals, August 2011

(2)   OFCOM, Sixth International Communications Market Report, December 2011

(3)   Lavidge Robert J and Steiner Gary A A Model of Predictive Measurements of Advertising Effectiveness: Journal of Marketing, vol. 25, no 6, 1961

Do you want to understand your customers’ journey or develop a new communication strategy?. If so, check out The Marketing Directors’ research and strategic marketing consultancy services.