Way back in the day, before the internet came along, shopping was a pretty straightforward affair!

You wandered down the high street having a browse of the local shops or took a trip to your nearest shopping centre. 

Then the internet happened. 

A few tech-savvy types started placing the odd orders online… but most of us were still shopping the regular way. 

But gradually, the internet became a part of everyday life and we started to compare prices online and use physical shops more as showrooms before ordering online. 

And now - now internet giants supply anything and everything you can think of, almost everyone has an online store and you can even purchase through Facebook!

So what does this mean for e-commerce, and specifically how does this affect when and what a consumer decides what to buy and where they decide to buy it from?

Traditionally, there is the purchase funnel - the top-down view of how a consumer starts as a lead that is nurtured through to purchase. 

This may give you stages that a prospect ‘hits’ but it doesn’t tell you why - and the why is important as it is what sets you apart from your competition. 

When a customer decides to purchase online there is now a multitude of information and a huge amount of searches, links, adverts, clicks (cold and retargeting) and choices involved. 

Google calls this the ‘messy middle’ and has done some extensive research on this which you can read by following this link.  

Today though, we’ll be covering 3 key things their research found about the ‘messy middle’ consideration stage.

1. Inspiration - searching for ‘ideas’

As part of their research, they analysed the behaviour of individuals as they carried out shopping tasks online. They found that there were two key stages within their ‘messy middle’ - exploring and evaluating. 

Inspiration is part of the exploration stage, with the search volume for ‘ideas’ again steadily increasing over time. Inspiration typically occurs after a trigger - for example, needing to purchase a gift and searching for ‘birthday present ideas’. 

Interestingly, the research also found that searches that contained ‘ideas’ rarely contained brand or retailer names alongside and is a good point to consider when looking at search terms and your chosen keywords when advertising on Google.

2. Best is BEST

Historically, when searching for products online consumers wanted to find the lowest price they could, with a high search volume for the term ‘cheap’. 

Around 2010, there was a turning point where searches including ‘best’ increased and reached their highest volume in 2020.

While ‘cheap’ only refers to the price, ‘best’ can mean many things - it can refer to the quality, value or even popularity meaning that consumer searches have got more complex and suggest that instead of just looking at the price there is a whole range of criteria that individuals consider when shopping online. 

For e-commerce businesses, whilst focusing above the fold on a product page is critical for conversions - this means the rest of the page (i.e. below the fold) is just as important for delivering all the information your potential customer requires. 

One of the most effective elements you can use is social proof - not only does this confirm the popularity of the product, but it can convey quality and value too. For five suggestions on how to include this - click here.

3. Behaviour - can a consumer change their mind?

When exploring and evaluating, consumers visit many shopping touch points - which include the standard places such as search engines, social media, retailer and aggregator sites but also can include blogs, coupon/voucher sites and forums.

The key thing to note from this is that, whilst a consumer may have an idea of their chosen product at the start of the process, the shopping touch points can influence or even change their mind mid-search as the evaluation stage making an e-commerce businesses’ marketing, and in particular retargeting efforts, even more critical.

So remember…

As an e-commerce business, it’s more important than ever before that you understand your customers and what they are thinking as they explore and evaluate your products.

Hayley Spicer

Hayley is the Analysis Manager and joined the SV team in 2020. When she’s not ‘geeking out’ over spreadsheets and data, she can usually be found listening to country music or walking her boxer dog, Moose! 🐕