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De-Mystifying Non-Linear Retail Search Journeys with Behavioural Economics

The Customer Experience (CX) on brand sites is often designed with the traditional customer journey in mind. But all too often, businesses overlook the value of incorporating behavioural economics. Combining small design details, strategic page placement, and memorable content to not only communicate information to potential customers, but show that you understand exactly what their needs are in that stage of their search journey, is a valuable investment for driving future revenue, and providing a leading CX.

Emotions and sentiment drive value for your business, and decisions should be taken to evoke these emotions related to your product or service. They will help you best empathise with your customers and identify which emotions you could be strategising your site design and content around.

Understanding the customer journey

The journey customers take via different touch points is often presented as a linear, purely rational process through the marketing funnel, with marketing tactics angled towards these. But empathetic understanding of customer conscious and subconscious behaviour is crucial for grabbing their attention, and nudging decision-making. We can’t think solely about how customers behave but take time out of our day-to-day activities to truly understand what is prompting that behaviour. Customers don’t simply jump from one stage to the next; they may spend longer researching topics in their awareness stage than any other, returning to awareness stage if the first brands in their searches don’t meet their needs, or forget about a brand in their evaluation stage only to come back to it weeks later. They might also not reach a purchase decision stage until they see your brand in a physical store setting. 

In a world with many available choices, thousands of search results and brands competing for customers' attention in Google search results, the buying decision process is only going to become messier. The “messy middle” of the journey (a space between trigger and purchase where customers go through cycles of expansive and reductive activities until they eventually make a purchase decision) is what marketers need to master to design a successful web experience for their brand. The goal being to reassure customers by providing the right information, at the right micro-moments through the use of nudges. This enables potential buyers to confidently make a decision.

Google search results

 

Design websites that convert

Let’s explore this from a search perspective and how the evolution of Google Chrome features may make the “journey design” process even harder, by introducing more options to send customers back into the evaluation stage if the information is not easily available. In August 2021, Google announced testing new features in Chrome, including a way for customers to keep searching without needing to hit the back button. Instead of going back to the search results, the test feature enables a side panel with more search results on the left side, while still browsing on the website.

Google search

By introducing a concept of continuous search, the “messiness” increases. Providing yet another option that distracts from purchase means brands will need to work extra hard to keep customers on-site and focused, to avoid sending them back into the evaluation cycle or to choose another competitor’s product while browsing. 

How can behavioural economics help? By enabling cognitive biases that influence purchase behaviour and decision-making. According to Google’s insights team, there are six biases that influence purchase decisions:

Google search

  • Category heuristics - short descriptions surfacing key information for the consumer 

  • Authority bias -highlights where we are naturally influenced by an expert or trusted source

  • Social proof - consumers tend to copy the behaviour and actions of others i.e. customer reviews 

  • Power of now - the longer you have to wait for a product, the weaker the proposition becomes

  • Scarcity bias - as stock or availability reduces the more desirable the product becomes

  • Power of free - a free gift with a purchase can be a powerful motivator 

By considering these heuristics when designing websites and landing pages, businesses can help nudge customers to continue down the funnel and confidently make a decision. The heuristics act as shortcuts to facilitate moments of thinking “fast” and reduce unnecessary friction in the experience. Hence, customers are more likely to make a conversion instead of getting back into the search results to explore other options or brands. 

How to nudge consumers down the funnel across a range of purchases 

Let’s take an example to put this theory into practice from a search perspective. We have decided that we want to buy a new phone. That journey may have several touchpoints from the trigger of needing a new device to the purchase of a specific model online.

Customers may go through several phases of exploration and evaluation until they develop a consideration set of phone brands and models based on their needs e.g. cheap, reliable, best value, etc. Once the initial research phase is over and the choice is narrowed down to a handful of options, this is where the real opportunity for marketers is. Using behavioural economic principles can close the deal so designing your product landing pages bearing in mind the six principles mentioned earlier is essential. 

Are you using behavioural economics nudges to guide users through the “messy middle”?:

  1. Are the product landing pages clearly featuring the key product information and USPs? Based on our earlier example, this could be  phone technical specs, price, personalisation options, finance options, warranty, delivery, etc. This is related to the category heuristics.

  2. Are any authorities or credible sources featured, helping to reassure the customer this is indeed the right choice? Although this proof can vary based on the product or service you offer, in our phone example it can be a video, a quality badge, an expert opinion, even a highly regarded influencer enhancing trustworthiness. This is the authority bias.

  3. Are comments or reviews from past customers integrated? This is especially important for high-involvement purchases, when customers are likely to carefully evaluate the purchase as there is a risk of emotional consequences if a mistake is made, i.e. phones are costly and therefore high involvement purchase. This is the social proof bias

  4. Are we selling a limited edition or running a limited time offer that can be introduced online ahead of a product launch? Perhaps only 1,000 are available in a limited-edition colour ahead of launch? Clearly showing how many devices are left available enables the scarcity bias

  5. Are there any benefits of buying the product now instead of coming back later? Thinking about the power of now facilitates better conversion rates. 

  6. Are we offering a freebie or an additional discount? Perhaps in our example, offering a pair of headphones compatible with the device, or a free accessory, can help reassure customers that they are getting good value for money and remove the uncertainty that comes with a high involvement purchase. Needless to say, that also works for low involvement purchases where we can add a freebie at checkout if a certain amount is reached. This is the power of free.

behavioural economics

As we can see from the example above, not every product needs to hit every point on the checklist. Instead, businesses can focus on an approach which is appropriately tailored for their consumer. For example, authority bias is unlikely to be a deciding factor over a pair of socks whilst power of now will be much more important to the consumer. On the contrary, social proof and authority bias are more likely to impact a high consideration purchase such as a phone; whilst the power of now becomes less important to the decision.

Therefore, we can acknowledge the power behavioural economics has on markets but in order to select nudges that will have maximum impact, these need to be guided by an intimate knowledge of our consumer profile. 

Behavioural economics can be a powerful tool in helping consumers along the user journey from research to consideration and finally to conversion. However, in order to do this, we need to consider our consumers. The challenge between brands may vary - the consideration involved in the consumption of a pair of socks will be worlds apart from the behaviour involved in the consumption of a phone. Understanding our consumer profile is essential to developing an appropriate brand strategy, namely answering the question “Why do our consumers consume within our market; and how do we get them to choose us?”. 

In today’s world of options, brands need to develop an emotional engagement to elevate their search strategy and overall digital experience. Using behavioural economics to implement “nudges” at each stage of the journey can close the gap between trigger and purchase so prospective customers are less exposed to competitor brands, thus creating long-lasting customer loyalty.

For further insights read our whitepaper 'The value of adding friction to the frictionless experience'

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