I have been buying a lot of products online in the past two years (thank you, Covid) and that made me think deeply about the purchase journey in most places and what differentiates one journey from another.
Conventional wisdom will say that the steps in a purchase are like Search > Find > Compare > Buy. But I see myself doing a lot of “I know what I want!” so I just fast forward to "Buy". There are times when you know exactly what you want and the muscle memory comes into play to buy and at that point, speed of purchase is the only consideration. There are so many factors that influence buying behavior in the real world and digital world and not all are rational, so today I'd like to double-click on the digital world and share some observations and suggestions.
Let me start with my purchase journey in a real store like COSTCO (a large warehouse-like store in the US) where the first item I touch in the store is a cart – a rather large shopping cart, perhaps the largest I’ve ever seen. That is part of a carefully designed strategy to enable buyers to fill as much as they can. Note that COSTCO does not have hand-held shopping baskets.
The intent is loud and clear: We want you to buy more. These volumes also in turn drive their ability to get the best prices for the products they stock. The cart has become a central part of the journey and smarter companies are paying a lot of attention to all “touches” to the cart, digitally. On the other hand, I’ve shopped at stores in Hong Kong, a city with high real estate prices. These are smaller stores where there is no space to move carts around and we get by, using baskets. Here, “less is more”- quite a contrast to my COSTCO experience.
So, what do I look for before something gets added to my cart online?
Clear product information
Before adding an item to a cart, I always look for the description and technical specifications. A lot easier to do this when shopping for basic, well-known consumer goods and a lot harder for specialty items like tools and equipment. I look for numbers along with words.
Peer review and comments
This is particularly relevant for hotels or stays while traveling, restaurants, and food delivery services. I look for recency of comments and for words, not just rely on the five-star ratings. Sometimes, just knowing that others like me have bought a product or service is enough to give me some comfort and get me a step closer to purchasing.
It’s a fundamental factor in any decision making but here I always think of the elasticity of the range and my tolerance rather than an absolute number. When I have a trusted and convenient site I buy from regularly, will I move to another site that I’m unsure about for the same product, even if the price is slightly lower? Probably not. Humans are creatures of habit and there is inertia involved, as much as there is the fear of the unknown to an extent.
When things go wrong
I want to know what happens when things go wrong. Return policies, customer service, technical support, etc.- how does this side make me feel? Will the supplier be there for me? Recently, my wife bought a pair of shoes from a site that looked so authentic, and only after the payment was made did she realize the site was based in China. They did ship her a packet eventually with a small keychain of zero value (it hurt a bit extra that they didn’t even put the effort to make it a shoe-shaped keychain). This is what I call typical “bait and switch” behavior - so one must guard against that. Now, whilst buying from a trusted brand there isn’t that fear at all. I’d say, COSTCO is a fine example of always making it right for the buyer with screening criteria before products get on their shelves, and an excellent, customer-friendly return policy, which provides peace of mind.
Slick online payment process
This may seem like a basic hygiene factor for payments to work fast and with minimal clicks to complete the transaction, but surprisingly, it is not followed on all sites. The folks at Amazon were pioneers in making the payment process as simple as possible despite the number of payment methods increasing (I’m not even talking crypto-based payments here!)
I am treated as a person
It’s like going back to the restaurant where the manager, the chef, and waiters know you. I like sites that recognize me, know me to some extent, track my previous purchase activity and try to recommend what I may be interested in based on what they’ve observed about me, without explicitly making me feel that ‘I’m being watched’. Hyper personalization for me creates a sticky relationship and when done well, some of the other factors I noted above become less critical in my decision making.
Behaviors are changing rapidly, and I see a very short attention span among online shoppers. I am guilty of that myself, and when I weigh up the pros and cons of lengthy research to make the right decision, it may be too late. That airline seat price just went up or the hotel room I sort of wanted is no longer available. Sometimes, I find myself spending a disproportionate amount of time researching, relative to the long-term value of the purchase I made. If purchases are reversible and I’m not stuck for life, I have started being more experimental and much quicker in making that decision and purchasing online.
A digital journey is like a relay race. Many runners need to run fast in tandem, to ensure that the team can get to the finish line- and all this often must happen in microseconds. There are factors that are controllable and others that, on the surface, seem not controllable. For example, anything that is provided by third parties is not controllable, like search, payment gateways, payment instruments like credit cards, and associated rewards. Why is it that some sites stand out and attract huge traffic and repeat business whilst others struggle?
Let’s have a quick peek under the hood: How are journeys really created.
Websites that take an existing user journey in a physical store and simply try to digitize these journeys are the ones that create a sub-optimal customer experience. Successful websites and apps are the ones where a journey is reimagined from scratch and created to make the user experience delightful, always.
Personalization is hard with a large universe of buyers, so the use of data and technology becomes critical. The design and appearance (or UI as we call it) play significant roles but the most critical role is one of the plumbing under the hood that ensures an end-to-end experience that operates for one and all, at scale. The absence of knowledge of the full buying behavior creates challenges, as sellers are often guessing buyer-behavior using some calculations and rules, which can help personalize to some extent, like “Other movies you may like” on Netflix.
Selling financial products like Mutual Funds is highly regulated so most firms try to take the approach of “take no risks” and this often happens at the cost of a good user experience. Smarter firms take a balanced view, considering the risks involved but having a deeper understanding of their customer’s needs while providing the required (and often expected) convenience.
Devices and screen sizes play another critical role. Low costs of data usage along with easy availability and high adoption of smartphones have led to a mobile-first approach in designing journeys in the last few years. The assumption is that if it’s convenient on a small screen, it will work on a bigger screen (like a tablet or laptop too). Hence, a thoughtfully designed User Experience (UX) considering various devices is likely to get the best results. Until recently, coding was specific for an operating system like Android or iOS but now with the introduction of technologies like Flutter, making changes and launching new journeys should be faster and more cost-effective.
Widgets that allow users to visualize the product in their own settings (like furniture or a TV in a room) or cars with the color of your choice, enable an immersive experience. Basic tools like Canva and Adobe Spark or Plotagraph can do quite the job.
To provide the best shopping experience, under-the-hood tech and data need to act well in real-time, along with the user being able to create an orchestra, where every instrument has a defined role and just works seamlessly. I can tell where a site uses AI and where it does not in improving the relevance of the offer. The consumer has a short attention span and may not give you a second chance. A great example of real-time orchestration is Google maps or Waze where a multi-variant model is used to calculate and predict every nanosecond. Something for any product designer or technologist to consider.
To conclude, I will say that consumers do look for deals before adding items to their cart but when I relate that to buying investment products, my advice is to not look for a deal as your primary consideration. Experiment with the experiences available, choose the ones you like best, and learn with them. Like cooking can’t be taught, investing can’t be taught either, it must be learnt. Despite the availability of technology and data, it remains your responsibility to learn how to invest smartly and ours to provide a good digital purchase journey and experience. When both sides do this well, the outcome is not born just from science, but from art!
I would like to invite you to come to the DSP App for investors on the iOS App Store or Google Play Store or visit our website DSPIM.com to look at our range of products and experience a purchase. You do not have to fill your cart at once with big investments, just begin by setting up a systematic investment plan (also called as SIP) to start slowly. Be careful though as your cart may overflow as you make the right choices and then have the discipline to keep adding – a nice problem to have!
And if you do experience DSP’s purchase journey, I request you to please give me your feedback in the comments section based on your experience, on a scale of 1 (poor) to 10 (amazing)? Of course, any other views beyond just a rating are also welcome.
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