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How online is paving the path to purchase

by Robert Wucher , 10.09.2015

Regardless of whether consumers are clicking “buy” at the virtual checkout, online remains a major sales channel and an irrefutable part of today’s purchase journey. Fact: from cosmetics to TVs, online is where brands and consumers hook up – whether that’s to find information about a product or service, or to complete a transaction. Either way, it’s a pivotal point in the purchase journey and one that brands need to understand.

Today, the role online plays as a sales channel varies greatly by category. We know from our consumer and retail panels that 42% of travel purchases are made online at one end of the scale compared to just 1% of FMCG sales at the other. And that all other categories can be found somewhere in between.

Given these findings, FMCG companies could be forgiven for focusing on engaging customers offline, but to do so would be to miss the point. Although very few transactions are made online within the FMCG category, our Crossmedia Link panel – a study which tracks cross-media consumption and purchase activity – shows us that an astonishing amount of research is carried out online prior to purchases being made offline. Who knew that consumers were so fond of researching baby food online before buying it in-store? And that FMCG companies experience a 44% uplift in sales share where customers have visited the brand’s site prior to purchase. Examples such as these underscore the importance of understanding how brands need to meet consumers online and why we need to acknowledge the whole purchase journey instead of just focusing on where and when an individual purchase is made.

So what are consumers doing online and how can brands meet their needs? Understanding consumers’ motives is one of the most fundamental challenges. Yet what motivates consumers in one category may be radically different in another. For instance, a consumer looking for a new TV may go online to find granular level detail that will enable them to compare models before making a purchase decision. In contrast, someone looking to buy hair color might visit a particular brand’s website, after seeing an ad for its product on TV, before taking the plunge and making a purchase in their local supermarket or pharmacy. In both examples, the consumer’s interaction with the brand online is critical and will have a direct impact on their purchase decision irrespective of whether that transaction is eventually carried out on or offline.

While brands in all categories need to be ready for online’s relevance to grow even more as part of the purchase journey, this is an area where one size does not fit all. That said, through our cross-category work, we have identified key insights that brands must gain for their category as they seek to optimize their interactions online as part of the purchase journey:

1)    Brands must have insight into the structure of the purchase journey, i.e. its length, the number of domains/websites visited and the role of search engines throughout the purchase journey.

2)    They need to know which types of website are visited along the purchase journey to ensure they partner with the right retailers and publishers, and have an online presence in the right place.

3)    They need to understand how offline media interacts with and drives traffic online to ensure they offer a cross-media brand experience that is seamless.


It is only by understanding all three areas that brands can understand what it is that their consumers want from them online and that they can take the necessary steps to deliver it. We advocate taking a category-specific approach that treats both brands and consumers as individuals, and acknowledges that understanding the purchase journey, in its truest sense, is an art as much as it is a science.

Join Robert Wucher, Head of Digital Client Solutions, GfK for his session, “Where consumers meet brands: Customer journey in the digital age”, on September 16, 2015 at Dmexco to discover more about the importance of an online brand presence and how brands can optimize online interactions as part of the purchase journey. Find out more and register for the GfK Expert Talks.