Digital Dominates the Purchase Path, Which Still Tends to End in Stores

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Seventy percent of consumers hop from desktop to smartphone to tablet when researching products. More than half of them, though, consummate the sale in-store.

The digital path to purchase traverse several devices.
The digital path to purchase traverse several devices.

Tron, the early Digital Age movie in which Jeff Bridges actually enters a mainframe and traverses its circuitry in a neon hockey uniform may now be considered kitsch. But the truth is that, some 30 years after the film's release, we all have something in common with Bridges' Kevin Flynn: Our lives are palpably interwoven with digital technology.

A path to purchase study conducted by Forrester Research on behalf of cross-screen technology provider Tapad paints this ubiquitous picture of the influence of connected devices: 5% of Americans rock six of them, 14% use five; 22% do four; and 30% have three. In other words, shopping forays for 70% of consumers ply a route of desktop to tablet to smartphone. When it comes to transactions, however, brick-and-mortar stores are still involved in the majority of them.

Forrester's surveys of 1,500 connected consumers found that two thirds of them discovered products via digital channels. To learn more about prospective purchases, 44% of them turned to search engines and 28% to retail websites. But then it was off to the mall (or the phone) for 50% of shoppers. Another 15% said they ordered online but picked their items up in-store.

Digital is clearly the route for marketers to take in their first miles on the path, Forrester says, and here's the easy part: It doesn't much matter which vehicle you use. In the product discovery phase, 46% of consumers said they used laptops and 33% hooked into a desktop/smartphone combination. During product research, it was 51% laptop and 41% phone-and-desktop combo. Fourteen percent used tablets for investigating details.

The hard part for marketers in negotiating the digital path, Forrester points out, is keeping messaging relevant and consistent for each consumer across all digital touchpoints. The researcher offers three suggestions:

Maintain context during discovery. No matter what device they're on, 28% of consumers expect to see consistent ads, 23% want ads tailored to content they're viewing, and 21% welcome location-specific messages.

Practice device-optimization during exploration. More than half of those surveyed said they want to see consistent content that's optimized for whatever screen they happen to be on.

Make the purchase experience consistent. The majority of shoppers who've signed into retail sites expect to be recognized when migrating to other devices. One fifth of those surveyed demand this level of attention even when they haven't logged in.

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