Don't waste your tears on the death of the purchase journey
A view from Debbie Ellison

Don't waste your tears on the death of the purchase journey

The gap between inspiration and purchase is fast closing shut. It's time for retailers to respond with a holistic approach.

The purchase journey as we know it is fast disappearing, thanks to the rise and rise of ecommerce. But brands, don’t waste your tears. Opportunity lies not in mourning its loss but in adapting to what’s driving it – in particular, by connecting not just digital but all commerce moments.

Shopping habits have changed radically, with digital commerce reducing traditional friction along the path to purchase by enabling – and then fuelling our ever-increasing expectations of – seamless, convenient and ubiquitous shopping opportunities.

By last year, 35% of US consumers considered themselves to be, for the most part, "impulse shoppers", instantly gratified anywhere and everywhere by friction-free, one-click purchases. For this, we have Amazon to thank, for patenting its 1-Click purchase button in 1999, triggering retailers and payment platforms to follow suit in shortening and simplifying the distance between inspiration and purchase over the 22 years since.

We’ve become conditioned to having purchase moments available at our fingertips. John Lewis Partnership Card data shows that one in 15 purchases is being made between midnight and 6am – coined “bedsheet shopping”. There’s also a staggering increase in transactions made on the move, too. UK mobile commerce grew by 30% last year, the biggest mobile shopping year to date, with people collectively spending 82 billion hours on shopping apps – 30% up from 2019.

And the value of unified commerce, our ability to shop wherever, whenever and however, was thrown into even sharper relief when many physical stores were temporarily (in many cases permanently) closed by Covid-19.

Consider social commerce, shopping via social platforms or purchases influenced by social, that’s going from strength to strength, further driving the ubiquity of purchasing moments. In China, social commerce sales surpassed $186bn (£131bn) in 2019 — 10 times the US total – thanks to deeper integration of influence, content and commerce.

Not so long ago, social platforms were purely a source of creativity and inspiration. Today, they’re goliaths luring shoppers in droves into their commerce ecosystems.

Instagram is just one at the forefront of this movement, connecting shoppers to commerce through Instagram Shop and Checkout – leading one analyst to predict Insta-shopping will generate $10bn in revenue for Facebook this year alone. Some brands have seen a massive 1,416% increase in traffic and 20% increase in revenue by integrating with Instagram shopping, according to technology and D2C company Big Commerce.

Meanwhile, Facebook has launched Marketplaces, Facebook Shops and Facebook Pay. TikTok has led with Shoppable Livestreams. And shoppers can shop on Snapchat through its Shoppable Lens.

The direction of travel is crystal clear. The pace of convergence between inspiration and purchase is accelerating. The gap between content, product information and purchase is fast disappearing as a direct result. And the payoff is big.

But consider this. Despite explosive growth, ecommerce’s share of global total retail sales is forecast to be still just 18.1% this year. This means that 81.9% of sales will happen in other places and spaces – including physical retail.

How, then, should brands and retailers respond?

1. Understand how and why people shop retail channels

Future brand success will depend on understanding how and why people shop different retail channels and what they buy when they’re there. Only when brands get under the skin of this, will they recognise the triggers to purchase, seamless and friction-free. This is not omni-channel marketing, recreating the same experience in each channel, but a play for mass personalisation of shopping moments.

2. Develop deeper holistic commerce strategies to connect shoppers to the most relevant commerce channels, not just the digital ones

Buck the current trend and view the collapse of the purchase journey beyond social and ecommerce space. Shorten the purchase journey to avoid drop-off rates. For instance, if I’m closer to a bricks and mortar store, or, if it’s more convenient for me, then the strategy should direct me there.

Take Ikea. This retailer taps data to target people living close to an Ikea shop with social platform messages focused on driving increased in-store footfall and sales in physical stores. In parallel, there’s specific messaging for people who live far from a store to connect them to Ikea’s direct-to-consumer site, significantly increasing ecommerce sales with the same in-store deals.

3. Deliver heightened experience that shoppers expect, everywhere

Currently, ecommerce experiences largely recreate physical retail experiences online. Aisles are translated into categories, and, products into product description pages.

Brands desperately need to invest in building brand equity at the point of purchase. One fantastic example of technology and UI doing just this is Sphere – a new, human user interface driven by visual content. It has increased page views (6x) and conversion (by 40%) – and is delivering sales growth and long-term brand equity at the same time. How? By seamlessly blending content and commerce to create a truly immersive and intuitive journey of discovery for the shopper.

Shopping habits have changed, profoundly. Now it’s time for retail brands to respond, holistically.

Debbie Ellison is global chief digital officer, VMLY&R Commerce