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The evolution of the consumer journey

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This is the first of a three-part series of blog articles about the changing retail landscape. The series is based on a presentation that our experts, Mert Bürian and Yannis Boukas, delivered at PRS IN VIVO’s De-coding the Omni-Channel Path-to-Purchase’ business breakfast in Geneva, attended by some of the world’s biggest brands. In this first part, we explore how the consumer journey has evolved – and will continue to evolve.  

Mert Bürian and Yannis Boukas are both much sought-after as consultants and speakers for their expertise related to brand strategy, eCommerce and digital transformation. If you would like to see the slides this article is based on, please download them here.

Things have changed

Today’s consumers have so much choice. So many ways of hearing or learning about brands or products – and of purchasing them. 

With a smartphone in their pocket or hand at all times, they have the means of buying pretty much any product from anywhere in the world in a matter of seconds – potentially just on a whim.

Consumer Journey Example 1
We’re in a fragmented media landscape where the old rules about marketing and the funnels marketers can lead consumers through no longer apply – Image source:

They demand convenience and speed. They expect brands to entertain and entice them to buy products. They want to feel emotionally connected.

A fragmented media landscape

The media landscape ‘back in the old days’ was – with hindsight that the far more complex digital age gives us – relatively straightforward. 

Consumers accepted, consciously or otherwise, that marketing was a one way thing.

There were far fewer channels to get right (or wrong). Consumer behaviours and outcomes were much more predictable.

In the digital age, though, those safe old reliable one-way messaging channels have been severely disrupted.

Consumers Example
There are so many touchpoints for brands to consider along the consumer journey – Image source: Amazon

Social media, blogs, influencers, digital advertising, algorithms, the importance of timing and the sheer global variety that the internet gives us when it comes to selecting brands and which products to buy have created a fragmented landscape. 

Consumers are no longer so willing to just listen. They’re not so trusting about what that TV ad, poster or magazine feature is telling them. They want to search around online to find out more about a product or brand by themselves. 

Today’s consumers are subject to so many influences

In the digital age, consumers can compare products or brand customer service against one another based on reviews from people that choose to share their experience of them online.

If they’re looking for something to watch on Netflix, they can either read a blog on the latest hit show by a journalist, or they can choose to get their recommendations from people they trust (despite probably never having met them in the flesh) on social media.

Consumers Example 3
Consumers are constantly alerted to product recommendations and reviews – whether positive or otherwise. And these might prompt them to take action – Image source:

Today’s consumers don’t need to drag themselves around town in bad weather looking for an unusual item in poorly stocked local shops. They can just find it in the global marketplace from the comfort of their own sofa – on Amazon or similar – and potentially get it delivered within the hour.

And then there’s the choice that Google and, increasingly, eCommerce Retail Search throws up, where listings or content appear in front of consumers based on their online behaviours.

Amazon Example
Consumers can buy products from anywhere at anytime on the spur of the moment. Equally, brands can plan ahead and market to them on the basis of anticipated behaviour backed up by data – Image source: Getty Images/Julie Clopper

Understanding how consumers make decisions

Developing a deep knowledge of how today’s consumers make decisions is the first step marketers must take in order to focus on effective strategies and proportioning marketing spend on the most relevant and influential touchpoints.

Consumer Journey Example 5
Brands need to understand how their prospective customers make their decisions – Image source:×351.png

The increasing complexity of the consumer decision journey will force virtually all companies to adopt new ways of measuring consumer attitudes, brand performance, and the effectiveness of marketing expenditures across the whole process.

The dangers of not doing so are: 

1. They could waste money: at a time when revenue growth is critical and funding tight, advertising – and other investments – will be less effective because consumers aren’t getting the right information at the right time 

2. Marketers could be seen to be out of touch – for instance, by trying to push products on customers rather than providing them with the information, support and the experience they want in order to enable them to reach decisions themselves. Remember, today’s consumers expect to feel in charge.

The decision-making process is now circular

The decision-making process is now a circular journey with four phases: 

  1. initial consideration
  2. active evaluation, or the process of researching potential purchases
  3. closure, when consumers buy brands
  4. post-purchase, when consumers experience them

Initial consideration is the starting point, where the consumer begins to think about a set of brands based on touchpoints they’ve come across online that trigger them into thinking about making a purchase.

At this stage, the consumer may already be in favour of some brands and have discounted others because of historic biases or brand perceptions. In this new retail landscape, there are lots of ways ‘back in’ for discounted brands based on Product eContent – like product title, high quality product images optimised for mobile (Mobile Hero Images), ratings, reviews, compelling product descriptions and, increasingly, video. 

The consumer may find, in the next stage, that the brand they initially pushed to one side actually offers a product – a car, for instance – which far more closely matches what they were looking for than the brands they initially favoured. 

Active evaluation is the stage in the circular journey where the consumer gathers information that can help inform a purchase, adding or discarding brands they might potentially buy from along the way.

The Circular Consumer Journey - explained byMcKinsey
The circular consumer journey – Image source: McKinsey

Research has shown that ‘two-thirds of the touchpoints during the active-evaluation phase involve consumer-driven marketing activities, such as ‘internet reviews and word-of-mouth recommendations from friends and family’[1].

Brands have to be smart here, and realise that one-way messaging is only so effective here. The way that consumer decision-making has so dramatically altered means ‘that marketers must move aggressively beyond purely push-style communication and learn to influence consumer-driven touch points, such as word-of-mouth and internet information sites’[2] We would certainly add social media into this mix, too.

Closure is where the consumer selects a brand at the moment of purchase. Where they choose to buy, for example, one brand’s product over another brand’s – because it more closely matches what it is they are looking for. 

Post-purchase is hugely important because if the product or service meets (or doesn’t meet) expectations, it will inform the next consumer journey. 

If expectations are met or exceeded, post-purchase experience could create a loyalty loop that makes the consumer miss out the initial consideration and active evaluation steps and go straight to the closure stage when they next look to buy that product or service type. Many consumers will even look for reviews on a product they’ve just purchased to help them decide whether to buy it the next time, or opt for another brand’s equivalent product.

It would be wrong for long-established brands to just assume loyalty based on their heritage and historic reputations. They have to work much harder than that, and constantly meet the consumers expectations – or else lose them.

In conclusion – understand the circular consumer journey and the way consumers behave

It’s more important than ever to deeply understand how your target audiences behave, and when.

The circular consumer journey is not a long-winded one. In fact, today’s consumers are often making their choices quickly, so those brands that are able to connect with segmented target audiences using the right channel at just the right moment are the ones that will win online. 

Which are the best channels to reach key target customers through? What time of day do they shop online? What kind of shopper experience are they looking for? How long until we lose their attention, and they go and buy from another competitor instead?

The inherent challenge is that, with the media landscape continually fragmenting and consumer behaviours frequently changing, it’s difficult to consistently hit – or get your target customers to hear – the right notes. But, with the right strategy, your brand has a great chance of succeeding.

Look out for the next blog article in this series coming soon, where we will explore Changes in the Retailer Landscape.

This article was written and created by the eBusiness Institute team.

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Download Part 1 of the PRS IN VIVO Presentation Slides

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