Retailers need to understand the shopper journey

June 9, 2021
Rebecca Wine profile picture
Matt Whitby
  • Interview with Hannu Vangsgaard, Digital Acceleration Consultant
  • Hannu comments on the results of a study of online shopper behavior 
  • Explaining why shoppers want to be inspired when shopping online
  • Why most online retail stores are not inspirational
  • And how retailers can inspire shoppers online

Hannu Vangsgaard has over 20 years of experience leading digital transformation in the Danish marketing industry. Including as the Head of Digital in Salling Group, and Chief Digital Officer at Envision. Both are some of the largest players in their industries in Denmark.

If there’s one thing that Hannu has learned during his career it’s that digital marketing is an incredibly complicated business. He’s on a mission to help retailers grow their digital profiles faster by learning from the mistakes he’s made. 

Hannu says that retailers need to understand the complicated customer journey of online shopping. And he provides guidance for retailers looking to increase their digital presence. 

Online shoppers want inspiration

In The Behavior of Online Shoppers Survey 2021, a majority of the 6,000 European shoppers (67%) said that they want to be inspired when shopping online. But they use web shops when searching for products rather than to get inspiration. 

Hannu explains the reason why most shoppers don’t consider online stores inspirational. It’s because retail ecommerce channels are too focused on selling specific products to the small percentage of shoppers who know what they want to buy. 

Most online stores are not inspirational because most retailers don't understand the customer journey."

"On average just 2% of shoppers visiting an online retail store are looking to buy, that's the conversion rate. But the other 98%, well they're doing something completely different,” says Hannu.

“But most of the resources retailers’ put into their webshops are targeted at converting the 2% of buyers. For shoppers, the whole inspirational journey, product evaluation and research is a huge part of buying online. Most retailers know that, but somehow they don't actually apply that knowledge, from my point of view, to their online stores.”

Retailers need to focus on inspiring browsing shoppers

In the survey 57% of shoppers state that a lack of inspiration is a barrier against using web shops. A statistic retailers should be aware of as they consider their digital marketing strategy and tactics.

Hannu explains retailers need to gain a better understanding of the entire shopper buying journey.

The 98% of online shoppers not yet ready to buy are browsing."

"They’re looking around for inspiration. Checking out product specifications and product use. Comparing product ‘A’ with ‘B’ within the retailers’ assortment.” 

“To cater to them retailers need to provide detailed product guides, how-to's and highlight contextual product images. By being inspiring and helpful retailers’ should see that this strategy will end up having a positive effect on the total conversion rate.”

Understanding the complicated ‘Messy Middle’ of retail shopping 

Hannu says that a concept developed by Google called the Messy Middle explains the complexity of the modern shopper journey.

“In the Messy Middle, shoppers approach online browsing in an explorative mode. They start by looking for inspiration, such as what kind of products or brands do retailers have here within this specific area of interest. Then they go into evaluation mode. They compare brands, prices, features and delivery methods among others.

A line showing the stages of a purchase from trigger to purchase
So in the Messy Middle shoppers go back and forth from the exploration and evaluation behavioral modes. Only when shoppers have made a decision do they go forward to the buying mode.”

According to Hannu, retail marketers need to understand that the shopper journey is not linear. It’s messy and retailers need to be present in the Messy Middle in order to be relevant to shoppers.

“If retailers only focus on delivering promotions. Then they’re only relevant to the very few people who are down in the bottom part of the funnel of the purchasing process. And you won't be relevant to the majority of shoppers moving back and forth between exploration and evaluation”.

“There’s no simple answer here. But I believe that retailers’ need to provide a combination of inspirational content, and of course, having the right product at the right time. Price is of course a hygiene factor. So you can deliver all the inspiration they want. If you don't have the right product at the right price at the right time, the inspiration is irrelevant.”

Are the digital giants inspirational?

In The Behavior of Online Shoppers Survey a majority of shoppers (51%) stated that Amazon was the market leader for online inspiration. Followed by Google (37%). Only 29% of shoppers say that online stores are inspirational. And online stores are generally seen only as a destination for finding specific products. Hannu says that shoppers only think of Amazon as being inspirational because of the huge amount of choice available. 

Amazon is the biggest store on the internet. But personally I don't think Amazon is inspirational."

"They have all the products you can dream of, and they're very good at the transactional and logistic aspects of ecommerce. But all the parts in the middle like curating in depth product reviews, demos, how-to’s and so on. They’re not good at that.”

Think like a publisher

Finally Hannu advises retailers that they need to be more like a content publisher. This way they can compete in the digital space and be relevant to browsing shoppers.

“From my experience working in digital marketing I say that a retailer needs to think a little bit more like a publisher. You have to do your promotions. But you also have to understand that you are playing a role in the full shopper journey and provide relevant content to help shoppers with evaluation and exploration too,” finishes Hannu.

Thanks to Hannu Vangsgaard for participating in this interview. Stay tuned to this channel for more in depth interviews from leaders in inspirational retail. Check out the iPaper Content Universe to learn more. And sign up for our newsletter to ensure you never miss the latest insights from retail marketing.

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