Online retailers often lack access to metrics that tell them which of their marketing programs are most effective. The online purchase process often involves multiple touch points before a consumer buys that new toy or laptop computer. And the number of touch points can vary depending on whether a consumer is purchasing hard or soft goods. New research shows that marketers must rely on the right marketing format at each step in the purchase cycle to close the deal.
A recently released Forrester study focused on consumer behavior exhibited during the 2010 holiday season. But the lessons drawn from this sales cycle can be applied to other promotional periods. Specifically, the study found that consumers are looking for good deals during a promotional period like Cyber Monday. In this case, email was far more effective in reaching consumers and getting them to buy. Conversely, search is not as effective during big promotional periods because consumers typically use those tools to locate a specific product. The study also found that while hard goods retailers could demonstrate no change in orders because of social media, operators selling soft goods (apparel and bedding) saw a link between social media shares and higher orders.
In the hard goods sector (such as TVs and mobile phones), at least 45% of purchasers noted that they had 2 touch points from a marketer. These touch points most frequently included email (12%) or organic search (11%) combined with one other contact point. For soft goods purchases, about 53% of consumers reported 2 touch points from marketers. In this sector, email ruled with 23% saying this format played a big role in influence. Display ads (13%) and search (8%) along with 1 other touch point made the difference for these purchasers.
For retailers, the bottom line may be that they need to continue to market to potential clients across a wide spectrum of online channels. Analysts suggest that the purchase funnel may start with a display ad. Email and search tactics then follow as consumers get closer to making a purchase decision. In addition, study author Sucharita Mulpuru acknowledges that social media sharing may increase sales in some sectors but that this channel may be too unreliable for retailers to count on.[Source: Mulpuru, Sucharita et al. Purchase Path of Online Buyers. Forrester.com. Spring 2011. Web. 23 May 2011]