The Retail Path to Purchase

Understanding the journey a shopper/consumer (consciously or subconsciously) goes through on their path to buying a product is a helpful way to tailor marketing efforts and spending for the greatest impact. Companies should view shopper insights as potential actionable content. Using what we know about shopper behavior can help increase revenue per customer, reduce revenue attrition, and create more effective advertising and promotional budgets.

Retail Path to Purchase

The Five Stages of the Retail Path to Purchase Journey

Our research identified that there are five stages of the Retail Path to Purchase journey that shoppers take.

Pre-Store Experience

Customers go through 2-3 steps in this stage starting with the “shopping trigger” and pre-store research.

Our research identified that the two biggest shopping triggers are replacement and product effectiveness. Either the customer runs out of the item and they need a “refill” - or it breaks or doesn’t work the way they hoped it would. An estimated 60 percent of triggers qualify as worn out, ran out, or broken. Sorry to say, advertising falls far down the list of factors that impact a purchase, triggering only 15% or so of shoppers.

Family and friend recommendations largely influence pre-store research. This could be as simple as a conversation with a friend over lunch or asking friends and family on Facebook for recommendations. With the retail path to purchase, online research is not a major influence.

To Store

This stage of the path to purchase includes trip planning, retailer choice, the shopping trip and predetermination. While many companies think that getting customers to the right store is the major goal, they may not have much impact. Typically, customers shop at a place that’s convenient to them and are even willing to switch brands to accommodate the convenience factor.

Additionally, about 60 percent of the time, a customer will just add the product they need to their shopping list and purchase it when they go for other items. That’s not to say that customers don’t make special trips for a specific item, it just doesn’t happen as often.

It’s worth noting that about 80% of customers that search retailer websites (,, Home, etc.) make their purchase in store (20% will buy online). Great news for store managers, bad news for the e-commerce division.

In-Store Navigation

Once customers get to the store, they need to find the items on their shopping list. While most manufacturers worry about this, our research shows that few consumers do. What manufacturers SHOULD worry about is what the shoppers do when they find the product. Roughly ¾ of all customers will pick up an item and read the label before adding it to their cart, and the average consumer spends about 3 minutes in the aisle, which means there is enough time to study the items briefly. The “grab-n-go “routine companies worry about has very little impact on the overall shopping experience.

In-Store Selection

Surprisingly, our in-store research shows that shoppers are far less brand-loyal when they’re in the store than if they were making a purchase online. In fact, about 70 percent of shoppers” switched brands in the aisle.” Most of this brand-swapping relates to product quality and packaging content, not problems with availability or out-of-stock products. In-aisle merchandising also has a negligible effect on this stage.

While shoppers consider all of the following seven decision factors when making a purchase at a retailer location:

  • Product functionality
  • Price
  • Previous use
  • Type of product
  • Design/style
  • Brand
  • Retailer Selection/Merchandising

Our research found that Product Functionality was the #1 decision factr in the aisle, followed by price. Brand and Retailer merchandising were dead last in the decision sequence. In addition, our research showed that about 90 percent of customers will pay full price for something they want or need but they are not likely to overpay for a product.

Post-Store Experience

The post-store experience is far less eventful for retailers – but far more impactful for consumers. Individuals who purchase an item from a physical store are less likely to interact with a specific company regarding their purchase. The consumer will consider their satisfaction with a product, but are less likely to leave a review of the product or contact the company to give feedback if they purchased retail vs. online (which affects their loyalty to said product). Ease of use, durability, and product performance are the most important factors for customers once they take the product into their home.

The retail path to purchase is, for the most part, straightforward, and common sense, but focused changes at key moments of truth along the journey can result in major shifts in shopper behavior. In order to fully understand the end-to-end path to purchase, a mix of online and in-store research, both quantitative and qualitative is essential.

Gold Research Inc. has extensive experience in journey mapping, path-to-purchase research, deploying customer intercepts, in-store interviews, compliance audits, and mobile surveys for concept testing, marketing testing, satisfaction research, shopper insights, and mystery shopping. We can also act as an extension of your research team in helping with data processing, analysis, report development, and survey programming. Contact us at 1-800-549-7170 or send us an email for a free 30-minute consultation on this topic.