How Your Customers are Using Digital Shopping Tools and Why You Should Care



In our ever-increasing efforts to build connections and foster relationships with our customers, there’s often an area of discussion that gets left out: the tools they use to facilitate the process.

The truth is, whether it’s a mobile app, a social recommendation or “old-fashioned” printable coupons, today’s social shopping tools cut out a great deal of the customer interaction and engagement process.

Latest study has shown how customers are using digital shopping tools, and what business owners need to do to play a significant role in their buying decisions. Here are some of their most interesting findings (and how you can leverage them for your own business).

Targeted, Individualized Tools Are Being Used More Often

Customers are shifting away from basic search tools to more focused social and mobile shopping tools

Compared to the previous year, more users relied heavily on search, text alerts and coupons (both mobile and load-to-cart types). From the chart above, you can see retailer sites and printable coupons still reign supreme. However, in the span of a year, there’s a much greater emphasis on using mobile and social to guide buying decisions. Shoppers may very well visit a retailer’s page to browse products, yet it may take to the social web or mobile to ask friends or family for their recommendations and few things cement a buying decision more than a personal recommendation from someone the user trusts.

Social Media Encourages Customers to Try New Things

Retailer’s and brand’s social pages encourage two-way communication

Among the customers that regularly tried new products, the retailer’s social page (followed by the brand’s social page) had the biggest influence on their shopping experience. For brands, this represents an ideal opportunity to get valuable feedback and encourage greater adoption, particularly from products with widespread appeal.

In these cases, the retailer’s website actually ranked dead last in terms of influence, meaning keeping social networks up to date, gathering positive feedback and recommendations, and answering customers’ questions are crucial to improving brand and product perception.

Which Tools Have the Most Influence?

An example of how the shopping landscape can change in a little over a year

This is perhaps one of the most important questions, since it’s easy for businesses to see these charts and say “well of course social media influences customers, that’s why it’s called social!” However, take a look at the bigger picture here comparing results from 2013 to 2014. Notice how much more of a role things like printable coupons, brand texts and shopping apps had on influencing consumers.

Even more telling, categories that may not have even existed in prior years (mobile payments, for instance) seems to play a much more significant role the customer’s ultimate decision making process than anyone could have anticipated.

Customers are Spending on Social Media in Unexpected Way

It’s easy to see that retailer and brand pages on social media are playing a pivotal role in the online shopping experience, but as countless other reports have told us time and time again – “don’t put much stock in social media shopping – people don’t come to Facebook, Twitter, etc. to shop.” So how do some brands manage to thrive despite the relatively poor conversion rate when it comes to social media and e-commerce?

They understand that customers are looking for a social experience. They know that they’ll be clicking on quizzes and browsing photo albums and laughing at cat videos. And rather than trying to steer them away from an entertainment mindset and more toward a shopping mindset, these online stores do things a bit differently. They integrate themselves as more of a projection of the customer’s lifestyle rather than a product they can shop for.

Take a look at major brands like Mountain Dew, Doritos, Apple and so forth to see just how much they have shifted from “drink, chips, technology” companies to brands for “gamers, sports fans, wealthy techies”.

How to Leverage These Findings to Improve Your Business

It’s one thing to look at these charts and graphs and think that the findings only apply to big business – nothing could be further from the truth. Let’s take a closer look at the recommended ways to use what we’ve learned in our day-to-day social media interactions:

1. Take Advantage of “Chunked” Shopping Behavior

The Epsilon study found that much of the customer’s shopping behavior, particularly with regard to mobile apps, was divided into chunks. For example, a shopper could get your email and act on it, maybe even adding a product to the cart – but they may not come back to it days, or even weeks later.

Of course, this opens up the opportunity for a competitor to offer a better deal or for the prospective customer to comparison shop, so marketers need to be more eagle-eyed than ever to capture the customer as they “chunk-browse” and encourage greater loyalty. Incentive programs, shopping cart abandonment follow-ups, and retargeting methods can all play a crucial role in getting their attention focused back on the action you want them to take.

2. Acknowledge the Shopper’s Journey

The report also encourages business owners to envision the shopper as someone that’s on a journey rather than a straight path. A journey has multiple forks, interactions, and maybe even a few obstacles along the way. Businesses who understand and anticipate this with relevant messaging at every stage in the buying journey will fare far better than those who continue thinking of social shopping as a one-time experience for their customers.

3. Encourage Seamless Transitions Between Channels

Finally, the findings show that despite their widespread adoption and use, tools are not a replacement for human interaction. Although many of them are replacing typical customer engagement tasks, it’s still vital that your message remain consistent, and that the tool acts as a vehicle to propel the sale, not a shiny object that’s “nice to have” but provides no real value to the customer. By leveraging a variety of social media and shopping tools that offer helpful benefits to the customer across all major channels, you’re sending the message that you’re in tune with what shoppers want, and you’re working to ensure a flawless shopping experience from the very first click.