The path to purchase has changed: Is your business ready?


Whether it’s drawing shoppers into the store, helping them find what they need, or getting them to the checkout, your visual communications strategy can make or break the customer’s path to purchase.

But what worked well just a couple of years ago does not meet the needs of how shoppers have been reconditioned over the pandemic. The entry point of the shopping experience is shifting to be digital-first with brick-and-mortar as the accompaniment. While many shoppers will not abandon brick-and-mortar, many of them are realigning where that experience falls in their buying journey.

To stay ahead, businesses need to understand how the path to purchase has changed and how their visuals should adapt.

Consumer behavior has changed for good

Before the pandemic, the longer a customer lingered in the store, the better. It increased the chances of a fuller cart and a larger sale.

As a result, businesses created on-site visual communications designed to increase dwell time. Yes, shoppers could find what they needed, but there were plenty of enticing displays encouraging them to slow down and take a look.

After COVID-19 hit, lingering was the last thing on most shoppers’ minds.

Masks, time limits, occupancy limits, and other COVID-19-related restrictions turned shopping into a tactical mission for many customers. Businesses rushed to configure pickup areas, drive-thru lanes, and social distancing requirements into their spaces. They also scrambled to set up the visual communications and signage that would help shoppers navigate this new and somewhat confusing way of buying.

Almost two years later, the new is becoming the normal.

How people shop has changed for good. To keep up, retailers need to purposefully plan their spaces — and the customer's path to purchase — to work with this new way of shopping.

A new path to purchase for today’s shopper

At a high level, the path to purchase directs shoppers through key store zones while meeting specific goals along the way:

  • Attract traffic: Intrigue customers and get them in the door.
  • Help customers navigate: Differentiate departments and guide shoppers to merchandise.
  • Educate and promote: Draw attention to featured items and encourage interaction.
  • Close the transaction: Deliver an efficient and convenient checkout process.
  • Support the purchase: Thank shoppers and make them feel great about their decision.

Those goals haven’t changed. But what and how retailers communicate to achieve these goals has. The new way of shopping has opened up exciting possibilities for visuals that engage and inform while helping customers navigate quickly and easily.

Let’s look more closely at these possibilities.

Attracting shoppers into the store

The path to purchase involves an important step — right through the front doors of the store.

However, stores sometimes waffle a bit when it comes to exterior signage, cutting everything but simple brand visuals from their budget to showcase a cleaner look (or simply to save costs).

But if your business has a prime location or shares a parking lot with others, a big message on your exterior highlighting something that’s exclusive, new, or on promotion can attract shoppers who hadn’t initially planned on visiting.

Speaking of parking lots, there are new elements stores need to consider when planning their signage — elements such as pickup spots.

Because these spots tend to be in a prime location, shoppers will be drawn toward them. But, if your visuals aren’t carefully thought out, customers may not realize it is a pickup space until they’ve already pulled in.

Now, they have to safely pull back out and find another spot — and they’re already aggravated before they even walk through the doors.

Questions to ask:
  • Do we have opportunities to attract shoppers who weren’t originally intending on visiting? What could we communicate that would draw people in?
  • Is the signage in our parking area and exterior so clear, even a first-time visitor could navigate easily? Can important navigational signage be easily seen while driving through the parking lot?

Helping shoppers find what they need

Remember, how people shopped two years ago is not how they shop today. Once they are in the door, your visual communications strategy needs to adjust.

A great opportunity is the in-store pickup area for your Buy Online Pickup in Store (BOPIS) customers. Click-and-collect sales more than doubled year-over-year, and they will continue to be a mainstay for consumers looking for speed and convenience.

Yes, the customer has already made their purchase online and is just coming in to get their items and go — but what if they saw an enticing promotional display just a few steps away? And then another one a few aisles down?

Placing attractive offers and promotions within eyeshot of your BOPIS pickup desk can act as a siren song, increasing the likelihood of an impulse buy.

Don’t focus on dwell time. Instead, optimize time spent.

Many shoppers are looking to quickly check off their lists. The easier your visuals make this for them, the better.

Then, they can use whatever remaining time they have allotted themselves to meander through the store en route to the checkout, looking at other items along the way.

Questions to ask:
  • According to our data, what are our most commonly purchased items — our staples, as it were? Does our visual communications make these items ridiculously easy to find? From those areas, where could the shopper go next?
  • Are our departments easy to find? Can a shopper walk through the door and easily see where they need to go?
  • Are our promotional items well marked and easy to locate? What visual communications could we put nearby to entice shoppers once they’ve found these items?
Don’t focus on dwell time. Instead, optimize time spent.”

Communicate, don’t clutter.

Where a lot of retailers make a mistake with signage is in thinking more is better. So, they cram their store full of lots of smaller signs. But the visual clutter winds up overwhelming and confusing the customer instead.

A better approach for today’s store environment is to be thoughtful and strategic, looking at the path to purchase through the eyes of the customer. Then, choose meaningful, helpful, and high-impact visual communications that make it easy for shoppers to find what they need.

Engaging and educating shoppers

Shoppers don’t simply walk into a store to buy an item. The entire in-store experience is incredibly important — and can lead to not just increased loyalty, but increased sales.

Themes

One great way to engage shoppers is by creating an inspirational experience. Theme bundles, for example, can help shoppers get everything they need quickly and inspire them to even add a few more items. Group together the kinds of things consumers tend to gear up for around the same time each year: New Year’s supplies, spring cleaning, BBQ season, beach gear, and so on.

The sky is the limit when it comes to these experiences: You could create a one-stop shop based around a holiday, a particular need (like getting your bike ready for the season) or even around certain consumer values, such as organic cleaning products.

Values

Speaking of values, it’s time to wear yours on your sleeve — or on your signage. Shoppers, especially younger ones, like to choose businesses whose values align with theirs.

During the pandemic, more than a quarter of shoppers tried a new brand for “purpose-driven” reasons, according to McKinsey. Whether those reasons were supporting local, increased sustainability, or a general “shares my values,” you don’t want to miss out on that share of wallet!

Take advantage of this golden opportunity to use signage not just for navigation or promotion, but to cement your brand image in a way that makes customers’ hearts smile. For example, if sustainability is one of your core values, don’t be shy about it — using your visual communications to share what’s meaningful to you as a brand is an excellent way to drive loyalty.

Education

And don’t forget about educating consumers. For instance, a finished space around store-brand products not only attracts attention, but it also provides a useful spot for information that may not fit on the packaging.

Another example? Something as simple as flat signage with a QR code (yes, they’re making a big comeback) can be a vital link in your omnichannel sales strategy, driving foot traffic to your social media, thought leadership posts, recipes, educational videos, or helpful shopping tools like room visualizers.

Questions to ask:
  • What are some groups of items that naturally belong together and that could be used for a bundled display to attract browsers? How can we make those bundles thematically cohesive and striking?
  • What are our core social values, and how can we use our visual communications to convey those values to our customers?
  • What opportunities do we have to educate shoppers and help them make more informed choices?

Ringing shoppers through — and bringing them back

Once the shopper is at the register, your visual communications can make the customer feel great about their purchase and eager to come back.

A common misstep stores make?

Trying to keep selling when the customer is already at the checkout.

Yes, there’s a place for well-placed impulse items, but in general, once the shopper is at checkout, the focus of your visual communications needs to change — from making the sale to making the customer want to come back again soon.

This is a great place to promote loyalty programs, upcoming promotions, community engagement, and messages of customer appreciation, leaving the customer feeling good about their purchase and your store in general.

Questions to ask:
  • At this step in the path, what is the customer’s goal? What do they not want?
  • What can our visual communications do to entice the customer to return again?
You might be amazed at the high-end impact that can be created from economical and lightweight materials, if put into the right hands.”

Path-to-purchase visuals for the new era

While shopping was already evolving, the past couple of years have transformed even the most mundane shopping trip.

And these changes aren’t going away anytime soon.

To provide an excellent customer experience and avoid losing traffic to online competition, stores need to implement high-impact visual communications that are not only attractive to the eye, but that also make it easier for the customer to:

  • Be attracted to the store — even from across the parking lot
  • Find what they want quickly and easily so they can then have time to browse on the way to checkout
  • Discover and learn about other items they might be interested in
  • Feel a sense of community
  • Have a great experience that makes them want to come back

Fortunately, there are smart ways to do this at scale: You might be amazed at the high-end impact that can be created from economical and lightweight materials, if put into the right hands, making it cost-effective and easy to replicate successful design concepts across your marketplace.


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