Consumers on Board: how to copilot the multichannel journey

New departures: the digital purchasing journey

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We are all researchers now.

Digital has given the consumer more information, and made buying a process of much more proactive decision making.

EY Consumers on Board: Digital consumers can usefully be divided into three behavioral groups



The digitization of the purchasing journey varies by market, but is significant in all those we looked at — and this importance will only grow.

EY Consumers on Board: The purchasing journey goes digital

A watershed was reached last year when smartphone sales rose 42% to 968 million units1, for the first time surpassing sales of less sophisticated feature phones. With mobile and other technology at their fingertips, customers have the power to apply pressure and make more informed choices.

The world has 2.7 billion internet users.2 These are your customers, they increasingly consider themselves adept at online research, and they have strong ideas about what they want.

A preference for shopping in store is more pronounced in mature markets. This may be because there is less choice of easily accessible, sufficiently attractive physical stores in some developing markets, or it may be that organizations in emerging markets are prioritizing investment in technology.

Indian and Chinese internet users lead the way in digital consumer share across markets, while more mature markets — Switzerland, Belgium, Austria and the USA — have shares well below the global average.

Cultural preferences, such as North America’s fondness for the shopping mall, also have a bearing, as does the excellence of certain retailers. It is easy, for example, to buy Apple products online, but consumers still flock to Apple stores.

The quality of the retail environment, high standard of advice, the opportunity to “try before you buy” and the delivery of an enjoyable and consistent brand experience all add up to an attractive proposition. Even businesses built around digital products can exploit multichannel to their advantage.

It’s important to qualify some of our findings. In emerging markets a significant part of the population currently still has no access to the internet, but online penetration is increasing rapidly, for example, in terms of numbers of users, China already has more internet users than the whole of Europe.

The importance of word of mouth cannot be overstated. Buyers are influenced by online and offline recommendation. They take the opinions of their friends, family and colleagues very seriously, and will turn to reputable review websites, such as TripAdvisor and Epinions, for objective opinions.

Serious consideration should be given to the importance of such online recommendation — and its unwelcome flip side, criticism.

Companies need to invest in automated web analytics technology that enables swift analysis. Integrated into the business, this allows a proactive response that can limit potential lost sales and reputational damage.

Social media is making it much easier for companies and consumers to contact each other. Consumers see social media as an open window that allows them to talk to their favorite brands about anything — from positive, engaging experiences to complaints, employment opportunities, investor requests and much more.

EY Consumers on Board: Consumer feedback on social media

Clearly, this presents both opportunities and threats. Customers enjoying a positive social media interaction with a company will likely become more loyal, but a negative experience risks turning an advocate into a critic, with potential reputational damage.

The speed at which ideas emerge — and disappear — on social media has also significantly shortened the life span of cultural trends.

Consumer perception of social media is sometimes far from clear or consistent, reflecting the fact that it is still in a dynamic phase.

Consumers consider social media a good source of information, but are also aware that it is not always accurate. They also have concerns over the potential for data abuse, with skepticism at its highest in mature markets. The ease with which it is possible to buy bogus followers at a low cost from “click farms” has also fuelled consumer fears of being duped.

Compared with our 2012 findings, our latest research shows a rise in the number of people seeing social media as a new way of communicating dissatisfaction (on a scale of 1 to 10, this moved from 5.7 in 2012 to 6.0 in 2014), and a rise in those considering it a waste of time (increasing from 4.9 in 2012 to 5.4 in 2014).

Although word-of-mouth recommendation remains hugely important, the upswing in negativity toward social media can be explained by the growth of digital hypertaskers. These smart, versatile, digitally accomplished consumers question the quality and reliability of much of the information they find on social media.

To differentiate themselves in a crowded market and boost customer engagement, organizations are increasingly finding different ways to offer a more personalized and convenient service.

For example, to make life easier for the multichannel shopper, some have introduced “click and collect” services, allowing customers to pick up online purchases at offline locations, including lockers at shopping centers, warehouses and partner stores. This extends beyond major online-only firms such as Amazon and eBay, to traditional retailers like Carrefour, Leclerc and Colruyt. In France, there were 2,551 click and collect locations in June 2013, an increase of 455 in just six months.3

A new phase of multichannel purchasing is taking off.




1. Market Share Analysis: Mobile Phones, Worldwide, 4Q13 and 2013, Gartner, February 2014.
2. World Telecommunication/ICT Indicators database 2013, International Telecommunication Union (ITU), December 2013.
3. “Le succès du drive en quelques chiffres“, accessed 9 May 2014.

The purchasing journey goes digital


EY Consumers on Board: The purchasing journey goes digital ×


Consumer feedback on social media


EY Consumers on Board: Consumer feedback on social medi ×