The buying cycle as we know it today is considerably different to the buying cycle many businesses were used to just a few years ago.
This is both due to how the retail industry itself has changed and how the everyday customer has changed. As the diagram below indicates, we have moved from a buying cycle in which the seller/retailer was in control, to one that is ruled entirely by the customer.
(Image adapted from: Technoligence, LLC – Featured in Hubspots 25 Webpage Must Haves)
So what put the buyer in control?
Well long gone are the days when customers found businesses and products through listings in the Yellow Pages and ads in the back of newspapers. Today most buying cycles start with an online search (and in fact, 39% of online customers do come from search alone (Search Engine Journal)). The difference between those newspaper/yellow page ads and modern search, is that before, companies could control and present the information they wanted their potential customers to see. The could control where it appeared, how it appeared and what appeared around it. However today, customers have access to both brand controlled and brand uncontrolled content – and the latter can seriously impact sales.
The type of “brand uncontrolled” content referred to is things like peer reviews and social media discussions. There’s also the impact of comparison websites like Go Compare and Money Supermarket (to name but a few), which all serve to deliver more content about your company to your potential customers, whether you like it or not. This in turn has changed how the modern customer behaves from the customer of ten years ago. Today we are more informed than ever and as such we no longer want to be simply sold to, we want to be educated and schooled, we want products that give us value and improve our lives and that means disruptive advertising, brands singing their own praises and thin content frankly just won’t cut the mustard anymore.
Thanks to that primary change in control, we have also moved from a three step buying cycle to a four step buying cycle. The traditional, three step buying cycle originally progressed like this:
- Stimulus. Dad is watching a football game and sees an ad for digital cameras. He thinks, “That looks good.”
- Shelf (FMOT). He goes to his favorite electronics store, where he sees a terrific stand-up display for that same digital camera. The packaging is great. A young sales guy answers all his questions. He buys the camera.
- Experience (SMOT). Dad gets home and the camera records beautiful pictures of his kids, just as advertised. A happy ending. (Example credit: Zmot: Winning the Zero Moment of Truth, Google)
This three step cycle was a theory introduced to the world by The Wall Street Journal way back in 2005. Its two moments of truth were (rather logically) called the first moment of truth (FMOT), and the second moment of truth (SMOT). The first moment of truth comes when the consumer is presented with a choice of products to buy, in other words when you arrive at the point of sale. The second moment of truth comes after purchase and refers to the moment when the customer actually experiences a product.
Now, that buying cycle looks like this, with the addition of the ZMOT:
(Image adapted from Zeal Media)
The Zero Moment of Truth has been born out of today’s “always on” world. It is the moment that captures the point when a potential customer reads a review about your product or service online, sees a recommendation for it from their friend on social media or even gets their phone out in store to price compare a product with your competitors. It captures the change in control.
However, It’s not only control that has shifted the buying cycle into a new era, technology has also had an affect. Ten years ago there were very limited ways of buying things and perhaps even more limited ways of passing on your experience about them. Largely, buying was limited to mail order catalogues or going in store and spreading your experience largely came down to face to face conversation and the odd phone call. Today though we can make a purchase: in store, over the phone, on a desktop, via mobile and on a tablet, and we can spread the word through social media, instant messaging, tailor made review sites, by email and even blog commenting.
So now, one person’s experience (the second moment of truth) of dealing with a company can spread to hundreds, thousands and even millions of people, in just a matter of seconds, and thanks to the world wide web (and technology), everyone’s reach is now truly global.
So what does this new buying cycle mean for online retailers, eCommerce merchants and service providers?
The addition of the new zero moment of truth to the buying cycle means sellers today need to keep pace with their customers and be where those customer want, when they want, in the way they want. As such, it is no longer sufficient to just have a high street store, it’s not even sufficient to only have a desktop site, retailers now need to go mobile whether that’s via an app, a mobile site or a responsive website to really improve their user’s experience.
It is also vital, thanks to the transformation of the second moment of truth, to have an effective social media strategy in place so you can communicate your all important brand messages to your audiences. You need to be there to answer their questions and more important still be able to handle any negative reviews or complaints left behind. More and more customers are using social media channels as customer support and service platforms, often expecting brand responses in less than 3 hours and even less than one hour in some cases.
Essentially no business is now only a 9-5 local, instead every business is now a 24/7, global business.