Woman deciding to buy online

Understanding the Online Buyer Process

When it comes to making purchases online, many business owners mistakenly believe that their customers purchase choices are sporadic and random. In fact, before making a purchase online, customers undergo a multi-step process that reaffirms their decision and helps convince them that they have made the correct choice.


This multistage process is most commonly referred to as the Online Buying Process. Understanding the motivations of customers at each stage in this process is essential when it comes to optimising your website and leveraging digital marketing practices. In this blog we explore the online buying process at greater depth, making it easier for you to understand the process and help you drive your online business.

Problem Identification

The very first stage in the online buying process is referred to as the problem identification phase and it is essentially that, the identification of a problem or issue that could be overcome by buying a product or service. In many cases the problem is clearly defined and specifies a want or need of that customer. E.g. “I need a bigger car” or “I want a new waterproof jacket.” The role of content marketing at this phase is massive, many customers may not have identified their problem yet, and scripted content that attracts and engages their attention can often kick start the buying process.


Information Search

Having identified their particular issues or pain point, customers subsequently begin to seek out information and research potential solutions to their problem. It is at this stage that the customers most desired solution becomes apparent, as they gather information. For instance, their initial search may be something like “waterproof jackets” and as they gather more information they begin to clearly identify their most desired solution and ultimately searching for something like “Ladies Helly Hansen Insulator Jackets”. Having a clear understanding of how customers motivations develop through this phase and optimising your search engine tactics to capitalise on such phases will drive your customer acquisition strategy and ultimately grow overall sales.


Evaluation of Alternatives Phase

Having clearly defined their particular solution, consumers move on to the evaluation of alternatives phase. Here they research a variety of potential solution providers, ultimately seeking out the most appropriate fit for them. Customers want to reaffirm that their decision to purchase with your company is the best decision. Having a strong understanding of your customer is key at this phase. Let’s face it, price is one of the most influential factors for B2C business and ensuring your price points are competitive is key to winning online sales. However, customers may have ulterior motivations, like the after sales service or delivery time, that could factor in the next phase – their purchase decision. The length of time a user spends at the evaluation of alternatives phase is proportional to the expected spend. Small spends can are often born off the back of a very short evaluation of alternatives. Much larger spends tend to be quite drawn out and multi session. In some cases, it isn’t surprising to see 10+ visits to your website before a consumer ultimately makes a purchase.


Purchase Decision

It seems counter intuitive to go through all that work and not make a purchase, but believe it or not, customers still walk away from sales at this stage. For example, external factors such as an unexpected expense or large bill may have eradicated the disposable budget which the customer may have put aside for said purchase. Perhaps the customer has forgotten the problem that prompted the initial buying process or feel like the issue has been resolved. Remarketing and email marketing can aid the purchase decision and ultimately convert customers.



Congratulations, we’ve got a sale.  Or have we? The purchase phase is the time when user has committed to making the purchase. They’ve done their research, evaluated alternative providers and decided that your business has come out on top. But is making a purchase on your website really as easy as it could be? Objectively test your purchase process. Keep it as clear and simple with as few steps as possible. Consider mobile users, and ensure the process is clear and easy for them also.


Post Purchase Evaluation

Even though the sale has been made, it doesn’t mean that the process has ended for the customer. In fact, your new customers further evaluate their decision to purchase with your company. Was your service or product as described? Were delivery times accurate? Were they billed correctly? All these and more are questions that could diminish customer loyalty in an instant, putting future purchases with your business in jeopardy. Following up with services, reviews and feedback from consumers, all offer customers the opportunity to have their say and share their experience. Leveraging customer loyalty schemes and ‘previous customer only sales promotions” can continually enhance your reputation and grow your online business.


Good luck with perfecting your online buying process and if you have any related questions don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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