Shopping vs. Buying Complexity – Draw a Map and Destroy All Obstacles


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Consumer Map

I recently started to look for a new set of golf clubs. As I traversed through all of the manufacturer websites, golf magazines, golf club reviews, golfing blogs, Twitter, and numerous Google searches, I realized that shopping for something has become more and more difficult. In fact, the complexity of making a purchase decision has by far surpassed the actual act of paying for and receiving the golf clubs. 

Unlike in 1985, when shopping and buying where one in the same and most often happened in one store with one sales person, 2010 is much different. Shopping and Buying are 2 very distinct processes that a consumer goes through, both of which need to be supported and nurtured. 

Here’s how I define shopping vs. buying:

Shopping - The process by which a person comes to a comfortable buying decision by weighing alternatives and how those alternatives match to their personal success criteria.

Buying The process by which a person pays money in exchange for certain goods or services after experiencing the shopping process.

By examining Shopping and Buying as two separate, yet connected, tactics, we will start to see that both entail their own level of complexity and require specific approaches to addressing those complexities. As I will explain next, the complexity trends for shopping & buying are actually going in the opposite directions both of which offer Marketers challenges that they have not had to address in the past.

The Trend

Buying vs. Shopping Complexity

As depicted in the graphic above, buying something is getting easier every day, but as the consumer ecosystem continues to grow and evolve, shopping is becoming exponentially more complex for many consumers. There are reasons for this movement but more importantly there are specific things marketers can do to help and guide consumers through the process.

I will walk through some of the techniques Marketers can use to leverage this trend, but first lets discuss what is causing this great shift in the first place.

What’s Driving This Shift?

Both the increase in shopping complexity and reduction in buying complexity over the past 10-15 years are related to two key drivers:

Information Overload = Higher Shopping Complexity

The incredible and continuous growth of information in the consumer ecosystem can intimidate most shoppers which can lead to a longer time to purchase or even churn out of the shopping process entirely. Depending on how savvy the shopper is, the complexity level of the shopping process can be discouraging for folks who don’t have the tools to handle the mountain of information available.

Some examples of the information available during the shopping process include:

  • Inner circle of friends and trusted advocates
  • 1000’s of blogs and on-line articles with hundred of comments
  • Periodicals & Consumer Reports
  • Product and Service reviews (i.e. Yelp, Amazon, iTunes Store)
  • Search and alerts
  • Used goods (i.e. Craigslist) or Auction (i.e. eBay) Portals
  • Social spaces and discussions (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, Forums)
  • Personalized on-line advertisements
  • Webinars, Tradeshows, Conferences, & Local Meetups
  • Price comparison websites & mobile applications
  • Email offers, newsletters, and television ads
  • Promotion/Offer Aggregators
  • Increase in lower cost competition and competing messaging

Innovation in Support of Buying = Lower Buying Complexity

Advances in “ease of purchase” capabilities have allowed consumers to purchase goods and services (i.e. engage in the buying process) quickly and efficiently through means that they prefer. The advances allow the consumer, who in some cases just went through a grueling shopping process, to execute on their purchase decision with little to no thought or distraction, both of which can derail a consumer’s purchase.

Some examples of this innovation include:

Harnessing the Trend 

Support the Shopping Process

With the upward trend in shopping complexity, it is important for Marketers to develop and leverage techniques that help consumers navigate through the fog and find their way to their ultimate buying destination. The goal should not be to try and fight the upward movement, since much of it is out of the marketer’s hands, but instead harness it to provide a set of fixed ropes that help steady consumers through their shopping process.

The following techniques can to be used by Marketers to harness the trend and develop the appropriate consumer shopping structure; a structure that over time can become a custom travel guide for consumers. 

Sign Posts

When information is bountiful to the point of being overwhelming, Consumers look for ways to filter the onslaught in order to glean the best from the useless. Sign posts give consumers direction to the best information regarding your product or services. Marketers should spend time looking for great reviews, blog posts, and forum discussions that speak to their products and deliberately point consumers to them. The sign posts can be placed on the front page of a company’s website, included in newsletters, or posted through social media channels.  It’s great to feed consumers product collateral, but it can be more powefulto use sign posts to guide consumers to other people who are truly engaged with your products and can support them in the shopping process.


Conversations about your product or your competitor’s product are happen every day. Good or bad, these conversations are shaping the buying decisions of the consumer ecosystem. It is becoming more and more important for Marketers to become engaged in these conversations and leverage this opportunity to drop what I like to call “bread crumbs”. These strategically placed interjections will create multiple entry points to you and help to lead prospective customers to your brand. A bread crumb could be a tip on a community discussion forum, a comment on a blog post, interactions with fans on a Facebook fan page, or a reply/retweet on Twitter. Whatever the approach, dropping these bread crumbs shows that your company is engaged in supporting consumers in the shopping process by giving them another avenue to find and engage with your brand. 

Here is a good post by Chris Brogan called “If you have an extra half hour“, that gives some good examples of how to drop breadcrumbs.


The sign post and bread crumb approaches focus on getting out of your company’s box and venturing into the consumer ecosystem. Building soapboxes is an approach that draws the consumer ecosystem to you by giving consumers a place to vent about, cheer for, support, or recommended changes to your product. As I wrote about a while back, Quick and Dirty Customer Feedback Solutions are freely available. Don’t dwell on the pros and cons of launching a soapbox. Instead, focus on the open and honest discussion you will be able to participate in with consumers which in turn will feed and support your ability to plant more sign posts and drop more bread crumbs. 

Here is a great example of how Pepsi used a soapbox to let consumers help launch their new flavor of Mountain Dew.

Grease the Buying Process Skids

As I mentioned earlier, the complexity of actually paying for something continues to drop. Whether clicking one button to make a purchase or scanning and paying for the power drill at the Home Depot, consumers are finding it easier to quickly make purchases once the shopping process has come to a close. 

The following represent ways Marketers can continue to reduce the complexity involved with the buying process by destroying all obstacles that could derail the final purchase at the 11th hour. 

Look & Listen

The concept here is simple. Listen to your customers while also looking at what other companies are doing to make the buying process easier for consumers. Start with some of the “ease of purchase” innovations I listed above or leverage your newly launched soapbox to survey your top customers to get their opinion on what will make things easier. Based on the feedback, take the next step and implement something. Whether it is PayPal integration or in store pickup, listening to the ecosystem will guide you towards what barriers to address and what approach is best for your future consumers.

Be Lean

When someone decides to buy something from you, the last thing they want is a complicated process and include 100 steps. This is the best way to deter someone from making a purchase. Avoid this by implementing a lean checkout process. The key is to minimize the information you request, minimize the steps required, and minimize anything that could distract the consumer from making the purchase. Once someone has made the purchase and is officially your customer, you will have plenty of time to do your up selling and cross selling. 

A real world example of a company whose buying process is far from lean is GoDaddy. If you have ever gone through buying a domain from them you will understand what I mean. The buying process is like going through a muddy, up-sell mine field. They force me to go through the extra step of checking my shopping cart to make sure it is not full of stuff I don’t want. This an example of an buying process obstacle that can frustrate perspective buyers so much that they may not follow through with the actual purchase. The process should be simple. Find a domain. Set up an account. Buy the domain with 1 click of a button. Done. Very Lean.


Though the first two concepts tie directly to innovation, I think it is important to put even more stress on it. As technology and the way consumers move through the ecosystem advances, it is essential that organizations continue to question their buying process and find new ways to make things more seamless. Though the integration of facial recognition software may not be at the top of the list, maybe allowing people to buy something without setting up an account or test driving your software for 60 days is. Continuously analyze your online and in store buying process, ask for feedback from your customers, understand where those barriers are, and knock them down one by one, over and over. 

Oh yeah. Please add PayPal to your accepted payment methods so people like me don’t have to run to find their wallet in the middle of the buying process. 🙂

My Journey Continues

Even though I no longer have to go a bank teller to get cash out or carry around my checkbook to make a purchase, I continue to wade slowly through the process of shopping for the best deal and for the set of golf clubs that are right for me. As I venture deeper into my shopping adventure, I am excited to find companies along the way who understand the complex world we shop & buy in and are doing their best to put up sign posts, leave me bread crumbs, provide a soapbox, and break down barriers that will get me to Shangri-La before the snow melts.

What does your shopping map look like and what buying obstacles have you blown up lately?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Dave Raffaele
Dave is the chief solution architect for Quaero, a CSG Solution. He works closely with our clients to understand their business problems and develop forward thinking solutions that help them navigate through the evolving and complex consumer ecosystem. A customer database expert with more than 12 years of experience in delivering data-driven marketing solutions, he is an advocate of social media and the art of being human.


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