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Brand discovery can happen at any moment. Consumers might be scrolling social media, searching the web, or walking down the high street when they come across a brand that meets their needs.
More than ever, shoppers are going online to explore products, find answers, and stay on top of trends. This has led to many forks in the customer buying journey and means brands must stay ahead of the many ways customers can find them.
Here are the places where brands must meet shoppers and how each of these channels fits into the modern buying journey.
The digital shelf has completely changed the way people shop. Consumers no longer rely on mail-order catalogs or in-store sales. Instead, the buying journey is baked into their existing online journeys — whether that’s via an ad that pops up in their Instagram feed or by comparing similar products on Google Shopping.
According to McKinsey & Company, 60% to 70% of shoppers use both online and offline methods while researching products. Shopify found that 59% of consumers browse items online first before buying them in-store (a process that has been dubbed “webrooming”), while Salesforce research showed more than three-quarters of shoppers have used multiple channels to start and complete a transaction.
The brands that build out an omnichannel strategy see success: Another McKinsey & Company report found that companies offering a “connected experience” across physical and digital touch points can increase revenue by 5% to 15%.
There are plenty of shopping channels to choose from — so how do you know where to focus your energy? In the “2024 Consumer Research” report, Salsify surveyed 2,700 participants from the U.S. and the U.K. to find out which channels they use the most.
Search engines are still the number one way shoppers discover new brands and products, with 66% heading straight for Google or Bing. Google’s increasingly refined algorithm means it’s getting easier for consumers to find what they’re looking for. This often forms the very start of the customer buying journey, so brands must pay attention to their ranking in search engine results pages (SERPs) and optimize their website.
Optimize your product pages with relevant keywords so that shoppers can find them in the search results. Look for other ranking opportunities too, like adding customer reviews, high-quality visuals, and multimedia elements to keep shoppers on-site for longer.
Forty-seven percent of the shoppers we surveyed use physical stores to research products. Despite the growth of online shopping, consumers still enjoy being able to see and touch a product in real life before they buy.
Brick-and-mortar stores provide a multi-sensory buying experience that can inform crucial decisions that can’t be made online — like how a product feels or if it’s an item of clothing, how it looks when it’s on.
Leverage the importance of your physical store in the customer buying journey by paying attention to every touch point. Think about what customers might experience when they walk into your store, how they navigate the shelves, and what the checkout process looks like.
You can also create a bridge between your physical and online stores with digital screens, scannable QR codes, or the ability to order out-of-stock products online.
Forty-seven percent of shoppers head straight to online marketplaces like Amazon and eBay to find products. These sites provide a one-stop shop for almost any item and are useful for consumers who are further through the sales cycle.
Whereas channels like TikTok and Instagram act more as discovery channels, marketplaces are for shoppers who are ready to buy — this makes them a critical channel for increasing conversions.
Ensure your products show up high in marketplace search results by including relevant keywords, creating engaging and descriptive product titles and descriptions, and populating product pages with multimedia content.
Thirty-seven percent of shoppers surveyed rely on recommendations from their nearest and dearest. Word-of-mouth marketing is still one of the most trusted sources of information even in a world of online reviews.
If you’re looking for a nourishing hair conditioner, you’re more likely to take the word of your best friend than a website whose main aim is to sell products.
Recommendations can push shoppers over the finish line and help them choose between two similar brands. Use the power of word-of-mouth by offering rewards to shoppers who refer friends and family or by making it easy for existing customers to share products with others.
Image Source: Surreal
Surreal rewards shoppers with discounts if they refer a friend.
It’s easier than ever for shoppers to find brands in their social media feeds. Platforms like TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube have all released social shopping features that let brands natively advertise their products.
Thirty-two percent of shoppers surveyed by Salsify use social media to discover new products, whether that’s through targeted ads or organic reach.
Social channels are often used in the discovery phase of the buying journey because shoppers don’t have to exert much effort — they’re automatically served relevant content as the algorithm learns their interests.
Use your social channels as an introduction to your brand and products. Share customer-generated content, behind-the-scenes footage, and engaging how-to content that reflects your brand’s personality.
Image Source: Glossier
Glossier’s TikTok account features a mix of influencer content, how-to videos, and product showcases.
Twenty-four percent of shoppers go straight to a brand website when they’re ready to buy. This is predominantly reserved for brands with huge, loyal customer bases, like Nike, Warby Parker, and Apple.
Brands that receive a lot of direct traffic are often those with huge audiences and “cult followings” because shoppers skip the comparison stage in the customer buying journey and head straight to their favorite brand website.
Your website should reflect your brand’s personality and differentiate you from the competition. This is where customers can discover your entire product catalog and sign up for your newsletter so they can continue to be nurtured. Use your website to create a familiar space, introduce shoppers to relevant products, and collect shopper contact information.
Image Source: Bombas
Shoppers are invited to share their email addresses in exchange for 20% off when they land on the Bombas website.
Twenty-one percent of shoppers use retail websites to explore products.
Sites like Macy’s and Target expose consumers to a wide range of brands at the same time, making it easy to run comparisons and find products they might not otherwise have discovered.
Partner with retail stores that share the same audience as your brand and bulk out your product descriptions with information that differentiates your brand and products from similar ones. Use relevant keywords and create an ongoing journey by sharing relevant product recommendations and cross-selling additional products to shoppers.
Image Source: Macy's
Macy’s spotlights different brands on the same page, including Sperry, Sun + Stone, and Style & Co.
Eighteen percent of shoppers turn to product review websites for brand inspiration. Sites like The New York Times’s Wirecutter column and CNET help shoppers find and compare products they might be interested in.
These kinds of sites are particularly important for shoppers who seek out expert advice before they make buying decisions.
Partner with journalists and writers to increase your chances of getting featured on review sites. If you do get featured, prepare your website for an influx of visitors.
Make sure shoppers have a cohesive experience when they move from the review site to yours by showcasing the listed product, offering a small discount for visitors that come via the review, and collecting shopper contact information.
Image Source: Wirecutter
The New York Times’s Wirecutter column regularly shares “best of” lists that feature different products and brands.
Eleven percent of shoppers rely on forums like Reddit to find products. This is one step down from asking trusted friends and family since this type of online forum is renowned for being truthful and genuine.
They can play a part in the early discovery phase as well as the comparison stage when shoppers are deciding between two or more products.
There isn’t much you can do to get mentioned on online forums bar create an enjoyable shopping experience. Forum users tend to favor brands that have excellent customer support and provide a more human experience.
Image Source: Reddit
Reddit users often turn to the platform to crowdsource opinions before they make a purchase.
As you can see, there are several different channels shoppers use to find products. But there’s more. Salsify research revealed there was a smaller selection of channels that, although not as popular as the channels above, still form part of the buying journey, including:
Taking an omnichannel approach to the customer journey is now a non-negotiable. With shoppers using a variety of channels to find new products and brands, it’s important to create a cohesive experience that bridges multiple platforms.
Each channel should slot seamlessly into the overall customer journey to help with product discovery, research, and decision-making.
Lizzie Davey (she/her) is a freelance writer and content strategist for ecommerce software brands. Her specialty is combining customer research with actionable copy to create pieces that people actually want to read. Over the past 10 years, she's worked with top industry brands to bring their vision to life and build...
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