How Digital Devices are Changing the Path to Purchase


We are all digital communicators. Yet a new SSI study on today’s digital citizens reveals distinct differences in how generations live their lives in a digital world and the impact of these changes on the consumer path to purchase. The study reports on three distinct digital generations:

1. Baby Boomers, or Digital Immigrants, who had to learn to be digital as adults

2. GenX, or Digital Pioneers, who grew up learning new technology as it came on the market

3. Millennials, or Digital Natives, who have never known anything else but a digital world

Generational differences were obvious in almost every aspect of the study. For example, 80% of Boomers said they keep in touch with friends online, a percentage that increases for the younger generations. One in three Millennials say that the only way they communicate with friends and family is online.

The difference between generations becomes even starker when we look at meeting new people. Only 4% of Boomers say the only way they meet new people is online, as opposed to 21% of Millennials. To a Boomer, Airbnb may just mean finding a bed and breakfast; to a Millennial, it’s a way to make a new friend.

Our practical life is carried out online as well. We do our grocery shopping online (30% of Boomers, 41% of Millennials) and our banking (over 80% in every generation). More and more aspects of our lives are becoming ‘contactless’ (entirely digital): contactless shopping, banking, even entertainment. Forty-two per cent of Boomers say they watch live sports online, as opposed to 58% of Millennials.

One-to-one communication is being replaced with one-to-many as we relentlessly share experiences and take in advice and opinions from other online users.

How do these changes impact the consumer path to purchase?

If we consider the path to purchase as having four distinct stages – information gathering, brand shortlisting, the purchase itself and post-purchase rationalising – results from the Digital Citizen Study show that mobile devices impact every stage.

When the purchase item is clothing, for example, the Web is a major source of information for every generation, but predominantly so for Millennials. Their means to access that information is largely mobile, with 72% of Millennials saying they use a mobile device to gather information. We can see the same pattern at each stage of the path to purchase.

What does this mean for retailers?

Increasingly, retailers are leveraging the power of mobile in the buying experience. For example, in the H&M clothing store in Times Square, New York, it is now possible to make a purchase directly from the changing-room. By understanding of how people reach out for opinions and affirmation of a purchase decision from friends via mobile devices while trying on clothes, it makes sense to close the timing gap between the consumer’s decision to buy and closing the sale. H&M’s changing room sales are in line with today’s digital behaviour – the purchase follows intense advice and opinion-sharing but the point of purchase is contactless (entirely digital) and immediate.

Retail is just one of many industries for which the path to purchase is being impacted by changing consumer habits and the move to mobile. There are huge challenges and huge opportunities for marketers to come to grips with the way generations communicate today and what that means for the consumer’s purchase journey.