Orientation is the first step in the customer journey. In no time at all, the initial search for goods or services has shifted focus from the physical shopping streets to online. Thanks to the Internet, consumers have become inured to the ‘push’ of mass media. They would much rather look for relevant information online themselves, responding to the ‘pull’. The consumer finds the retailer, now, instead of vice versa. Everything you need to know about products, services, stores, brands and service providers is at your fingertips. Reviews, social media, apps, blogs and vlogs provide the means to share and swap experiences with like-minded fellow shoppers.

It’s all personal

Old-school mailing campaigns – by email – are still popular, though. Retailers and consumers both love them, for their personalization and (from a retail point of view) excellent return on investment. What a good way to build on customer loyalty. Basing offers on prior purchases, wish lists or frequent searches is as easy as can be, thanks to big data.

Online orientation is the new normal

Roughly eight out of ten purchases now begin with online orientation. Physical stores can still provide consumer experiences that are harder to imitate online by displaying the look and feel of products. Onlife consumers have found a way around this and now often order products to examine and compare them at home. This type of orientation is nearly free — perhaps a small shipping fee — and less time-consuming than visiting several stores on the shopping street. No parking fee nor the annoying effect of items being out of stock, either.

ZMOT: say what?

We all do it: whip out our smartphone or tablet at the tiniest hint, to quickly look up some information. This is the moment of truth in the customer journey: that fractional second in which you make an implicit choice as to how and where you will look for something. In 2009, American

research firm IRI called this the zero-moment-of-truth (ZMOT). Procter & Gamble had already defined a consumer being on the verge of choosing a product as the first moment of truth, with the moment they start using a purchase as the second moment of truth. In 2011, Google decided to embrace the ZMOT in order to boost the use of smartphones in the orientation phase. A smart move, as it happens. Today, over 90 percent of all consumers uses their smartphones for shopping.

Search engines: stepping stones in customer journey

Smarter algorithms mean that online searches are better than ever. Your search history is used to offer you personalized, relevant information. You’re inadvertently feeding the databases with every single search word you type. Onlife consumers are being presented with the businesses that try hardest to be found. There is an entire industry devoted to search engine optimization (SEO). Small retailers have the most to gain from search engine marketing. According to the (web) stores who refuse to participate in the auction system preferred by the shopping platforms, SEO is essential. The alternative is for retailers to outbid each other to get their advert matched to a search word, commonly known as search engine advertising (SEA).

Consumers are smarter than you think

Large stores hoping to lure the consumer with a sponsored link, beware: this kind of ad may not be as cost-effective as you’d like. People prefer to follow the advice of others than of a retailer: positive customer reviews and ratings are highly sought after. For the same reason, tracking cookies are seen as irritants, because the ads are often outdated and the offers reflect an old online search. Retailers need to realise: they can’t outsmart the onlife consumer.

This is blog 31, based on my book ‘The end of online shopping. The future of retail in an always connected world’, published by Business Contact (Dutch/Flemish editions), Nubiz (English edition for UK and US, and Danish editions), WSCP Singapore (English edition for SE Asia), Post & Telecom Publishers Beijing (Chinese edition), Hoepli (Italian edition). The book will be published in Korean in December 2018 and is being translated in German, to be published in spring 2019. Additional translations are in preparation for 2019.