'Default' digital consumer: A path via welded worlds of online and offline

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How does a customer walk the path from desire to purchase? Increasingly, by wending her way through a welded world, where the online and offline engagement that brands offer are the links in her decision making chain.

Vikas Agnihotri, country director-Sales, Google India says that digital is a default option for all Indian consumers today. Hence not only must brands inhabit both online and offline worlds and guide the customer seamlessly from search to research and purchase, purchase data reveal that digital touch points need not always follow a linear path. 

For instance, even after a customer has chosen a brand at a retail store, the choice is validated or negated via an online touch point. Almost 40 per cent Indians look up information online when they are inside a store, 35 per cent offline shoppers use Google Search as a starting point of discovery and one in every six offline shoppers uses YouTube during the pre-purchase stage according to a Google study titled ‘Shopper Path-2-Purchase’ compiled by IPSOS. The study was conducted across seven different product categories including accessories, skin and baby-care, make up, home decor and computers and examines the influence of digital across different stages of an urban offline shopper’s journey.

While the online shopper is now a familiar and well-tracked data point by brands, the offline shoppers could be a missed opportunity if brands do not take note of the evolving behavioural patterns, the study hints. Agnihotri says, “The propensity to explore, assess, validate and assimilate information at convenience has made digital a default destination for the urban offline shopper. Irrespective of the gender or product category, Indian shoppers are very comfortable navigating through the numerous touch points,” he adds.

Many brands have acknowledged the shift. Most auto companies, from Maruti Suzuki to Hyundai plot a digital-physical customer journey. Speaking to Business Standard recently, Puneet Anand, group head-Marketing, Hyundai Motor said that they had mapped out 26 touch points in the journey of a customer, from the time he decides to buy a car to the time he rides out in it. 

Agnihotri says that on-the-go search is a habit across ages and budgets. Internet trawling for reviews, use cases and deals is de rigueur, not just for cars or washing machines, but also for products that come at a fraction of the price. For example, in the pre-purchase phase, 55 per cent of urban offline shoppers turn to digital in the case of home decor or baby care and 62 per cent in the case of men’s apparel, the report said.

Going online before any purchase has now become established custom. It is going to be a hard habit to break and brands must be prepared to provide the customer with relevant information and support at all touch points. Besides, the report reveals, customer engagement with the brand continues online ever after the purchase of the product, on social media where they post pictures, share experiences and reviews. Brands must be present wherever their consumers are, even after the deal is done. 

Managing risk

The internet is now an indelible part of the buying process. While this implies a huge host of advantages for consumers, it also comes with a bulging cache of risks. Ritesh Chopra, country director, Norton Life Lock, the American cyber security company says it is more important than ever for consumers to be aware of potential risks. 

It has just launched an India Digital Wellness Report that found that nearly 7 in 10 of responding consumers making financial transactions online are willing to save their personal bank details on websites they trust, while more than 8 in 10 think financial fraud and data theft are the biggest threat to online banking.

While 83 per cent of Indian respondents agree that fraud and data theft are the biggest threats to online banking, around 80 per cent of the respondents think online payments are always safe. In fact, 85 per cent of the Gen X consumers are even willing to save personal bank details on the websites they trust, despite knowing their personal information could be sold to data brokers.

Convenience and time-saving are the top motivators for making online transactions. City-based millennial buyers engage in more financial transactions online (98 per cent) than any other generation surveyed, closely followed by Gen X (97 per cent) and Gen Z (94 per cent). 

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