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When The Path To Purchase Follows Consumers Home

Purch, a content and media development company, recently partnered with comScore to take a closer look at how consumers purchase electronics online. Those shoppers constitute a highly coveted demographic, with large potential yield for eCommerce purveyors dealing in electronic equipment, which is being replaced at a quick clip by the next greatest, biggest and highest resolution model.

The path-to-purchase study looked at 3,000 consumers in the U.S. from May–July 2015 and focused on 11 devices, including tablets, mobile devices, laptops, TVs, fitness trackers and smartwatches, among others. Some of what the survey found fit common assumptions: Apple was the top brand purchased at 23 percent; Amazon was a top seller by both dollars spent and total volume of items; and there is a somewhat lengthy discovery and research period built into the path to purchasing electronics online.

However, what was unexpected was a statistic around consumer engagement with advertisements for electronics. According to the survey, more than 52 percent of ad impressions came post-purchase. Yes, you read that correctly. The highest percentage of impressions (26) of any date range came eight to 30 days after a purchase had already been made, and another 10 percent of impressions were scored 30-plus days after a purchase had been made. And among all the product categories monitored, mobile phones and cameras had the highest percentage of ad impressions post-purchase, with 54 percent and 64 percent (!), respectively.

Content_Timing_purchImage credit: Purch

So, what gives? Surely something is out of whack here. The retargeting algorithms used by advertisers must be wildly misfiring. We’ve all fallen victim to the irksome phenomenon, where you buy something online only to be followed around the Internet with annoying popups, sidebars and banner ads promoting the item that YOU ALREADY BOUGHT. It’s enough to drive you insane. Even worse? Retargeting ruined Christmas for more than a few gift recipients by displaying ads to their loved ones who were browsing the Web from the same IP address too close to the big holiday reveal, as Variety reported recently.

That’s not the way these “intelligent” ads are supposed to work. Improper retargeting practices account for more of many retailers’ marketing budgets than they may realize, and it’s easily avoidable. According to RetailWire and research from InSkin Media and RAPP Media, only 10 percent of consumers surveyed in the U.K. said they were more likely to buy something after seeing the same ad served across multiple sites. While 53 percent find initial ads “interesting and useful,” increased exposure has a decidedly negative effect. After seeing the same ad five times, consumers begin to see it as “annoying.” If they see the same ad 10 times, their annoyance turns to anger. Fifty-five percent of consumers say they have been put off from making a purchase because of retargeting activity.

“It’s a fine line to tread as brands potentially lose control through a perfect storm of increased automated buying and the specter of consumer cookie deletion,” Paul Phillips, RAPP’s head of media strategy, said in a statement. “Marketers and planners are negligent if they don’t devote more careful planning around frequency caps and other contextual filters.”

In fact, solving the retargeting post-purchase problem is fairly easy, according to Crush Campaigns; by placing what is called a burn pixel on the thank you page of a checkout flow, eRetailers can essentially remove cookies from the desired user and prevent them from seeing unnecessary ads for items they’ve already purchased.

So, why so much post-purchase ad exposure?

Before we jump to too many conclusions and conveniently blame the issue on lazy advertisers, another interesting piece of information from the survey is worth mentioning: Search activity, which heats up a month before purchase, also continues to be active for a month after purchase. What is going on? We have a theory of our own, and it involves buyer’s remorse.

In taking a deep dive into the phenomenon of buyer’s remorse, ConversionXL points out that the path to purchase absolutely also includes the post-purchase relationship.

Post-purchase rationalization — often known as “Buyer’s Stockholm Syndrome,” the outlet explains — lends to a consumer who has made a purchase somewhat fervently, reading about the item online in an effort to assuage his or her nagging concerns that he or she might have bought the wrong product, spent too much money on it, didn’t buy it from the right merchant or made a compromise in order to facilitate the purchase … and on and on.

That 26 percent peak in content consumption by shoppers eight to 30 days after purchase that the Purch study bore out, therefore, cannot be attributed solely to passive engagement with misdirected advertising. Rather, it’s likely that a significant portion of that consumption is being initiated by the consumers as they seek to rationalize their purchase.

The good news for retailers that are worried that post-purchase rationalization could lead to an influx in returns is the fact that Stockholm Syndrome, by definition, manifests when the “captive” (in this case, the consumer) develops positive feelings towards his or her “captors” (in this case, the expensive LCD TV he or she bought or what have you). And, unlike the case of Patty Hearst picking up a gun to fight alongside the Symbionese Liberation Army, retailers likely don’t have to worry about having had a hand in any type of long-lasting psychological disorders befalling the consumer.

As ConversionXL explains, post-purchase rationalization is more likely to win out over buyer’s remorse. And even though the path to purchase may have unexpectedly followed the consumer home, everybody ends up happy (more or less).

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