What is the online buying process really like?

Social media democratizes fashion - no longer do you have to be in with the mainstream fashion media to get eyes on your products. It is the perfect eCommerce tool because it gives you a stage, and, if you know how to use it, you can reach your audience.

But 25 million Instagram business accounts worldwide were documented in November 2017. And this is up from 15 million back in July of 2017.

As we’ve seen over the last few years, this is a dynamic social selling landscape, but it’s also ruthless. Brands recognize that they’re competing with every other company that sells their products online, and social media is fine with leaving some behind.

So what is the eCommerce process today?

What happens when a consumer - let’s call her Helena - wakes up in the morning without a product and ends the day with it?

Where does Helena go - and how can brands be there?

What makes Helena want to buy something - and how can brands be on that track before she is?

We keep asking this forever question, but let’s find an answer: What is the online buying process really like?

First steps

We’ve heard it before. Brands don’t sell products, people sell products.

But when you’re selling online, where’s the person? Brands, especially those online, are more like the idea of a person - or, in other words, not really a person at all.

Helena, however, is a real person. A very smart, real person, who is intuitive and scrappy. She floats through the world with a refined determination, and, there’s no doubting, she will find what she wants.

What is the online buying process really like?

Credit: Helena Farhi

So when she wakes up this morning, pulls on a pair of jeans, and finds that, even after a good wash (hang dry obviously), her old pair is sagging her figure away, she realizes it’s time to buy new ones.

What is the first thing that Helena does?

This I honestly can’t tell you because, for all we know, the first thing Helena does is eat granola and watch reruns of Friends.

But what we do know is what we want that first thing to be. We want her to imagine herself in a new pair of jeans, and then realize that those jeans are made by you.

Easier said than done, of course. But this is where the online buying process begins.

Make it authentic

“We buy things, not because of what they do, but because of what they mean.” - Michael Solomon

Consumer Behavior Psychologist, Michael Solomon, wrote the book on the study of shopping . His writing is often the first on the reading list of consumer psychology courses, and, talking to him, you can sense how much he values how consumers think.

Solomon shares his expertise, “Consumers, especially younger ones, are very interested in authenticity; they want to know the back-story. Anything that makes the product something more than just what they put in their refrigerator or what have you.”

This isn’t new information - authenticity is a constant struggle. Plus, it’s not just about showing off an authentic personality but developing one through your products. Then, you’re expected to share that authentic personality through a screen and hope that people care.

So where can a brand start?

According to Solomon, brands need to anchor themselves into the lives of their consumers with, you guessed it, an authentic story. Whether it’s about the founders, the product, or the mission, when a brand presents something concrete for buyers like Helena to believe in, you’ve achieved the first step in the process.

DENHAM The Jeanmaker is a Dutch brand founded by Jason Denham that aims to get their premium jeans from the canals of Amsterdam to the hearts of their clients. Following this model of authenticity, they start with their story, which is meticulously stitched 691 times into each pair of pants that they produce.

What is the online buying process really like?

Credit: DENHAM Website

The scissors are the story that Jason Denham tells with his brand. As a collector of vintage scissors (you can even see some of them on the website), Jason didn’t hesitate for a second to brand DENHAM products with the first pair of scissors he purchased while at university in the 1970s.

“There are a lot of little stories in every part of our jeans and products,” says DENHAM eCommerce Manager, Mikael Torres.

“It’s a really close commitment to the person. And what we try to do is get the brand to be known through these stories.”

What is the online buying process really like?

Credit: Pixabay

More than getting people to hear about the brand, eCommerce should focus on getting people to hear about the story of the brand - until they become one in the same.

As Solomon asserts, “Awareness isn’t going to lead to purchase. Awareness leads to a desire to know more about it. Then you have to start educating people about what makes your brand unique, and that’s where storytelling comes in.”

Let’s check back in with our consumer, Helena. Maybe she’s heard of DENHAM, as she’s seen a friend wearing them or she saw an ad while scrolling on Instagram. Is that enough to get her brain on the brand before it has moved onto another episode of Friends?

In most cases, I would say no. And even if a brand does come to mind, it’s possibly fleeting.

So that brings us to our next step. What Solomon defines as “looking beneath the surface to see the symbolic meanings of brands, and how people use them to create an identity for themselves.”

Get the consumer to identify.

I don’t necessarily think of myself as someone who identifies with specific brands, but the second you ask me what kind of shampoo I use, I’m sure to transform into a walking advertisement for Lush beauty products.

What is the online buying process really like?

Credit: Lush Cosmetics Instagram

That brand has leveraged me to identify with them so hard, that I will honestly talk about it to anyone who will let me. And this is coming from someone who isn’t actively aware that they identify with brands; imagine the potential of people who shamelessly identify with and promote brands.

When a brand can get their consumers to feel my Lush level of commitment to them, they are on their way to becoming a lasting company in the eCommerce market.

The question becomes, after you’ve injected your brand with authentic stories, how do you then get people to identify with them?

Let’s go back to Lush for just a second (I promise). When I imagine walking into a Lush store or entering the website, I feel fresh and rejuvenated. I feel like I’m taking care of my skin & hair, that I know exactly what is going into my products as well as what they do, and that I’m supporting a little bit of good in the world.

That’s a lot of excitement for shampoo and face wash.

But they do put in a lot of hard eCommerce work: they tell stories about essential oils on their website, they respond directly to questions and comments on Instagram with personalized information, and they show images of real people using their products.

It’s enough to make me want to join in by buying a face mask and posting a spa day photo.

This is where strategies like User Generated Content (UGC), Instagram giveaways, or personalization boost the customer’s brand excitement and solidify their desire to participate. Or, as our expert Solomon says, “Make it, not just about functionality, but about what the brand means. And how that adds to a person’s identity.”

DENHAM has recently started integrating customer content into their online store, and has already seen results since. By encouraging use of #DENHAM on their website, newsletters, and other sources, they hope to create a community of loyal customers who identify with their cool Dutch style.

Torres adds, “We like to see our customers feeling a part of our family - that’s what we hope the process is.”

Solomon continues, “The reason UGC is successful and so important now is that there’s a recognition that most people don’t want just a canned advertising message. But if you give them content that is consistent with what they’re doing anyway they’ll be very receptive to that.” He pauses, then adds, “And people value something more if they’ve participated in creating it.”

So our consumer Helena is now aware of the brand story. She’s seen other people identify with the brand, which makes her want to identify with it. She’s starting to feel excited about buying a pair of DENHAM jeans.

But maybe a few jeans brands have done this as well. It’s like obsessing over puffy jackets from Patagonia and North Face at the same time.

So what is the last step to this online buying process?

Giving information before they ask for it

The main difference in how consumers shop today, according to our consumer psychology expert, is the amount of information that people look for, or even expect, before they go out to buy a product.

Solomon explains, “Brands need to get involved in the selection process much earlier than they normally would. They can’t just wait for people to show up on the website and think they’re going to sell them something at that moment.”

Think about it: with so many products available within one category, consumers may take their time to make the right choice. As others disclose more about their products, shoppers will start to expect that from brands. The more information you can give upfront, the more comfortable people will be buying your product online.

Torres of DENHAM says, “In general online, you see that more and more people are comparing brands. If they look for jeans, then they compare Levis, G-star, DENHAM, and they try to understand where they come from, how they’re made, what kind of material, is it sustainable or not, what is the difference of price, what are the reviews. People can spend a lot of time.”

So what can brands do to make sure that their product comes out on top?

“We give a really long product description. We know it’s long; we know we have a lot of content in there, but it’s on purpose,” continues Torres. “The customers that are really trying to make a decision will start reading that, and they will see that there really is a lot of work behind our jeans.”

Completing the process

After reviewing all of her options, our consumer, Helena, has finally decided on a product. She’s going to get herself a pair of Sharp Skinny Fit Jeans from DENHAM because she identifies with the brand image, she’s convinced that the product is well made, and she’s thrilled with the return & repair policy, in case it doesn’t work out.

What is the online buying process really like?

Credit: DENHAM Website

Now, it’s all about making sure that the actual buying process is seamless. Once customers have spent all of this time making the choice, you want to guarantee convenience of purchase. This is where it’s crucial to make sure that your eCommerce store is simple and fun to navigate.

And thus, the online buying process is complete. It’s a slow burn practice, but, in the end, what you come out with is happy customers who value your product and are choosing to be a part of your brand’s family. And, if they truly feel welcome, they’ll most likely come back or tell others to join as well.

Like DENHAM, brands can’t solely focus on making a sale. They have to be willing to put in the groundwork to convert buyers into family.

“We get people to, first, get to know the brand, get excited, go to the website, and start learning about the brand: from what we do, what we like, and how we develop our products,” explains Torres. “We try to excite people even if they don’t buy.”

And hopefully, it’s enough to get Helena to take a snapshot of herself in her brand new jeans, post it on Instagram with their hashtag, and continue the circle of engagement.

Written by Charlie Brook. Charlie Brook is the Content Marketing Associate at Photoslurp. Specialized in turning data into content, she works with both the written word and video production. She can be found in sunny Barcelona and reached at Charlie@photoslurp.com.

Photoslurp is a visual commerce and marketing platform that helps brands increase conversions and engagement by integrating User Generated Content from social media into various points of their shopping journey. Working with over 200 brands globally, Photoslurp is the European visual commerce leader bringing 'shoppable' content, media rights management, image recognition and more to brands across the globe.

Header image via Pexels


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