Today’s New Discovery Cycle: How the Digital Landscape Transformed How Consumers Learn About New Products

Business.com / Sales / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

See how today's digitally connected culture has dramatically changed the traditional product discovery cycle.

Back in the day, consumers learned about new products in a host of different ways. They:

  • Embarked on shopping excursions where they scoped out store aisles, searching for the right color, size, and price.
  • Chatted informally with family, friends, and neighbors about the products they used in their homes and their buying experiences.
  • Drove to different stores to compare prices among competing products.
  • Took in brand messaging stemming from the traditional advertising that surrounded them in print and broadcast media.

But consumers’ profound embrace of the digital landscape changed all that, and today, the product discovery cycle has moved online.

Now, consumers learn about emergent brands, products, and services through digital sources, including blogs, E-commerce reviews, websites, and social media platforms.

And with just one click they now gather up first-person insights on a new product or brand, do quick and easy price comparisons, and research product features and attributes.

Related Article: 7 Surprising Ways Online Reviews Have Transformed the Path to Purchase

So how did this transformation come about? Here are four key factors: 

The Rise of the Online Recommendation Culture

When the Social Media Movement debuted, Mom consumers became early adopters, immersing themselves in social media connectivity.

This digital adoption resulted in blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and now visual platforms such as Pinterest and Instagram, becoming the place where women consumers connected with one another to make friends, hear trusted recommendations, and gain a first-person perspective.

And while we’ve always lived in a “recommendation culture,” we now see how social media allows women to develop easily a network of trusted advisors and tap into them for their experiences and insights.

Online Influencers Reshape the Consumer Purchase Funnel

Another key factor in this transition proves to be how online influencers have upended the consumer purchasing funnel.

Typically, consumers can become aware of a new product, brand, or service through traditional media: TV, print, or radio, but once they move into consideration mode and begin to weigh their options, they move online to begin researching product attributes.

Ultimately, the purchase decision tipping point takes place when consumers see their research backed by word-of-mouth, E-commerce reviews, and online recommendations that shape and inform what they buy.

Online Reviews Emerged as Consumers’ Go-To Research Method

Today when consumers want to research a new product, they head over to E-commerce reviews, with 85 percent of women consumers saying they seek them out always/most of the time.

In fact, consumers check out reviews both for products they’ve never used (96 percent) as well as for products with which they’re familiar (78 percent).

While consumers are split 50/50 on whether or not they seek out reviews for all products or just in certain categories:

  • 91 percent check reviews for home electronics.
  • 88 percent seek reviews for tech spends.
  • 87 percent look for reviews when buying appliances.

Consumers also incorporate online reviews and research into their product discovery process, whether they start online or in-store.

In fact, 45 percent of consumers say they always/most of the time/often check out products in brick-and-mortar stores and then make the actual purchase online, while 38 percent always/most of the time/often check out products through online reviews and then make the actual purchase in-store.

Related Article: From Mall Madness to Sadness: Why Shopping Centers Will Soon Be Obsolete

How Different Generations Embrace Digital Discovery

Today, the digitalization of the consumer discovery cycle casts a wide net.

Millennials, who grew up surrounded by online technology and social media, prove to be one generation particularly suited for this updated product journey, but their overall purchasing path proves complex.

Product discovery for Millennials is anything but compressed. They look for opportunities to educate themselves by gathering facts, opinions, and bits of inspiration, and it all becomes entwined throughout the process.

Millennials absorb elements from the world around them into their winding purchasing journey, and they make decisions using information from a host of sources.

Eighty-three percent put a lot of thought into their purchases to ensure they represent the best choice.

While this discovery cycle may seem the province of multi-tasking Millennials, today’s 45+ Empty-Nester generation has also altered its discovery path.

In reality, Empty-Nesters have become as much a part of the social media landscape as their counterparts in other generations.

Instead of turning to print or TV ads for product inspiration, today they go online in search of reviews and recommendations.

Moreover, social media savvy Empty-Nesters also depend on authentic first-person reviews and storytelling to shape their purchasing decisions, and 77 percent follow brands on Facebook.

They want to stay in-the-know about upcoming promotions, and 46 percent follow brands on social media to learn about deals and promotions.

Making Today’s Product Discovery Cycle Work for Your Brand

So how can marketers further tune in to the evolving discovery cycle, and have it work effectively for them?

Change-Up Marketing Beliefs & Practices:

Often marketers have a defined way of thinking about their customer base and the ways in which they reach them.

Make sure you constantly evaluate the most effective ways to reach your customers, stay attuned to generational shifts, and evolve with changing practices and technology.

Understand the Online Review Culture:

With 92 percent of consumers saying they consider online reviews extremely/very important when making a purchase, E-commerce reviews have transformed the marketplace.

Know the role these E-commerce reviews now play for consumers, and encourage overall online engagement among your customers, cultivating reviews and building relationships.

Tap into the Power of Visuals:

From detailed product photos to images and videos capturing how a new product can fit into daily life, visuals play a key role in today’s new discovery cycle.

Related Article: What Makes a Successful Online Store?

Look for opportunities to create visually engaging online destinations that promote consumer interaction.

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