The overwhelming complexity of the Internet has created a new impetus for consumers to take control of their experience, as well as given them the resources to do so. Now that companies and customers are on equal footing, marketers are seeking a more collaborative style of engagement. New retail analytics platforms, and particularly those that manage and process big data, offer the means to do that successfully.

The Problem of Distraction

The verdict is in: our attention spans are shrinking.

All across the Internet, experts agree that people are steadily losing their ability to concentrate for any length of time. There are just too many interesting things in the world, and not enough time to consume them all.

People often write disparagingly about this trend, as if our dwindling attention span were a moral failure. But ignoring things is an important skill. The Internet is a deluge of information: imagine if we didn’t filter. We’d drown!

Empowering the Consumer

The issue of attention is crucial for manufacturers, who must work harder than ever to get their products noticed.

It can get messy. All the “One Simple Trick” ads and semi-obscene pop-ups show what happens when the competition for attention gets out of control.

Attention is a precious resource. People are smart to limit their focus. In the online world, it’s a skill to turn our attention on and off. The cacophony of the Internet — so full of the genius and nonsense — is just making us better and better at flicking that switch.

This shift represents an incredible sea change in the relationship between customers and companies. More than ever, consumers are controlling what they experience and managing what they see.

The opportunity exists for retailers and vendors to leverage that sense of empowerment by collaborating with shoppers on their purchasing decisions. They do that by making the Internet an easier place for meaningful engagement.

The Path to Purchase

Before the Internet, there were fewer media hubs, and the path that shoppers followed to making a purchase was easier to map. Most people discovered products through the same basic avenues, where advertisers could pay for placement.

The path to purchase is much, much more complicated now. A noticed “Like” on Facebook may lead to a Google search, or a décor idea on Pinterest might then lead to a retailer website. As business and marketing blogger Brian Vellume wrote:

“In a digitally networked world, the narrative is not as simple. In 2012, Google and Shopper Sciences did a study of the purchase journey of 3,000 different customers in tech, CPG, automotive, and finance, and literally found 3,000 different paths to purchase.”

To put it more simply: There are as many paths to purchase as there are people purchasing products.

What This Means for Vendors

The complexity of the path to purchase makes it increasingly difficult for vendors to understand (and influence) the performance of their lines across the sales cycle.

Shoppers are real people with busy lives and complex needs. And they spend much of their real lives online, carrying it in their pockets as they go about their days.

There are over 1.2 billion people accessing the web from their mobile devices, and 91% of that access is for social purposes.

Consumers are armed with information at their fingertips to drive purchasing behaviours in largely immeasurable ways. One of the most important ways that people exercise their power in the online space is through research.

– 68% of smartphone owners use it to research products.
– 80% of respondents said they used their mobile in-store to enhance their shopping experience.
– 82% of shoppers research before buying.

If there’s a cheaper option two blocks over, or online, the chances are pretty good that the shopper is going to find out about it and choose that option.

Instead of trying to hijack the Internet experience, vendors should seek to enrich and support a customer’s desire to be well-informed. Don’t try to script the buyer’s journey; instead, facilitate it.

A New Level of Collaboration

The partnership between brands and consumers is like any other partnership: it takes time and trust. Advertisers need to experiment and explore new ways of interacting with potential customers in the online realm, in order to find where they can find the best and most authentic opportunity for engagement.

Experimentation is risky. Our brilliant ideas don’t always work, and that means losing money. But thankfully, the Internet also creates the opportunity for companies to evaluate the significance of their efforts in real-time.

Every exchange and interaction online leaves an information trail, the basis of Big Data. A new generation of intelligence software is arming vendors and retailers alike with the power to analyze and interpret that data as it comes in.

Just as information-awareness is empowering the consumer, it also empowers companies. By using retail analytics, they can quickly recognize the effects of their marketing spend and respond flexibly to changes.

But recognizing those changes requires broad access to information. Data acquired at the retail level should be integrated with data acquired by vendors across platforms. The most rewarding shopper-marketing solutions demand comprehensive consumer data, which is only available through extensive collaboration between retailers and manufacturers.

Big Data may sound abstract and detached, but it’s actually the basis of a vital, organic relationship between vendors, retailers and consumers.

Your Turn

How is your company helping customers find the information they need? What are you doing to make the path to purchase easier, clearer, and safer? How do you think an empowered consumer will benefit your company?

Share your thoughts and questions in the comments section below, and don’t forget to share this post if you found it valuable.

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