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Navigating the Non-linear Consumer Journey

By Wayne St. Amand | 4.15.19

E-commerce has radically transformed the retail industry over the past decade. In the US alone, e-commerce represents almost 10 percent of retail sales, and that number is expected to grow by nearly 15 percent every year.


But growing e-commerce sales don’t paint the whole picture. The typical customer journey involves a complex web of touchpoints, both online and offline. Consumers may start shopping in a store before making a purchase online, and vice versa.


This blend of digital and in-person interactions has made it more important – and much more difficult – to deliver coordinated and relevant brand experiences across channels and devices. Content, messages, and offers must resonate at each stage of the decision-making process. The challenge for retailers is being able to track each touchpoint in a customer’s journey, identify which interactions influenced their decision to buy, and use that insight to optimize spend and improve the consumer experience going forward.


Fortunately, most retailers already have access to the data necessary to evaluate the touchpoints a consumer encounters on their journey to purchase. They simply need a way to combine that data from disparate sources, analyze it to identify opportunities, and process it in near real-time to make immediate improvements.


Untangling complex consumer journeys

For years, retailers have relied on last-touch attribution to measure marketing performance, and for good reason – it’s incredibly simple to implement and use. But it also neglects to measure the contribution of supporting marketing channels and tactics earlier in the consumer journey that influenced a sale or other desired action. Even worse, it creates data silos that can lead marketers to double count success metrics, greatly inflating results.


To address these issues, many retailers are turning to multi-touch attribution for a more complete, people-based view of the consumer journey across digital and offline marketing channels. Multitouch attribution creates a privacy-compliant persistent ID that links a person to their devices and browsers for a deduplicated view of their cross-channel, multi-device journeys. More advanced solutions can even integrate offline addressable marketing touchpoints (e.g. direct mail, catalogs) and conversion events (e.g. in-store sales, call-center transactions) to produce even more accurate views of the consumer journey across all channels.


Turning insight into action

By creating a holistic view of the consumer journey, multitouch attribution ensures that credit is more accurately assigned to all the marketing touchpoints that influenced digital or offline sales – whether that’s an element of creative or a keyword choice. For retailers, this not only provides a deeper knowledge of campaign effectiveness, but also a view of how to uniquely tailor messages and tactics to suit specific target audiences. Retailers can then use these insights to allocate spend to the best performing channels and tactics and enhance the consumer experience.


Perhaps most important, retailers can make these adjustments quickly. Multitouch attribution models that are updated daily ensure that retailers are making decisions based on what’s happening in real time, today, versus last week or last month. With the most up-to-date performance metrics, retail marketers can not only eliminate waste, but also capitalize on opportunities to drive engagement and influence purchase decisions in the moment that matter.


In a world where consumers are jumping from online to offline channels and back again, retailers need to make the customer experience a priority to get ahead. While many retailers still rely on a last-touch approach for attribution, only a holistic view of the consumer journey reveals what’s really happening as a result of marketing activities. And with a clearer view of performance, marketers can allocate their budgets more effectively while making the consumer’s entire journey a better experience.

About the Author

Wayne St. Amand is head of marketing at Nielsen Marketing Effectiveness. He oversees product marketing strategy, demand generation, branding, PR, analyst relations, and sales enablement activities.


Wayne is a veteran marketing leader who has played a key role in one IPO and two $100+ million acquisitions. Prior to Visual IQ, he served as CMO of Brand Networks, a provider of cross-channel social media advertising software and services. He previously served as EVP of marketing at Crimson Hexagon, a provider of social media analytics software.


He has also led marketing for several high-growth data storage start-ups and held senior agency marketing roles with clients such as GE, HP, Motorola, and Texas Instruments.