Google Research: People decide what to buy in the middle of the purchase journey

Sunday, October 21

Google has conducted research on consumer behavior to find out how people decide what to buy. Also, the company’s specialists shared advice on how marketers can use this knowledge in practice.

How decisions are made

The path from the trigger to purchase decision-making is not a linear process, but a series of complex interactions, which in many cases are individual. In its research, Google teamed up with experts from The Behavioral Architects to collect customer reviews, observe purchases, and analyze user searches. The purpose of the experiment is to understand how people make purchasing decisions in an online environment of abundant choice and limitless information.  Researchers have found that humans cope with this through cognitive biases.

The purchase decision is made in several stages. At first, people look for information about products and brands and then compare them with other products in the same category. At the middle stage, consumers use 2 methods: researching new products (expanding) and evaluating them (narrowing). The middle stage is also called a “messy middle”. Why messy? Because it is a complex space between triggers and purchases, where customers are won and lost.

People can go through these stages of exploration and evaluation again and again before making a purchase decision.


Cognitive biases that influence purchasing decisions:

  1. The category heuristic. This is the description and characteristics of the product. They can simplify purchase decisions.
  2. Power of now. The longer you need to wait for an item, the less you want it.
  3. Social proof. Reviews and comments from other users also influence purchasing decisions.
  4. Scarcity factor. As the stock or availability of a product decreases, people will be more willing to buy it.
  5. Authority bias. The opinion of experts, influencers, and people we trust can push us to buy something.
  6. Power of free offers.  If something free is added to the product, even if unrelated, it will increase its attractiveness in the eyes of buyers.

In fact, there are many more cognitive biases, but these factors are the most valuable for marketers.

In an experiment conducted by the Google insights team, shoppers were asked to choose the product that they liked the most and the second most preferred item. Then biases were added and their impact on product selection was assessed. In each category, there was one fictitious brand that the participants knew nothing about. As a result, the fictional brand gained more preference after being strengthened with testimonials, discounts, and other biases from the list above. For example, a fictional cereal brand became 28% more attractive after adding positive reviews and offering 20% ​​free. And the fictional car insurance company was liked by 87% of users after adding benefits across all six biases.

The experiment has shown that the principles of behavioral science, when applied correctly, can help marketers attract buyers in the messy middle of a decision-making process.

Here are some tips from the Google team on how to leverage this knowledge:

  • Ensure brand presence. This will help buyers to remember your product or service when they explore.
  • Use the principles of behavioral science responsibly and wisely. This will help make the offer more attractive to consumers.
  • Shorten the gap between trigger and purchase so that customers have less time to look at competing brands.
  • Build flexible and strong teams with a wide range of skills. This will help avoid traditional branding and product performance issues.

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