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First is best – even in long buying decisions

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It’s normal for buying decisions to take longer when consumers shop for high-value products – and for customers to spend that time comparing different product features and deciding on the best value for money.

When it comes to web marketing, you could be forgiven for thinking that means it’s less important to be the first search result shoppers see, as you might expect their search to be more in-depth than it would be for fast-moving or low-value goods.

But research has revealed that in many cases, shoppers go back to one of the first products they found, and are much more likely to buy that than something they discover later in their search.

Bart Bronnenberg of Tilburg University is one of the authors of the paper in Marketing Science, and explains what the study found.

“What surprised us was that consumers don’t explore anywhere close to the full range of products and attributes in the category,” he says.

“The final product they purchase is very close in terms of the attributes to the products they discovered on the first day.”

For web marketing this has several implications – including the most basic interpretation, which is that it is still hugely important to be among the first search results shoppers encounter, even if their overall buying decision takes 15-30 days or longer.

But it’s not just about rank, because the study showed that the ultimate purchase is not necessarily one of the exact products first encountered, but may be one discovered later, but with similar features to those seen on day one.

Co-author Jun Kim of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology added: “The exact model with the right combination of features that the consumer will ultimately purchase can still be influenced up until the moment of purchase.

“The fact that what people buy is close to what they initially found means that ad targeting and product recommendations can use this information effectively and recommend close variants of what the consumer initially searched and found.”

In practice this means that not only rank, but also relevance, is of crucial importance in raising the chances of making a sale – proving that two of the longest-held ambitions of web marketing are still as valuable as ever for online businesses.

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