Digital Is Changing Consumer Behavior. Can You Keep Up?

While today, businesses have almost universally accepted that digital is reshaping consumer behavior and shopping habits, many are still reluctant to reshape with them. Yet, it will not be possible to drive consumers’ perception and behavior without redefining traditional roles, switching up sales tactics and rethinking engagement strategies.

A part of the problem may be that business leaders fail to understand just how profoundly digital technologies are influencing consumer expectations.

Customers do not simply expect better buying experiences. They feel that they’re entitled to them. It has changed their approach to decision-making in today’s information-rich, socially intensive environment.

If you have more choices, you’ll want to make sure to make the best choice.

Armed with digital technologies, today’s consumers are exposed to better and more diverse sources of information. Top-of-mind reference points and quality proxies that our parents and grandparents relied on to inform their purchase decisions – such as brand, loyalty, and marketing persuasion – are losing importance. Consumers are more likely than ever before to shop around, looking for the best value and ensuring they make the best possible purchasing decisions instead of sticking with a particular brand.

“Companies that seek only to persuade will be replaced by those that truly seek to serve the real needs of the customer.” Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO

When customer expectations are rising as they are, it’s important that you take a step back and evaluate your position. What do we bring to the table? What are we doing differently? How are we different? What sorts of experiences do we want our customers to have before, during and after the transaction?

Here are some tips on how to respond:

1. Enable consumers to lead their own journey

One of the biggest changes we’re seeing in consumer behavior is that they want to be fiercely independent while they shop. 66% of consumers asked in a Deloitte survey in 2016 cite the desire for a self-directed journey, which is up from 30% just two years before that.

Consumers in an omnichannel reality enjoy the freedom of defining their own journey. As they bounce from store to mobile to TV to browser and everywhere in between, you need an engagement approach that’s fluid enough to keep up with them.

Instead of incessantly pushing random advertisements at the consumers, identify the moments in the customer journey during which they are most likely to be inspired. Use digital technologies to provide them with content, advice, and guidance that is relevant to them and caters to their individual needs and preferences, on their terms, at the right time and on their preferred channels.

2. Help your customers remember

85% mobile users in America have experienced ‘digital amnesia’ to some extent. While earlier, people could easily remember phone numbers, addresses, important codes and even credit card numbers, now, we have trouble remembering a 4-digit pin.

In a Nuance survey, 63% of all Americans say that they actively ‘outsource’ their memory to their computers or mobile devices, thus easily letting their brains forget. Consumers expect the businesses they interact with to do the remembering for them, leading to a radical shift in service expectations of consumers.

89% of millennials say that they are more willing to do business with companies that proactively engage them with reminders, notifications, and other relevant information. This number is 90% for GenX and 91% for Baby Boomers.

3. Offer intelligent self-service options

While technology has made consumers forgetful, it has also made them aware of the myriad ways they can use technology to automate mundane everyday tasks.

The Nuance Survey cited above also revealed that 88% of consumers had used some automated solution to help themselves and 59% of them agreed that it improved their customer experience.

What it means is that businesses need to look into improving their self-service options. Nine out of ten consumers insist that they want companies to offer intelligent solutions that help them navigate and solve issues on their own.

4. Don’t just compare yourself with your competition

Once any company sets a benchmark for ‘good customer service’, consumers expect every other company to live up to that benchmark. They compare you, not only with other companies in your category but with every company they have ever done business with.

In essence, they want their bank to offer them the same level of indulgence that they received from Zappos last week.

They might be comparing apples and oranges but businesses must simply keep up.

Piotr Ruszowski's Quote, IBM

Source: IBM

Competition can come from many unexpected places, and all industries are fair game for disruption.

For example, hotels only worried about competition from other hotels, until Airbnb. They’ve clearly been blindsided by the tech company that was better at understanding the needs and expectations of the new generation of travelers – and delivering accordingly.

“Complacency is evident when comparing how brands benchmark themselves against their direct industry competition versus how their own customers evaluate them against best-in-class companies regardless of industry.” (Accenture)

Always be looking to learn from companies outside of your industry to understand how and why a customer might look to your offering.


Technology is transforming the way consumers search, decide and buy. Businesses that are able to use technology to decode consumer expectations, engage them on the channels they prefer and keep up with their growing digital stronghold will be the only ones to succeed.

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