Optimize your Merchandising, Messaging, and Marketing by Understanding the Path to Purchase

You can’t impact consumer purchase decisions if you don’t know how they are made. 

We’ve done a number of “path to purchase” studies this year.  Our clients are seeking a deeper understanding of the product purchase decision-making process.  This makes a lot of sense.  The path to purchase is a series of decision-points at which purchases are won and lost.  How did the felt need to purchase arise?  Is it a new, never-before owned product or a replacement for something that broke, wore out, no longer met needs or just a serendipitous purchase?  If it’s a new category, did the consumer do research?  If so, what did he/she do?  Where did he/she look?  How long did it take from the time of the felt need to the actual purchase?  If it’s a replacement purchase, what was owned before?  Why is it being replaced?  How did it fail or why is it now perceived as inadequate?  Will he/she buy the same brand as before or seek a new brand?  What was wrong with the old brand? 

There are three phases in every purchase decision.  The questions above relate only to the very first phase in the path to purchase – CONSIDERATION, or the actual decision to make a purchase.  Our research explores all three phases. 

We explore the path to purchase as a series of decisions.  We generally screen for consumers who have recently purchased the category under scrutiny because they will remember a recent purchase. 

Here is a typical question series for path to purchase, exploring each phase of the decision process:


  • What prompted the initial decision to make a purchase?
  • Ever owned the category before or completely new purchase?
    • If owned before, what brand(s) owned?
    • Are current/past brand(s) owned in consideration for this purchase?
      • Why/why not?
  • Was the purchase planned or spontaneous?



  • If planned, which, if any of the following actions were taken?
  • Did online research using social media
    • Which social media?
  • Did online research using product comparison websites
    • Which comparison websites?
  • Did online research using store websites
    • Which store websites?
  • Spoke to other people – who?
    • Etc.
  • How long did the research phase last?



  • Where was the product purchased?
  • Why was it purchased there?
    • Was it purchased in-store or online?
  • Where else did shopping occur?
    • Which stores?
    • Which websites?
    • Did consumer shop stores and websites or only one and why?
  • Why was that product selected?
    • What specific feature or attribute was the most important reason for the purchase?
    • What was the relative importance of other features/attributes?
  • What role did price and promotion play in the purchase?
    • Was the product on sale when purchased?
    • Was it purchased because it was on sale?
    • What was the discount %?
  • What is satisfaction level with product purchased?
    • If less than excellent, why?
  • If had to repeat the purchase path for this product what would you do differently now that you’ve made a purchase?
    • Product purchased
    • Where purchased

These are only the highlight questions.  Our questionnaires go much deeper.  For each of the bullet points above, we ask multiple questions.

So what can you do with this information?

Plenty!   Here are some of the decisions that can result from a path to purchase study:

  • Product configuration changes
  • Product pricing changes
  • Advertising Content
  • Mass Media Strategy
  • Social Media Strategy
  • Retailer Coop Strategy
  • Distribution strategy
  • Packaging
  • Ability to Focus on Consumer Needs
  • Identify holes or gaps in your product or collection
  • Identify new opportunities for increased sales


Call or email us today to learn more about how you can explore the path to purchase for your product categories.