Study: Goodbye Purchase Funnel, Hello ‘Tumbler’

New research from Yahoo and OMD finds a cultural shift in how consumers use technology to make purchasing decisions. A study released today called the “Long and Winding Road: The Route to the Cash Register” identifies four paths, or product research cycles, consumers follow as they proceed to purchases.

The study breaks purchase paths into four categories: quick paths, winding paths, long paths and long and winding paths. Quick paths are characterized by little research and are used for impulse buys or routine consumer packaged goods purchases. A winding path indicates cross-channel comparison shopping, such as for retail goods. The long path often takes place in just one channel, but is lengthy because the consumer is waiting for an event such as a price drop or the availability of a new model.

The most involved path, and the one where marketers have the most room to convert in-market consumers, is called the long and winding path. Shoppers’ paths usually fall into this category when they’re seeking big-ticket items like automobiles and financial services. “Consumers of these products are the hungriest for information,” the study said.

The research indicates that purchase habits have evolved from the traditional “funnel” to what the report calls a “tumbler.” Marketers have the opportunity to reach consumers across several channels including traditional, online, in-store or word of mouth.

The Internet and other connected devices now allow in-market consumers to consult editorial and user-generated information about particular products. Mobile phones, camera phones, email, text messaging and other digital tools are being used to access information, the study finds.

To conduct the research, Yahoo and OMD surveyed more than 4,000 individuals who had recently made a purchase in the autos, finance, retail, technology or consumer packaged goods categories. Researchers then chose 13 people in Chicago, Boston and San Francisco to interview and observe from December 2005 to February 2006.

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