Decode and Influence Online Purchase Behaviour

Trying to understand why people decide to buying a product or a service is the very essence of marketing.

Google Think recently published a new interpretation of online consumer behaviour: they call it the Messy Middle Model.

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What is the Messy Middle Report?

Trying to understand why people decide to buying a product or a service is the very essence of marketing. It is complicated. It is different for everyone and for every industry you look into. And most of all, it is difficult to find hard rules.


The key strategies for better web marketing can be summarised in three tactics:

  • being visible online
  • reassure customers they are making the “best” choice
  • keeping their experience enjoyable.

3 things that happen before a purchase

The online world feels like endless possibilities at our reach. It offers incredible choice, but this means buyers have to choose from a lot of competition and have to make a staggering number of decisions.

Digital retailers have a big advantage over brick-and-mortar ones: they can track the path customers make before they press the buy button.

While tracking is informative, it reveals how paths buyers take are different. Some are impulse buys, while some other buys can take month of convoluted research.

Superimposing all the different path makes for a very complex data pattern. This is what the messy middle is. It is this winding erratic loop of clicks and links and pages the buyer looks at, shifts through, and reads, before choosing to buy one thing over another.  

Google has also released a series of videos to explain it further.

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What influences a consumer’s buying decision?

Internet is an amazing source of information. In fact, it feels like there are infinite possibilities online, and that can be crippling for decision making.


how do people decide what to buy


At first, consumers often used internet search engines as a simple price comparator.

The modifier keyword “Cheap” was king and marketers knew it. “Cheap computer”, “cheap cushion”, “cheap massage” sold. But with time and experience, buyers’ use of the internet has complexified, and so has their requests.

For years now, the trend has been shifting, the modifier that has taken up the lead all over the world is “best”. People look for “best holidays”, “best car”, “best restaurant” and make lists of their choices.

“Best” is a complex term with many-layered meanings. Those often include pricing, quality, style, and other personal values. As people now want the “best” product, they start sifting through a lot more data once again.

As no one can visit all the existing options for every purchase, each person has a certain number of influences, helping them reach a satisfactory resolution.

This is what interests us. What shortcuts do buyers take to get what they believe is the “best” product or service?

For each of the 6 influences over buyers, there are actions that you can take to make it easier for them to make a decision.

Pinpoint what makes your product the “best” and prove it to your niche audience.


Power of free

Free trial and gifts create an irrational excitement where people are more willing to try something new or unknown to them. What is Free is significantly more appealing than anything, even an extremely cheap alternative.

This is a long run investment, great for swaying first time customers. If the experience is good they will remember & either buy or recommend. Word of mouth is powerful and can lead to a lot more customers.


Social Proof

Reviews, star ranking & evidence that people are happy with the brand is extremely persuasive.

This is worth showcasing specially on your website and quoting on social medias. Don’t hesitate to asking satisfied buyers to give a review.

Simplifying the reviewing process for clients makes it more likely that they will follow through. When that is not possible, using vocabulary like “nation’s favourite” and “popular choice” on your website and advertisement is also effective.



Endorsement from an authority figure is particularly effective in industries where customers feel they lack knowledge.

Technology, finance, law, and all specialised industries are ones buyers feel they need expertise.

Interestingly the Google Think team found impartial publications have better returns than ones from the industry. And endorsement from a popular figure can do a lot to ground the trustworthiness of a business, no matter the field.


Categorising/ Category Heuristics

Make comparing and understanding a product easy.

If people do not understand a product or its added value, they will often pass it by.

The best way to do it right, and understand what the key characteristics are, is by doing competitor research. Through competitor vocabulary and buyers reviews you can see what customer value most.

Keeping descriptions simple and organised is also key. Highlight the most valued vital piece of information about your product. Make all the other information easily available in a less prominent place.


Power of now

No one likes to wait once they have completed a purchase, but this is not the prime motivator for people to buy.

Next day delivery marketing is more effective on fast-moving goods like perishables. It’s also efficient in gift industries & everyday items.


Scarcity bias

For a long time we have known that limited resources are more desirable.

Time limits/quantity limits/club privileges make consumers feel special. It might be just the thing that shortens the hesitation buyers might feel before pushing the purchase button.

But this tactic comes with a warning. People might feel cheated if they are not given the time to properly think about their decision. This could translate into a negative buying experience and make consumers more wary of your brand and not willing to buy again from you.

People who are also just beginning their research and looking at their options are often irritated by that tactic and might rule out the brand without even considering the product.


How to conquer the messy middle?

Knowing what influences consumers’ purchasing decision, means having the tools to provide them with the data they are looking for, and the reassurance they seek.

Google Think points out that the brands with clear messages and that simplify the buying process are the most successful.


For improved sales and more loyal customers, ensure information buyers want is easily accessible. Highlight it for them. Show your product or service in the right forums.

In general, avoid pressure tactics and negative user experience that translate to negative reviews.

You want your website to be optimised, so that it loads fast (for help on that click here) and make sure it has useful and comprehensible descriptions (for examples and instructions click here).

Reassure visitors multiple times when they navigate your site by proving your expertise, honesty and further showing that what you are selling is a valued product appreciated by others. This can be done with the positive reviews you receive.

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