Buying Behaviour: Understanding Customer Behaviour to Increase Online Conversions

Do you know how your customers behave when they’re considering whether to buy the types of products you sell? What motivates them to buy from one website and not another? And what keeps customers coming back again and again?

While it’s tempting put your faith in those “10 Tips to Get Your Customers to Convert” articles or follow the industry’s “best practices,” they’re unlikely to yield significant growth because what works for one website audience doesn’t necessarily work for another.

Customers aren’t robots. They aren’t programmed to immediately respond to tactics your marketing agency came up with. Your customers are real humans with complex, evolving needs. And like all humans, they like it when you listen to these needs. If there really is a “secret” to increasing online conversions, it’s understanding your customers’ specific needs and how these change at each stage of their journey.


What are the different stages of buying behaviour?

Because your website visitors are diverse, not all of them have the same intentions. Some are browsing your site for the first time without feeling they need to buy anything, others are avidly comparing you to other websites they’ve seen. Only a few will be happy, loyal customers looking to buy again pronto. Each type of visitor is at a different point in the buying process, and leaking potential customers at each stage is inevitable.

There are various frameworks that define the different stages of buying behaviour. Depending on your industry, some will apply to you and some won’t. It’s best to do your own research to identify these stages and how to cater to them (or you can hire a CRO specialist to do it). Below is a widely accepted model:

What are the different stages of buying behaviour

Let’s go through each stage using a hypothetical customer.

Stage 1: Need recognition

A young man remembers his 10-year wedding anniversary is coming up. He decides he wants to buy his wife a meaningful gift. He needs to find a gift.


Stage 2: Search for solutions

Travelling is a special past-time for the couple, so the man decides to make a canvas collage with photos from holidays they’ve had over the past 10 years. The man starts searching online for different types of canvases and companies that sell canvases.


Stage 3: Evaluate different alternatives

The man finds a few websites which could suit his needs and compares pros and cons, prices, information offered, quality, delivery speed and customer service.


Stage 4: Decision to purchase

The man picks his preferred product and company to buy from. He makes a purchase and awaits the delivery.


Stage 5: Post-purchase behaviour

The man receives his package and evaluates the order, as well as the cost and condition upon delivery. He may get in touch about post-order requirements and leave a review. He will either come back to buy again later or never return.


Why do we need to understand the different stages of buying behaviour?

As your visitors are different, it doesn’t make sense to treat them all the same. Each segment of visitors needs the right incentive to convince them that your product is the right one. Segmenting customers and understanding their needs at each stage in their journey will give you the knowledge you need to persuade them. The more influential and interactive your user experience is, the fewer visitors you’ll lose.

This framework outlines methods of influencing people at each stage of the buying journey.

Understanding the different stages of buying behaviour

Stage 1: Need recognition

A solid SEO strategy is essential for success at this stage. You need to appear in the search results when potential customers are in their research phase.


Stage 2: Search for solution

At this point, the visitor needs to understand who you are, what you do, your value proposition and your products or services. Ecommerce sites can create a gap between the visitor and the product because they aren’t experiencing it in real life. Highlighting the features and benefits of your offering can close this gap and establish trust and credibility.

Here are some ways to help potential customers understand your product as though they’ve already used it:

  • Include high quality photos of the product from various angles
  • Add videos of the product being used in context
  • Provide all the information about the product the customer needs to make a buying decision
  • Be clear, comprehensive and objective with product features
  • Offer the benefits of your product, especially compared to the alternatives
  • Make sure the benefits reflect your value proposition and suggest what people are missing out on by not purchasing this product


Stage 3: Evaluate different alternatives

Numerous neuropsychology studies have demonstrated that emotion plays a powerful role in decision-making. In fact, people’s choices are often driven by emotion and then rationalised afterwards. Evoking emotions should be incorporated into the entire buying journey, but this is the stage when it’s most important.

Make your customers feel like they’ll be a better person if they have your product and create a fear of missing out. Find out what your customers’ innermost fears and desires are by reading reviews and carrying out qualitative research (this will vary depending on different products and companies).

Do they want their peers to look up to them? Do they want to be associated with smart people? From the design to the copy, every single aspect of your website needs to reflect this “better person” people can become in a matter of clicks. Having a prominent and emotion-focused value proposition is important at this stage.

Customers also need to have confidence in your brand, so it’s sensible to invest in security and credibility to aid their decision-making. Adding trust seals, transparent reviews and various payment options to your site can have a huge impact on conversions.

In CRO, we say that beautiful design doesn’t matter much when it comes to sales, but trustworthy design is paramount. When shopping online, people subconsciously decide in a fraction of a second whether to enter their card details or not. Ensuring you look professional and legitimate will help users trust your website.


Stage 4: Decision to purchase

When someone has decided to buy from you, it’s vital that the process is as smooth and frictionless as possible. One little mistake on the checkout and all your efforts can go to waste. Common ecommerce sins are:

  • Asking users to provide more information than you actually need
  • Making it compulsory for 90% of your visitors to use a feature that only 10% of them use (e.g. mandatory account creation or including a company name field when most of your users are not buying on behalf of a company)
  • Implementing elements that are easy for your developer but frustrating for your visitors

Aim for a simple design with intuitive labels, real-time validation error reporting and appropriate input pads (e.g. numerical for phone numbers) for handheld devices.

This stage in the buying process is the most crucial one and also the easiest to get right. You can discover users’ pain points with in-depth usability testing and analytics data, and A/B test small changes at once. The beauty of A/B testing the checkout is that you can learn a lot even when testing small changes.


Stage 5: Post-purchase behaviour

You’re probably aware that it costs 5x more to acquire new customers than to retain current ones. Now that you’ve turned a visitor into a buyer, you need to do everything in your power to keep them on your side.

Maintaining customer loyalty can be as simple as sending follow-up emails asking for their thoughts on the service and if they had any issues. If they report a problem, ensure it’s resolved to the customer’s satisfaction. Taking the time to listen and fix the issue can be enough to turn a negative experience into a positive one.

But don’t just stop there: regularly send customers personalised content based on the products they last viewed or purchased. Sending unexpected gifts or thank you notes to your most loyal buyers can turn them into brand advocates. Providing a fantastic experience means they’ll tell their family, friends, colleagues and online followers.


You may have read a detailed and persuasive article that promises you’ll be rolling in money if you make a few changes to your website. These won’t work in isolation because you need to follow a framework that works for your business. Once you gain an understanding of your users, you can offer a consistently good experience instead of applying random bits of best practices that lead to inconsistent results.

While the advice offered in this article could be applied to many different websites, it’s always better to carry out your own conversion research, identify your users’ needs at each stage and incentivise them appropriately.

Nina Mack

18th September 2017

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