Buyers don’t think like marketers or sellers. Anyone who works in these departments can admit that. More importantly, buyers don’t think like each other either.
Every consumer follows their own buying patterns, whether they recognize them or not. For example, someone who goes to work every morning can get a coffee from the Starbucks on the corner – it’s part of their routine for them. This is an established buying pattern for Starbucks.
But if that person happened to move neighborhoods, they would likely establish a new routine (and buying pattern).
Buying patterns are important to identify, analyze, and measure as they help companies better understand and potentially expand their target audience. Buying patterns also align with the customer journey, although they are more related to the psychology and motivations behind each stage.
In this post, we’re going to discuss buying patterns and how you can predict those of your customers.
What are purchase patterns?
Purchase patterns relate to the why and how behind consumer purchasing decisions. These are habits and routines that consumers establish through the products and services they purchase.
Purchase patterns are defined by the frequency, timing, amount, etc. of purchases.
These patterns are caused by factors such as:
- Where someone lives
- Where they work
- How much money they make
- What they enjoy and prefer
- What her friends and family recommend
- What are your goals and motivations?
- The price of the product or service they are interested in (and any active sales or discounts)
- Each product is displayed
- The need for the product or service
- Celebrations, holidays, rituals or celebrations
Suppose the customer mentioned in the introduction is Robert. Robert’s coffee buying pattern is a weekday morning coffee, and this pattern is mainly influenced by where he lives and what he likes to drink.
If Robert moves into the neighborhood, he’ll likely choose a new morning routine (and set a new buying pattern) that will allow him to still snap up that morning coffee.
Why should Starbucks care in this case?
By understanding Robert’s buying patterns, Starbucks could better understand the buyer personality he represents, predict in-store traffic, and analyze how they could better market their products to similar customers.
Predicting customer buying patterns
Many, many things influence a customer’s buying behavior and patterns. In the above case, Robert’s neighborhood and cravings for coffee influenced his daily Starbucks routine, but that’s just one example of his buying patterns. Robert has also set purchasing patterns for his groceries, gym usage, clothing purchases, and more.
These types of purchases fall into four categories of consumer behavior:
- Routine purchases (e.g. weekly grocery shopping)
- Limited decision-making purchases (e.g., a new salon recommended by a friend)
- Extensive decision-making purchases (e.g. a new car)
- Impulse purchases (e.g. a pack of chewing gum at the checkout)
Buying patterns are present in all of these types of consumer behavior, but they are the most common and predictable through routine purchases. (We’ll discuss these types and examples in more detail in the following section.)
Business marketers in all of these industries are working to uncover and understand their customers’ buying patterns. Most buying patterns are determined by the typical buyer’s journey: awareness, consideration, and decision.
However, once a pattern is established, the buyer no longer needs to be aware of the problem and consider a solution – they simply repeat the decision-making phase over and over to create the pattern.
How can marketers and sellers uncover their customers’ current buying patterns? The easiest thing to do is to ask. Once you have a baseline for customer behavior and expectations, you can start predicting their patterns – and those of similar buyers.
In a customer survey or focus group, the following questions should be asked:
- Why did you buy for the first time? [product or service]?
- Who in your household decided to buy [product or service]? Does this person make all purchase decisions?
- Where do you go when you look [product or service]?
- How long does the purchase decision take? [product or service]?
- Buy others [products or services]? Why?
- What is your budget for? [product or service]?
- How far would you travel to buy [product or service]?
These questions will help you understand why and how your customers are behind your purchasing decisions and thus uncover their buying patterns in relation to your product or service.
The most important aspect of buying patterns is that they are constantly changing. Not only do they differ between your customer and buyer personalities, but they can change as an individual’s life changes – as we saw with Robert above.
Examples of customer buying patterns
In the previous section, I described the four main types of consumer behavior. Below, I’ll unpack an example of a customer purchase pattern for each type of consumer behavior.
1. Routine purchases
I mentioned above that routine purchases usually result in buying patterns. This is true because these patterns are the most common and predictable.
For example, let’s say Betty goes shopping every Monday morning after taking her kids to school. She buys many of the same items every week since her children are young and prefer to repeat their favorite dishes for dinner. Sometimes she treats herself to an extra dessert or a fancy coffee, but for the most part she sticks to the same list.
Her children’s school is closed for maintenance on a Monday. She has to take them to the grocery store and radically change their grocery routine while their kids get a variety of snacks and treats off the shelves. She decides to buy a few to calm her kids down and give them a special day off.
This is also an example of how a buying pattern can be changed depending on who is accompanying the decision maker.
2. Limited buying decisions
Limited decision-making purchases are usually made through a trusted recommendation from a friend or family member. Based on the recommendation, the decision maker does not consider it a difficult decision or necessary to do a lot of research. This type of purchase can actually be the catalyst for a changed buying pattern.
For example, let’s say Georgia has been in the same hair salon for five years. She never turned down her services there, but when her friend mentions an amazing new salon that opened down the street, Georgia is curious to try it.
When she leaves she is so impressed with the service that she decides to make it her new routine salon, changing her buying pattern based on outside influences or recommendations.
3. Comprehensive purchase decisions
Large decision-making purchases are typically those made for expensive, infrequent purchases. This could be a new car, a computer, or even a home. Due to their ticket size, there is little room to set a buying pattern between purchases.
However, some consumers are loyal to certain brands or stores. For example, let’s say Austin decides it’s time for a new car. He and his family have always owned Fords. When it comes to buying cars, he doesn’t think twice about getting a new Ford.
Although he’s not sure which model to buy (sedan versus SUV), he knows for a fact that he will buy a Ford vehicle, creating a buying pattern between his few and widely spaced car purchases.
4. Impulse buying
Impulse purchases are exactly what they sound like – impulsive purchases made with little planning, research, or forethought. Because of this, purchase patterns in such purchases are difficult to identify.
However, a consistent factor in impulse buying is convenience. Consumers often shop on the impulse when they need something quickly or see something they need. The convenience factor of impulse buying enables buying patterns in terms of location and proximity.
For example, let’s say Gio likes to add something to his takeaway purchases when ordering groceries through his app. He often switches where he gets food from, but he usually tosses in an add-on (e.g., french fries, a drink, or a biscuit) if prompted to do so before checking out.
In this case, there is no buying pattern for what Gio orders or where he orders, but the app tracks his additional purchases to analyze how often he makes impulse purchases in the app. Then they know they need to keep prompting for these add-ons or possibly increase the number of products listed.
Tools for analyzing customer buying patterns
The analysis of customer buying patterns is all about analyzing customer behavior. There are numerous tools that can help.
1. Google Analytics
Google Analytics provides a comprehensive overview of the behavior of your customers on your website. From traffic numbers to user demographics, Google Analytics can show you how your customers are interacting with your website. It can also help you identify basic behaviors that you can use to track patterns (or new behaviors that indicate pattern breaks).
2. Facebook Audience Insights
If your target audience is active on your Facebook Page, you can learn a lot about their behavior and patterns through Facebook Audience Insights. These patterns may not always result in a purchase. However, if you understand how your audience is behaving on social media, you can learn how to optimize your social and other promotional content to better encourage them to buy.
For example, if you see that your followers are most engaged in posts that ask a question, you may be posting inquiries related to your product or service (as opposed to obvious promotional posts that your audience might not otherwise care).
3. HubSpot CRM
Here at HubSpot, we’re strong advocates of CRM (Customer Relationship Management) tools. So much so that we’re offering a free one. CRMs not only help align your sales, marketing, and customer service teams, they also provide natural, seamless places to store and track customer behavior – including buying patterns.
Linking your CRM to your registration and / or ecommerce platform and tracking your customers’ purchases will quickly show you patterns related to purchase frequency, timing and more. All you have to do is stay diligent with your data collection.
4. HubSpot Service Hub
HubSpot Service Hub includes valuable customer feedback software that you can use to conduct surveys and gather insights into your customers’ buying patterns. The tool offers many pre-written and template-based survey options that you can use to gather information directly on your customers’ behavior and preferences.
For example, if you’ve surveyed 25 well-known customers through HubSpot Service Hub, their answers and preferences will be recorded in your HubSpot CRM, making it easier for you to track behaviors and determine buying patterns.
Buying patterns can tell you a lot about who is buying from you and why. Use this information to better understand your customers and design your marketing to meet their expectations and meet them where they are.
To dig deeper, check out our blog post on Marketing Psychology next.