After one of the biggest shopping weekends, bookended by Black Friday and Cyber Monday, we’re now on a roll until Christmas. Sales are continuing and buying is becoming easier and more accessible than ever.

Well, in some ways.

There’s the smug pleasure of ticking off your Christmas list from the comfort of your desk, happy in the knowledge that you got 20% off and it’s heading straight to your door.

Then there’s the frustration when your delivery is late, damaged, or worse still, altogether wrong, and you know you’ll have to traipse up to said shop, thereby completely ruining your shopping equilibrium.

And that’s just the conscious bit. There is also a complex journey before you get to the actual buying — the bit that marketers obsess over — often referred to as the consumer decision journey.

We know that decision-making is often irrational, with device-laden consumers having access to information 24/7, which is why peer influence is increasingly important.

It is in this context that the industry has started to reframe how it thinks about the consumer journey. One particularly useful description is that of a pinball machine: There is a trigger that causes people to enter the decision-making process, but once in, they bounce from one touchpoint to another, often moving backwards as well as forwards, before eventually making a decision.

Against this background, Newsworks partnered with Flamingo, Tapestry, and behavioural economics expert Dr. Nick Southgate for a new research project exploring the types of purchase journeys people make, the stages in those journeys, and the roles of media in influencing them.

Emotional rollercoaster

The research found that retail therapy is an emotional rollercoaster for consumers, with a high proportion of shoppers worrying about making a mistake when buying a product, despite the endless opportunities to compare and contrast online.

When it comes to bigger purchases, two-thirds of shoppers often choose between just two brands from the outset. For consumers who have only one brand in mind before shopping, seven in 10 do not even try another brand.

The research shows that shoppers with brands in mind before they start looking to buy are less likely to worry about the choice they’ve made after buying (27%).

Key roles for media (paid, owned, and earned)

It is known that media channels play an important role in the ongoing framing of brand perceptions. Newsworks’ “How people buy” project found that one of the most important roles for media is to “frame,” which happens before a purchase journey even starts.

People are semi-consciously absorbing information on the products, brands, and retailers that are out there and worth paying attention to. Media’s role is to prime people to notice brands (mainly for everyday purchases), define the assumed category consideration set (longer journeys, where the purchase cycle is measured in years), and create a strong sense of excitement and anticipation.

During the journey itself, there are a number of roles media brands play to help people making the buying decision, including filtering information for consumers.

Also, the influence of media doesn’t stop at purchase. There are two further roles that media play post purchase: helping people to share and enjoy. Given the fact that a significant number of people are still worried once they have made the purchase (33%), the role of media in generating satisfaction and confidence is vital.

News brands, in particular, act as a lens on the world, with readers trusting their chosen news brand to direct them to the choices that matter. For the majority of consumers, news brands infer relevance and a sense of “rightness” onto brands, with 84% of respondents agreeing that if a newspaper recommends something, then there’s a good chance they’ll like it.

Dr. Southgate, who helped conduct the research, said: “When people make decisions, what they truly desire is to make a confident decision. Regret, and the anticipation of regret, shadows our decisions and undercuts confidence.”