Buyers don't think like marketers or salespeople. Anyone who works in these departments can admit that. More importantly, buyers don't think like each other either.
Each consumer follows their own set of buying patterns, whether they recognize it or not. For instance, someone who walks to work every morning may grab a coffee from the Starbucks on the corner — to them, that's part of their routine. To Starbucks, that's an established buying pattern.
But if this person happened to move neighborhoods, they’d likely establish a new routine (and buying pattern).
Buying patterns are important to recognize, analyze, and measure because they help businesses better understand and potentially expand their target audience. Buying patterns also fall in step with the customer journey, although they connect more with the psychology and motivations behind each stage.
In this post, we are going to discuss buying patterns and how to predict those of your customers.
What are buying patterns?
Buying patterns refer to the why and how behind consumer purchase decisions. They are habits and routines that consumers establish through the products and services they buy.
Buying patterns are defined by the frequency, timing, quantity, etc. of said purchases.
These patterns are determined by factors such as:
- Where someone lives
- Where they work
- How much money they make
- What they enjoy and prefer
- What their friends and family recommend
- What their goals and motivations are
- The price of the product or service they're interested in (and any active sales or discounts)
- Any product displays
- The necessity of the product or service
- Festivals, holidays, rituals, or celebrations
For example, let’s say the customer mentioned in the introduction is named Robert. Robert’s coffee-buying pattern is one coffee every weekday morning, and this pattern is primarily influenced by where he lives and what he likes to drink.
Therefore, when Robert moves neighborhoods, he’ll likely choose a new morning routine (and establish a new buying pattern) that allows him to still snag that morning coffee.
So, in this case, why should Starbucks care?
Well, by understanding Robert’s buying pattern, Starbucks could better understand the buyer persona 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 case above, Robert’s neighborhood and coffee cravings influenced his daily Starbucks routine, but that’s just one example of his buying patterns. Robert also has established buying patterns for his groceries, gym usage, clothing purchases, and more.
These types of purchases fall into four consumer behavior categories:
- 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 gum at the register)
Buying patterns are present in all of these types of consumer behavior, but they’re most prevalent and predictable through routine purchases. (We’ll dive more into these types and examples in the following section.)
Marketers at companies in all these industries work to uncover and understand the buying patterns of their customers. Most buying patterns are established through the typical buyer journey: awareness, consideration, and decision.
When a pattern is established, however, the buyer then no longer has to become aware of their problem and consider a solution — they simply repeat the decision stage over and over, thus creating the pattern.
So, how can marketers and salespeople uncover the current buying patterns of their customers? The most straightforward way is to ask. Once you set a baseline of customer behavior and expectations, you can then start to predict their patterns — and those of similar shoppers.
Here are some questions to ask in a customer survey or focus group:
- Why did you first purchase [product or service]?
- Who in your household decided to purchase [product or service]? Does this person make all the buying decisions?
- Where do you go when looking for [product or service]?
- How long does it take to decide to buy [product or service]?
- Do you buy other [products or services]? Why?
- What’s your budget for [product or service]?
- How far would you travel to buy [product or service]?
These questions help you understand the why and how behind your customer purchase decisions, thus uncovering their buying pattern as it relates to your product or service.
The most important takeaway about buying patterns is that they’re ever-changing. Not only do they differ between your customers and buyer personas, but they may also change as an individual’s life changes — as we saw above with Robert.
Customer Buying Pattern Examples
In the previous section, I outlined the four main types of consumer behavior. Below, I’ll unpack an example of a customer buying pattern for each of the types of consumer behaviors.
1. Routine Purchases
I mentioned above that routine purchases typically yield buying patterns. This is true because these patterns are the most prevalent and predictable.
For example, let’s say Betty goes grocery shopping every Monday morning after taking her kids to school. She buys many of the same items every week since her kids are young and prefer to repeat their favorite meals for dinner. Sometimes, she’ll splurge on an extra dessert or fancy coffee, but for the most part, she sticks to the same list.
On one Monday, her kids’ school is closed for maintenance. She has to take them to the grocery, vastly changing her grocery routine as her kids pull a variety of snacks and treats off the shelves. She decides to buy a few to placate her kids and treat them to a special day off.
This is also an example of how a buying pattern can be altered based on who accompanies the decision-maker.
2. Limited Decision-Making Purchases
Limited decision-making purchases are typically rendered through a trusted recommendation by a friend or family member. Because of the recommendation, the decision-maker doesn’t consider it to be a tough decision or feel the need to do much research. This type of purchase can actually be the catalyst for an altered buying pattern.
For example, let’s say Georgia has gone to the same hair salon for five years. She's never disliked her services there, but when her friend mentions an amazing new salon that has opened down the street, Georgia is curious to try it.
When she goes, she is so impressed with the service that she decides to make it her new routine salon, thus altering her buying pattern due to outside influence or recommendation.
3. Extensive Decision-Making Purchases
Extensive decision-making purchases are usually those that are for expensive, seldomly-made purchases. These may include a new car, computer, or even a home. Because of their ticket size, there’s little room to establish 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, so when it comes time to shop for cars, he doesn’t think twice about looking for a new Ford.
While he’s uncertain of what model he’ll buy (sedan versus SUV), he knows for sure that he’ll purchase a Ford vehicle, thus creating a buying pattern between his few-and-far-between car purchases.
4. Impulse Purchases
Impulse purchases are exactly how they sound — impulsive purchases made with little planning, research, or forethought. For this reason, buying patterns are hard to establish with these kinds of purchases.
However, one consistent factor in impulse buying is convenience; consumers often make impulsive purchases when they need something quickly or see something they (think they) need. The convenience factor of impulse purchases allows for buying patterns around location and proximity.
For example, let’s say Gio likes to add a little something extra to his takeout purchases when he orders on his food delivery app. He often changes where he gets food from, but he typically throws in an add-on (e.g. fries, a drink, or a cookie) when prompted before check-out.
In this case, there’s no buying pattern established in what Gio orders or where he orders from, but the app tracks his add-on purchases to analyze how often he makes impulse buys on the app. Then, they know to continue prompting those add-ons or perhaps increase the number of products listed.
Tools for Analyzing Customer Buying Patterns
Customer buying pattern analysis is all about analyzing customer behaviors, and there are plenty of tools that can help.
Google Analytics provides a deep-dive view of your customers’ behaviors 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 establish baseline behaviors from which you can track patterns (or new behaviors that indicate breaks in patterns).
If your audience is active on your Facebook Page, you can learn a lot about their behaviors and patterns through Facebook Audience Insights. These patterns may not always result in a purchase, but understanding how your audience behaves on social media can teach you how to optimize your social and other promotional content to better entice them to buy.
For example, if you see your followers engage the most on posts that ask a question, perhaps you start posting inquiries that relate to your product or service (versus blatantly promotional posts that don’t otherwise interest your audience).
3. HubSpot CRM
Here at HubSpot, we’re strong advocates of customer relationship management (CRM) tools. So much so that we offer a free one. Not only do CRMs help align your sales, marketing, and customer service teams, but they provide natural, seamless places to store and track customer behaviors — including buying patterns.
If you link your CRM to your register and/or ecommerce platform and track your customer’s purchases, it will quickly show you patterns in purchase frequency, timing, and more. All you have to do is stay diligent in your data collection.
HubSpot Service Hub includes valuable Customer Feedback Software that can help you run surveys and collect insights about your customer buying patterns. The tool offers many pre-written and templatized survey options so you can dive right into gathering information around your customer behaviors and preferences.
For example, if you surveyed 25 known customers through HubSpot Service Hub, their answers and preferences would then be recorded in your HubSpot CRM, making it easier for you to track behaviors and establish buying patterns.
Buying patterns can tell you a lot about who’s buying from you and why. Use this information to better understand your customers, and fashion your marketing to match their expectations and meet them where they are.
To dig deeper, read our blog post on marketing psychology next.