Is Our Concept of the Boat Buyer’s Purchase Journey Limiting Industry Potential?

For years, our industry has conceptualized the consumer’s path to purchase, or purchase journey, as a purchase funnel. We have assumed the consumer goes through an orderly process of awareness (beginning to dream) to consideration (this might really be for me) to evaluation (the search for information) to purchase to use.

This has been a useful concept for the boating industry and much of the industry research and industry promotion done by Discover Boating and NMMA has been framed around the concept of a purchase funnel. We use frameworks like this to try to understand our customers’ path to purchase and what we can do at each stage to positively impact the decision process.

Many researchers have studied the path to purchase and most agree that the consumer decision making process moves through stages from problem recognition, information search, evaluation of alternatives, product choice and purchase evaluation (Blackwell, Miniard and Engel, 2006; Olshavsky and Granbois, 1979; Darley, Blankson and Luethge, 2010). Discover Boating mostly focuses on the top half of the funnel while manufactures and dealers focus on the bottom half of the funnel.

But, is conceptualizing the path to purchase as a funnel actually hurting the marine business? Nunes, Bellin, Lee and Schunck (2013) state, “The new rule #1 is, know your customer’s behavior on their path to purchase (p. 50).” This is so critical, it should likely be the focus of future industry research efforts.

How we conceptualize things affects our behavior. MRAA President, Matt Gruhn, does a presentation where he cites consumer research stating that an alarmingly small number of boat buyers have any contact with their dealer after delivery of the boat they purchased. Maybe that is not so surprising if we conceptualize the path to purchase as a funnel that terminates with sale and delivery. That is the end of the path to purchase. If we see our job as completed, why do we need any further involvement or engagement with the customer? Right?

Wrong! The purchase funnel is a simplification that made sense before the internet and rapid growth of social media. Accenture has developed a conceptualization of the path to purchase as a non-stop customer experience model to recognize the impacts of the internet and social media on the purchase journey. The Accenture model, shown below, suggests that path to purchase is continuous. It continues after the purchase and during use as consumers are on a continuous, non-stop decision journey. A decision journey focused on their continued participation as a boat owner or boater.

In this model of the purchase journey, there is no end. The customer is continually going through the thought and decision process. After purchase and during use, the consumer learns things they didn’t know before the purchase, creating new awareness, new needs, and new expectations for their boating experience. This leads them back into the consideration and evaluation phases of the purchase journey. We hope their boating experience and the consideration of what they learned leads them into the evaluation phase of their next boat purchase and not toward a decision to leave boating. If the dealer played a valuable role in the initial purchase, we would hope the boater looks to the dealer as a trusted source to make their boating experience the best it can be, so they stay in boating. And, they look to that trusted source for help as they evaluate their boating experience and their next boat purchase! Our best customers are the ones we already have! It takes much less effort and expense to sell current customers another boat than to find and make a sale to the first-time customer.

Viewing the customer decision journey as continuous rather than a funnel that terminates with the sale has profound implications on how dealers, manufacturers and the industry interact with boat owners after the sale. The sale is not the end of the customer’s journey, it is a new beginning in a continuous journey. Conceptualizing the path to purchase as a funnel that terminates in a sale may be limiting our industry’s potential in significant ways. It drives behaviors that don’t grow boating. Conceptualizing the path to purchase as a continuous decision journey, as suggested by the Accenture model, may remove the limits on the potential for the recreational boating industry and your business!

Dr. Thomas J. Dammrich, DBA

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