As traditional and digital advertising become less effective,’s Ayaan Mohamud looks at what brands need to know about the new retail path to purchase.

The consumer path to purchase has changed beyond recognition over the past few years. Accelerated digital transformation and increasingly fragmented and nuanced media consumption patterns, combined with declining trust levels in media, have resulted in a very different customer journey.

People today are more likely to buy based on what other people are saying, not on what a brand is saying. This has major implications for marketers who must ensure they show up in the places that their target audience now trusts and turns to when discovering new services and products.

One of the most effective ways to do this is through forming trusted partnerships with the brands, people and publishers that consumers trust the most.

Let’s look more closely at what is driving the new retail path to purchase and the increasingly important role partnerships have.

Major changes to media effectiveness

Whilst the number of consumers researching and shopping online accelerated during the global pandemic and the ensuing lockdowns, the political and social instability of the last few years has dented confidence in how much we’re willing to trust anyone or anything online. Edelman’s 2022 Barometer, for example, found that trust in media fell by eight points to 43%, making it the only institution in Australia distrusted by a majority of the population.

In addition to this lack of trust, consumers are finding digital advertising increasingly problematic and annoying due to data privacy concerns and intrusive display or video ads with slow load times.

A recent survey of online consumers in Australia carried out by and Power Retail revealed that 41% of consumers found personalised advertising to be creepy, whilst 28% found it annoying and would prefer that their data wasn’t used in that way. In fact, digital advertising was found to be actively off-putting for the majority of shoppers, with 64% disclosing that they have actually been discouraged from making a purchase online by advertising.

Consequently, traditional advertising (including digital) has become less effective, which is having a significant impact on the retail path to purchase. In fact, our research showed that five out of the top six channels consumers use for researching, inspiration or discovering brands when shopping online are not paid advertising.

Comparison/review sites and word-of-mouth tied for first place (49%). When it comes to customer acquisition, giving current customers an amazing UX is extremely effective as they’re more likely to tell their friends, family and work colleagues about their experience.

Additionally, behind organic search, things like social media organic posts, cashback sites and social media influencer posts were all strong sources of inspiration.

Not all channels are created equally

Brands and retailers must therefore get more creative and diversify their presence online to show up in the places consumers trust and gain their inspiration from. But not all digital modes of marketing are created equal and understanding how shoppers are engaging online is crucial.

While smartphones are the dominant devices for online shopping, desktop and laptop device use remains high (51%). Mobile online shopping is still being carried out more often on mobile websites (53%) than dedicated mobile apps (36%) and more often on smartphones than tablets. It’s clear that for the time being, retailers must ensure they’re accessible in as many formats as possible. Shorter video ads are also key, as 86% of consumers “usually skip through” video ads.

The role of trusted partnerships

With traditional media waning in effectiveness and trust in media and traditional advertising in freefall, brands are discovering that partnerships are a powerful way to build trusted connections with consumers.

By partnering with businesses, people and publishers (e.g., influencers, content creators, leading media publishers, reward partners, strategic partnerships with other brands) who already have a trusted relationship with a customer or audience, brands can leverage existing brand equity to reach a new built-in set of consumers. Think of it as a warm introduction from a trusted friend but at scale.

After all, our research showed that 60% of Australian consumers “somewhat trust”, “trust” or “strongly trust” other businesses and brands for guiding purchase decisions.

Brand partnerships allow businesses to tap into an overlapping customer base and create a better customer experience. Successful examples include Spotify and Ticketmaster, where music fans can discover concerts in their local area and seamlessly buy tickets. Another is Canva and HubSpot, who created a B2B SaaS partnership to make it easier to design and publish marketing assets. It results in a new audience for both brands and a much more seamless process for users.

Companies that are succeeding with partnerships generally do so in six ways:

  1. Find compatible partners with complementary business objectives and values.
  2. Ensure that partners have similar or shared customers and audiences. This can be either:
    • Category-specific: e.g., if my company sells nutrition products, which partners are specifically talking about wellness and health.
    • Customer-specific: e.g., are my products budget or premium? If so, where are those customers online?
  3. Build a desirable customer experience that consumers enjoy and find useful.
  4. Track and measure results and effectiveness of partnerships.
  5. Look for wider benefits from partnerships, such as new revenue and positive brand association.
  6. Create and follow a shared partnership success plan, where goals are aligned.

From a business point of view, partnerships present one of the best opportunities to align a business’ revenue stream with shifting consumer habits. There’s an inherent longevity in partnerships. A report by Forrester revealed that companies with the most mature partnership programs are driving two times faster revenue growth than companies that have less mature partnership programs.

With advances in technology, the management of partnerships is becoming more scalable, transparent and automated. This means SMEs and early-stage companies, as well as larger enterprises, are now able to grow their business in a meaningful, authentic and valuable way.