Editor's note: Carey Gervason is senior consultant, client services at Burke, Inc. She can be reached at carey.gervason@burke.com.

Purchase journey research has many names but one goal: drive sales. To that end, we study shoppers’ paths to purchase, create shopper journey maps and look for opportunities to minimize gaps in brand and category sales conversion. Success means that brands grow, retailer partnerships thrive and boost category growth and consumers benefit from a more seamless shopping experience – it’s a “win-win-win” for consumers, brands and retailers.

But amid the shifting sands of today’s ever-evolving retail landscape, success in purchase journey research can be hard to define. And if you don’t take an intentional approach to defining your objectives it can be hard to achieve.

Over the past few years, we’ve had numerous conversations with organizations that are concerned about what the acceleration of digital and e-commerce means for their business. Certainly, shopper behavior has evolved and shopper paths have expanded, becoming more complex and more challenging to study. So, not only are new growth strategies and tactics required but the tools and techniques we use to study the purchase journey have evolved as well. The largest risk brands face related to purchase journey shortcomings is knee-jerk, reflexive reactions to short-term trends – like commissioning clickstream analysis because it’s popular without understanding its limitations.

Consider the predictions made during the past year about the stickiness of e-commerce or, more recently, the return of in-store shopping. If we were to react myopically to each projection, we might embark on dozens of piecemeal shopper research studies that each lack a holistic view of the journey. We would then be trying to cobble together disparate, fragmented bits of data in an effort to make sense of it all. Missteps or inaction would be...