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What Is the ​​Ecommerce Customer Journey All About? The Complete Guide

You’ve probably heard the phrase “it’s all about the customer” when talking about retail, hospitality, or any other type of customer-facing business. But what does that actually mean?

In a nutshell, this short phrase is trying to say that the success of any business depends on its ability to create a great customer experience.

In order to do that, businesses need to understand the customer journey. What are the steps that a customer takes on their way to becoming a lifelong fan? By understanding this process, businesses can map out a plan to give their customers the best possible experience at each stage.

What Is the Ecommerce Customer Journey, Exactly?

Imagine this: you’re looking for a new pair of shoes. You head to Google and type in “black leather boots.” A bunch of different results come up, and you click on the first one that looks promising.

You have now completed the first stage of the ecommerce customer journey: awareness. Awareness is the first of five stages of the customer journey for online shoppers. Let’s break down all five together:

  1. Awareness
  2. Consideration
  3. Purchase
  4. Retention
  5. Advocacy

1. Awareness

The “awareness” stage is when a customer becomes aware of a problem or need that they have. In our example, the customer (you!) realizes that they need a new pair of black leather boots.

At this stage, customers are not yet looking to make a purchase. They’re simply trying to find out more about their options and what’s available to them, and they know that they need to do some research before making a decision.

This is the stage where businesses need to make sure that their product or service is visible to potential customers. If your products aren’t appearing in search results, you’re not going to be considered as an option.

2. Consideration

Once a customer is aware of a problem or need, they enter the “consideration” stage. This is when they start to do some research and compare different options.

In our example, the customer has now gone to a few different websites and is considering which pair of black leather boots to buy. They’re looking at things like price, quality, style, and reviews from other customers.

At this stage, businesses need to make sure that they’re providing potential customers with the information they need to make a decision. This means having things like product descriptions, customer reviews, and pricing information clearly accessible. 

3. Purchase

The “purchase” stage is when the customer finally makes a decision and buys a product or service. To move the customer from the consideration stage to the purchase stage, businesses need to provide a smooth and easy buying process.

This means having a well-designed website, a secure checkout process, and clear shipping information. Customers should also have the option to contact customer service if they have any questions or problems.

This isn’t as easy as it looks—shopping cart abandonment can be a huge problem for ecommerce businesses. In fact, the average abandonment rate is 69.57%. That means that nearly 7 out of 10 people who start the buying process don’t actually complete it.

There are a few different reasons why this happens, but the most common one is that the buying process is too complicated or time-consuming. If customers can’t easily find the information they need or they get frustrated with the checkout process, they’re likely to give up and go somewhere else.

4. Retention

Customers enter the “retention” stage as soon as they make their purchase. This stage is when businesses need to make sure that they’re providing a great post-purchase experience. This means doing things like sending out a confirmation email, processing orders quickly and efficiently, and providing excellent customer service. 

This is much more important than you might think because retaining a customer means you won’t have to offer them a refund. 64% of Americans report experiencing buyer’s remorse after making a sale purchase. So making sure you follow up with them post-sale to ensure they had a great experience will go a long way toward improving any potential regrets about buying your product.

5. Advocacy

The “advocacy” stage is when customers become promoters of your business. They talk about your products or services to their friends, family, and social media followers, and they make repeat purchases from your website.

To turn customers into advocates, businesses need to provide an exceptional customer experience at every stage of the customer journey. If you can do that, you’ll be well on your way to building a loyal and passionate customer base.

How Can I Improve the Customer Journey for My Online Shoppers?

At each stage, there are a few different things you can do to improve the customer journey for your website or mobile app visitors.

Here are a few of the most critical.

1. Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

The first thing that you can do to improve the customer journey is improve your search engine rankings. Doing so will increase visibility and ensure that those who are looking for products or services like yours will be able to find your website.

There are a number of different things that you can do to improve your SEO, but some of the most important include the following:

For ecommerce, finding the right keywords is critical to success—you need to make sure that you’re using terms that potential customers are actually searching for.

Screenshot of Google Ads keyword plan screen with example data.

You can use several different tools to research keywords, but one of the most popular is Google AdWords Keyword Planner.

2. Website Design and Usability

Another important thing to consider is your website’s design and usability. Is your website easy to navigate? Is it visually appealing? Does it provide the information that potential customers are looking for?

You might want to consider hiring a web designer or developer to help you create a website that’s optimized for conversion.

Screenshot of Crazy Egg's heat-mapping and confetti tool.

Crazy Egg’s heat-mapping and confetti tools can be a valuable asset in this process—it allows you to see where people are clicking on your website and what’s causing them to leave.

You should also leverage conversational commerce tools like chatbots to improve the customer journey. These tools are able to answer customer questions in real-time, which can help reduce friction and improve the overall experience.

Screenshot from Feat's website with a red box highlighting their customer support feature.

In this example above, the AI chatbot has two preprogrammed responses it can give—you can either track your order or report an issue.

You can also send their internal team a message to connect with them directly.

Chat tools can be used for many other things as well, depending on the type of product you sell and how robust your chatbot is.

For example, a SaaS company might use a conversational AI tool to help book meetings, qualify leads, and answer simple product-related questions.

A department store may use one to connect shoppers with customer service, manage returns and refunds, or even help shoppers find items in-store with recommendations.

3. Create a Sense of Urgency

When it comes to ecommerce, one of the best ways to encourage customers to complete their purchase is by creating a sense of urgency. You can do this in a number of different ways, but some of the most common include the following:

  • Using countdown timers
  • Offering limited-time discounts or free shipping
  • Display low stock warnings
  • Running a flash sale
Screenshot from edible arrangements website with a black circle highlighting their "Same-Day Service! Order in the Next 1 hours 30 minutes" feature.

In this example, Edible Arrangements uses a countdown timer to create a sense of urgency and encourage customers to complete their purchases. When users act now (within the next 1 hour and 30 minutes), they’ll receive same-day service.

This tactic can be effective, but you need to be careful not to come across as too pushy or sales-y. Urgency can be a helpful nudge, but it shouldn’t be the only thing that’s driving your customer’s decision to buy.

Screenshot from Amazon showing a product page with a red arrow pointing out their limited supply function.

The least sales-y approach is to display low-stock warnings. Since many customers don’t want to risk missing out on a product they want, this is often enough to encourage them to complete their purchase, even if they’re on the fence.

Amazon seems to have mastered this art (and all the others) as they are not only the largest ecommerce company out there but also a popular option for other online sellers who want to maximize their revenue.

4. Follow Up with Customers After Their Purchase

It’s important to follow up with your customers after their purchase to ensure that they’re satisfied with their experience and to thank them for their business.

You can do this with a simple email or by reaching out to them on social media. You can also send them a survey to get feedback about their experience.

It’s also important to follow up with customers who abandon their carts. If you’re not already doing this, you should consider implementing it.

Screenshot from Shopify's website showing a purple boxes around adding a logo function to a customized email template.

Shopify enables its merchants to send automated emails to customers right after they make a sale, and they make it easy to customize templates as well.

If you use any of the major online store platforms, odds are they offer similar functionality.

5. Make it Easy for Customers to Contact You

Customers should be able to contact you easily if they have any questions or need help with their purchase.

The best way to do this is by adding a live chat widget to your website so that customers can get help in real-time (as we mentioned earlier).

You can also add a contact form to your website or include your contact information on every page.

Screenshot of Salesforce's home page with red boxes around their contact us phone number and a live chat feature.

In this example, Salesforce has included their contact information at the top of their page as well as added a live chat widget.

Many companies in all aspects of ecommerce do the same, and it makes connecting with customers and collecting feedback as easy as possible.

How Do I Know Where I Need to Make Improvements to the Customer Journey?

If your customer experience needs work, you might not know it right away. There may be indicators like declining sales, high return rates, or negative customer reviews, but these can be hard to spot.

Here are a few tips.

1. Use a social listening tool to keep a pulse on customer sentiment

Social listening tools are designed to help you track what people are saying about your brand online. This can be helpful for getting feedback about your customer experience as well as spotting any potential problems.

Screenshot of Awario's dashboard with example data.

By conducting sentiment analysis, they can give you valuable insights into how people feel about your brand and what you can do to improve. The keywords that the software picks up from its analyses are appended into an easy-to-read dashboard that helps you see similarities and problems.

2. Use Google Analytics to track customer behavior on your website

Google Analytics is a free tool widely used by businesses of all sizes. It can be used to track all kinds of data about your website and your customer’s behavior.

Screenshot of Google Analytics home screen with example data.

You can use it to see how long people are spending on each page, which pages they’re visiting, and where they’re coming from. This data can be helpful for understanding what’s working well on your website and what needs to be improved.

3. Conduct customer surveys at key points in the customer journey to get feedback

The most important part of the customer journey is the purchase itself. This is when customers are deciding whether or not to buy from you, so it’s important to get their feedback.

You can use a tool like Qualtrics to conduct customer surveys. You can send these surveys via email, social media, or on your website.

The best time to do this is right after your shopper makes their purchase. In your follow-up email, you can send them a survey with questions about their experience.

4. Make it easy to collect feedback on your site

In the same way that you make it easy for customers to contact you, you should also make it easy for them to leave feedback.

One way to do this is by adding a simple form to your website where customers can leave their feedback. You can also add a link to this form in your confirmation and shipping emails.

Screenshot of Farfetch's home page with a red box highlighting their feedback feature.

Some websites even have a feedback section specifically for feedback right on their home pages. This is a great way to get insights into what customers think of your products and whether or not they’re meeting their needs, regardless of whether or not they even buy from you.

5. Use heat mapping tools to see where people click on your website

Heat mapping tools track where people are clicking on your website. This can be helpful for understanding what’s working well and what needs to be improved.

Screenshot of Crazy Egg's heat mapping tool.

There are a few different heat mapping tools available, but ours is best for ecommerce websites. It’s designed to track where people are clicking on your website and how long they’re spending on each page.

This data can be helpful for understanding what people are interested in and what’s causing them to leave your site. It can also help you determine where to place your products, CTA buttons, and other elements on your website.

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