The eCommerce customer journey and how to map it
Think about the last purchase you made.
How long did it take you to click ‘buy’? How many different sites, ads, emails, and stores did you check out before finally fetching your wallet?
Suffice to say that the typical buyer journey is anything but linear. Few shoppers convert right away, and every brand is challenged with adjusting their eCommerce marketing strategy to anticipate buyer movements both online and offline.
So, what can you do to stay ahead? Let’s talk more about what the eCommerce customer journey entails, and how to map your customer’s path to purchase when starting your business.
What is the eCommerce customer journey?
Every so often, a buyer will take a relatively straight path to purchase. They'll search for a product, find your item, and within the same sitting, they'll complete the purchase.
But much more often, customers will be “pinballed” between various touchpoints. They’ll see between 6,000 to 10,000 ads in a day as they’re scrolling through their phones, checking their emails, or listening to Spotify. Then, once they decide to do some shopping, they’ll likely hop between Amazon, your site, and a competitor’s shop.
The eCommerce customer journey is the sum of all of these interactions (see our guide on what is eCommerce). It begins with the moment a customer becomes aware of your brand to when he or she finally makes a purchase.
Some buyers will convert within mere days—while others may take several months or years. Tipping the scale towards the former outcome will require understanding the core stages and touchpoints of the customer journey and knowing how to make the best impact on your buyers.
5 stages of the eCommerce customer journey
Your customers’ overall journey can be broken down into five key stages.
Your customer stumbles across your brand for the first time. Be it through an ad, social media, word of mouth, or SEO–they are now aware of your products. However, as noted earlier, many will not convert right away. Some may not even be looking to purchase anything at all.
At this stage, you’ll want to make sure you understand how people are finding your brand and who they are. Are they the buyer personas you expected to reach? How do demographics, acquisition source, and other factors affect what action your audience takes next?
While many visitors at this stage may just be “window browsing,” you’ve at least built some sort of brand recognition. Now it’s time to do something with it: retarget people, learn more about their interests, and guide them towards products that are most relevant to them.
At this point, your buyer shows actual interest in your product. They’ve got their eyes on a particular product or set of products, and are deciding which one is worth buying.
Some may be trying to decide whether your item is a need versus a want. Others may be checking out product specs to make sure that your item is worth the price. Still others may be deal hunting or checking out options on competitive sites.
In any case, you’ll want to track which product pages people are spending the most time on, which products they’re comparing, and what other brands are on their radar. How can you convince them that your product is better? What can you do to build their confidence in your brand or incentivize a purchase?
Alas, your buyer makes a purchase on your site—assuming that the checkout process is easy and buyer friendly.
Your number one goal here is to make sure that the checkout process is seamless. Create a simple checkout flow, offer multiple (and secure) payment options, communicate your return policy, and provide all the information buyers need to feel supported by your brand.
Buyers should know when to expect their packages and any fees associated with their purchase. Don’t let any unwelcome surprises or lack of information lead to customers canceling their orders early.
Once a buyer makes their first purchase with your brand, they’ll ideally become a repeat customer. A positive customer experience—including excellent customer service, on-time delivery, and a multichannel marketing strategy—can work together to build customer loyalty.
Note that even though you’ve won the first sale, you’ll need to continuously earn a buyer’s patronage time and time again. Be consistent in your messaging. Engage buyers frequently. Offer incentives or employ strategies for upselling and cross-selling.
Happy customers have the potential to attract other happy customers. Buyers at this final leg of the customer journey are (hopefully) so happy with your product and/or service that they’re eager to spread the word to their friends and family.
Of course, this isn’t a passive activity. You’ll want to proactively nurture brand ambassadors by creating a customer loyalty program, hosting giveaways, showing appreciation, and taking other steps to inspire advocacy.
What factors affect the customer journey?
Your customers are a moving target. Between their unique preferences and backgrounds—plus their prior experiences with brands—there are tons of factors that shape the way they make their purchases.
As you track the various ways that customers interact with your brand, consider how trends like the ones below can make a big impact on the buyer journey.
Social and economic changes - e.g., the recent pandemic. These events tend to spur shifts in buying behaviors and expectations, as many types of businesses and buyers alike adapt to new realities. With each shift, consumers tend to get smarter and potentially pickier on what defines a good value and how to spend their money.
Convergence of online and offline shopping - Omnichannel retail isn’t just a concept anymore. Today, the lines between the offline and online worlds are increasingly blurred—with digital native brands like Warby Parker opening physical showrooms, and longtime retailers like T.J. Maxx investing more in online commerce. Curbside pickup, BOPIS, and in-store returns are just the beginning of what’s to come; brands should expect the customer journey to entail a greater mix of online and offline touchpoints, regardless of whether a customer originated online or not.
Corporate responsibility - Brands today are expected to do good. Inactivity or a difference in values could shape a customer’s engagement with your brand at any point of the buyer’s journey.
Choice paralysis - The proliferation of brands and products online have the ability to frustrate consumers. Make sure that your website is organized in such a way that customers know exactly where to find what they’re looking for. Make it easier for them to filter out noise and/or compare similar options. The last thing you want is for an overabundance of options—or poor site design—to deter your customers from buying. Learn more about combatting choice paralysis.
Customer journey mapping: why it’s a must
While customer journey mapping is an imperfect science, the benefits are undeniable.
In fact, 30% of surveyed retailers reported significant improvements in customer lifetime value and customer advocacy after investing in digital customer experience (CX). Roughly 23% reported an increase in average order size as well.
This exercise can help you to achieve multiple goal including:
Getting more clarity over how buyers interact with you - By carefully mapping your customer journey, you can gain a clear understanding of your buyers and their habits. A map helps you to see things from the buyer's perspective rather than your business’s perspective.
Improving customer retention rates - A map helps you to identify when and why prospective buyers are dropping. For example, an ill-worded message or one displayed in the wrong place at the wrong time could be all that’s causing buyers to regress in their journey. By making strategic changes and reducing friction in the customer experience, you can enjoy an easier time attracting and retaining buyers.
Sharpening your focus and organization - This exercise will force you to lay everything on the table–from all of your marketing campaigns to all the possible interactions a customer may have with your brand. From there, you can determine the health of each channel, who owns which touchpoint, and realistic goals for each event.
Increasing revenue - When you understand how buyers interact with your business in detail, you can more accurately cater your communications, offers, content, and promotions to influence sales. It’s all too easy to rely on assumptions or old habits when engaging customers. A journey map helps to shed light on biases and pain points that you may not have known were there before.
How to map the buyer journey for your business
So how do you actually map the customer journey? Here are five steps to get you started.
Step 1. Describe your buyer personas
Before building a map, you must clearly define your target customer types. Are you looking to engage parents, young adults, or consumers with specific hobbies?
Your personas should include as much detail as possible. Make sure to base them around real data—not made-up, fake, or idealistic data. Talk to various stakeholders, interview your customers, consult social media, or perform user testing.
In other words, don't build a buyer profile based on what you think a customer should look like. Create your buyer personas using actual data you gathered from the places where they hang out and from talking directly to your target audience.
Step 2. Define the main character of your map
Now, you can decide which set of customers you’d like to analyze as part of the journey mapping process. The map will look different for each type of buyer you target, and trying to address all of them at once will only muddy the data.
To start, pick the most common persona (i.e., the most valuable or largest cohort). You’ll have an easier time collecting data this way, plus taking meaningful action from your journey map.
Step 3. Analyze on-site behaviors
As an initial step, check out the behaviors on your website and jot down the top pages that people enter your site from, where they exit or bounce, and which ones are the highest converting. Tools like Google Analytics and Wix Analytics can help to fill in these blanks.
To get more specific, make sure to filter your data according to criteria that’s most relevant to your buyer persona: geo, new versus returning users, and device (to name a few).
You may already start to see areas where people drop off and opportunities to optimize your site. You can additionally gain insight into what your buyer is more interested in buying based on where they linger on your site (though note that this could be heavily influenced by how accessible a page is from other areas of your site).
Step 4. List all other customer touchpoints
List out all the ways that your target buyer can interact with your company, both on and off your site. Include things like:
Marketplaces that you sell on
From here, you’ll want to list out all the possible actions someone could take from each channel. For instance, when someone interacts with a blog, he or she may subscribe to your newsletter, download a piece of content that you promote, click to another blog—or even request a demo. Alternatively, your visitor may bounce.
The purpose of this exercise is to audit all the CTAs you include on a single page, as well as links and other messaging that may influence a visitor’s behaviors. You’ll moreover want to look into whether reality aligns with expectations.
When you compare your list of expected behaviors with the data you gathered from Google Analytics, Wix Analytics, and other sources—do the results align? How can you better define the purpose of each channel, and match your goals with a visitor intent?
Step 5. Visualize the journey
Finally, you can document all of your findings into one easy-to-reference map. The scope of your journey map can vary depending on your goal. For instance, you could show the complete customer journey (as shown below) or hone in on just a part of it where you see the most room for improvement.
A map may cover everything from a buyer’s emotions, to their actions, to roles and responsibilities on your team at each stage. It can serve as both a tool for predicting buyer behaviors and keeping your team organized.
That said, there are several types of journey maps you can create:
Current state map - This shows how customers interact with your brand today. You could use it to compare behaviors between two different segments of buyers, or to uncover how customer emotions and behaviors vary depending on how they find your products (as an example).
Future state map - This illustrates the ideal journey that you want your customers to take. It helps your team rally around specific goals and identify critical points of a customer’s journey.
Day in the life map - This is similar to a current state map, except that it doesn’t start and end with a buyers’ interaction with your brand. It aims to understand all of their daily activities and lifestyles, with the goal of developing new, meaningful touchpoints.
Service blueprints - This takes a simplified version of one of the maps above, then adds in details about the various people, technologies, and processes that take place behind the scenes. The purpose is to audit and optimize how your team functions in the background to support the customer journey.
Example of a journey map
Let’s imagine that you own an online shop for pet supplies. You want to create a current state map in order to see how your core customers (new dog owners) are interacting with your brand. Your map may look something like this.
This helps your team keep track of the most effective campaigns, products, and channels. You’ll likely look to expand upon this map soon, as you get even more granular in your research or launch new campaigns.
There is no right or wrong way to create an eCommerce journey map. The framework outlined here is just meant to provide a good starting point. Once you have a baseline, you can continue to modify and rework your journey map to fit your unique business.
Remember that the customer journey is constantly evolving. Re-evaluate your eCommerce journey map once a quarter or at least once every six months. Aim to reduce friction in the customer journey and put assumptions to the test.
Editor, Wix eCommerce
Allison is the editor for the Wix eCommerce blog, with several years of experience reporting on eCommerce news, strategies, and founder stories.