6 stages of the long and winding buyer journey
No conversation about eCommerce marketing would be complete without discussing the buyer journey. That's particularly true now, as shopping behaviors and channels are shifting dramatically—and online retail sales are predicted to shatter records, exceeding $1.1 trillion in 2023.
Read Also: How to start a business
Today, understanding the buyer journey is not only essential for bringing in business, but it’s critical for retaining business in a world that’s flooded with options and distractions, across many types of businesses.
What is the eCommerce buyer journey?
The eCommerce (see our guide on what is eCommerce) buyer journey is the series of steps a consumer takes when shopping for a product online.
The process typically involves multiple touchpoints and channels. It's a looping cycle that looks more like a maze than a straight line when going from awareness to purchase.
There are (roughly) six stages to the online buyer journey:
Awareness - The start of the buyer journey. At this point, the buyer isn’t familiar with you or your products. They may be researching a pain point or a general product online, typically on Google, Amazon, or another search engine.
Interest - The buyer identifies several online stores (which may include your website) that offer the product that they’re looking for. Some tire-kicking commences, with the buyer bouncing between various websites to compare factors like pricing, reviews, and delivery options.
Consideration - The shopper has narrowed down the list of potential vendors and is starting to think more seriously about their purchase. At this point, they may dig even deeper into product (or brand) reviews, seek referrals on social media, or reach out to your team with questions.
Decision - Having done their research, the shopper now knows which retailer they want to purchase from. They'll add the item to their shopping cart and proceed to checkout.
Purchase - The buyer completes their purchase, and the fulfillment process begins. This phase involves a series of customer-support touchpoints, including order tracking notifications and ongoing communication until the order is received.
Retention/loyalty - This stage includes all activities post-purchase, through which you continue nurturing your relationship with your customer in order to earn their trust in your brand. These touchpoints may include your brand’s loyalty program, email communications, and/ or promotions that help to trigger ethical impulse buying.
An example of the buyer journey in action: Sean needs a new pair of boots
Sean’s boots are old and it's time for a new pair. Here's what Sean’s eCommerce buyer journey might look like:
Awareness - Sean begins his search for "sturdy black boots for men" on Google. He finds several promising vendors, including your site, with boots that catch his eye. He scrolls through each catalog with growing interest.
Interest - Sean clicks around from site to site to compare different styles, materials, and prices. He also takes the time to read through each brand’s return policies and reviews. (Meanwhile, Sean gets targeted with Instagram ads promoting black boots.)
Consideration - Sean has some questions about the boots he's interested in, so he spends the next few days collecting opinions from colleagues, friends, and family. He looks up YouTube videos, blogs—anything he can find—to learn whether or not the boots will hold up in snow (among other questions that he has). He looks up discount codes and/or different retailers that may carry your shoes, hoping to get the best deal.
Decision - It’s been nearly a week since he started his search and after weighing his options, Sean makes up his mind. He cracks his knuckles and ventures to your site. He adds his chosen boots to the shopping cart—only to get pulled away from his computer because his dog needs to be taken out. He forgets about his purchase for the rest of the evening, but wakes up to a friendly reminder from your brand.
Purchase - Thanks to your abandoned cart email, Sean remembers to complete his transaction. He receives an order confirmation email with tracking details so he can see when his boots will arrive.
Retention/loyalty - After Sean’s boots arrive at his doorstep, you invite him to join your loyalty program so he can earn points and discounts towards future purchases. Sean takes a few weeks to break in his new boots. He loves them, so decides to join your loyalty program after all.
How to optimize each stage of the buyer journey
As illustrated above, the buyer journey can take shape in a million different ways.
But even though the buyer journey is often circuitous, there are still steps you can take to keep your brand top of mind. Here are some tactics and goals to consider at each stage of the journey.
01. Awareness: be discoverable
There are many ways to get in front of your customers, from paid routes (e.g., Instagram ads) to organic channels (SEO).
The latter—search engine optimization (SEO)—is something you’ll want to pay close attention to, regardless of your overall channel mix. Given that the vast majority of shoppers (nearly 70%) start their product search on Google, it’s evermore important that your product pages are poised to rank for terms like “blue evening gown” or “black leather boots” (as examples).
Beyond this, make your brand more discoverable by listing your products on online marketplaces, engaging on social media, and/or experimenting with eCommerce advertising. Remember, many customers won't simply find you via your website. You’ll have an exponentially higher chance at getting found if you strategically market yourself on different channels.
02. Interest: make an impression
You have less than half a second to convince shoppers to stick around once they've landed on your website. Take the time to create an environment where shoppers are encouraged to stick around. You can, for example, improve customer engagement by serving up relevant product recommendations and content to your visitors.
Keep in mind that eCommerce personalization doesn’t need to be complicated. For instance, you can allow shoppers to customize the shopping experience on their own by letting them choose their preferred language or currency. Or, use “related items” banners to make it easier for shoppers to locate products from the same collection.
All in all, you’ll want to ensure that your user experience is simple, intuitive, and attractive without being overly cluttered. Keep your branding consistent and make sure that your site works seamlessly on both mobile devices and desktop.
Wix merchant Sticky Lemon demonstrates how a minimalist design, together with clear navigation and thoughtful imagery, creates a sense of professionalism without betraying the playful nature of its brand.
03. Consideration: help your shoppers out
Your goal here should be to provide as much product information as possible.
Take a page from Sticky Lemon's book and use clear, high-quality product images that showcase products from different angles (e.g., both on and off a human model). Write detailed product descriptions that include specifications like size, color, and fit. Include any technical information—if applicable—for products like computers, cellphones, and electronics.
Spruce up your product pages even more with user-generated content, like product reviews or social posts that show your products “in the wild.”
On a more practical level: ensure that your shopping cart is easy to find and use. Consider including a live chat feature on your site. Or, test other conversational eCommerce tools that let you interact with shoppers in real time, and can help you deflect any concerns during this critical research phase. These real-time interactions are a great way to emulate in-person shopping and establish trust with new customers.
04. Decision: close the deal
Your customer's on the cusp of making a purchase—they may have added a product to their cart, but have yet to pull the trigger. Considering that the average online shopping cart abandonment rate sits just under 70%, your goal should be to instill confidence in your brand.
Send a follow-up email reminding your shopper of their saved items. Deploy remarketing ads on your shoppers’ favorite channels and/or offer free shipping (or other limited-time perks) on their orders.
Make sure that customers feel secure once they’re back on your site by prominently displaying your return policy, contact information, and your company’s values. Integrate social proof in the form of customer reviews, quotes, badges (e.g., “as seen on…”), and UGC.
Did you know: Products with five reviews have a 270% greater chance of converting than products with zero reviews, according to a study by The Good.
05. Purchase: make ordering easy and safe
Your checkout process should be fast and easy, with straightforward fields for shipping information, payment information, and contact info. Avoid redirects or other distractions that could deter shoppers from completing their purchase.
Accept multiple forms of payments, such as credit/debit cards, buy-now-pay-later (BNPL) options, and digital wallets. You’ll need to install a payment solution, like Wix Payments, to enable these options. As you evaluate different providers, check that your solution offers the highest level of PCI compliance, plus other security measures that keep your store (and your shoppers) well-protected.
Finally, make sure your customer service contact information is easily accessible so shoppers know they can reach out with any questions or concerns. All of this goes a long way towards building brand trust and motivating new customers to take a chance on your products.
06. Retention/loyalty: continue to provide value
Even after you’ve clinched the sale, there's still work to be done. Take advantage of post-purchase engagement opportunities to further build loyalty and incentivize repeat purchases. Foster customer retention by sending personalized emails with product recommendations based on past purchase behaviors.
Engage shoppers with relevant blog posts, video tutorials, and/or event invitations. Upsell and cross sell to existing customers. Or, create a loyalty program that rewards regular engagement with your brand.
Whichever route you take, remember to make it thoughtful. Avoid spreading yourself too thin and instead commit to one or two manageable strategies.
The (buyer) journey of a thousand miles...
The buyer journey is a long and winding road. Understanding what it looks like from your customer's lens ensures that every interaction with your brand is a positive one, and influences buyers to take a shorter route to your brand next time.
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.