The Essential Guide to Ecommerce Customer Journeys: Mapping Your Store’s Customer Journey

March 30, 2021
Shanif Dhanani
Shanif Dhanani
Co-Founder and CEO, Apteo

Being an ecommerce business comes with challenges that brick-and-mortar retailers typically don’t face. For one, ecommerce shop owners rarely see their customers, even if they have an idea of who they are. 

This makes it tough to empathize with the customer and, in turn, makes it difficult to ensure that all of the customer’s needs are met—which is a top priority in achieving business goals. Supporting customers through each step of the buying process not only leads to more conversions, but also drives repeat business.

Ecommerce businesses can use the customer journey to empathize with their audiences, map out the decisions their customers make, and learn how to support them through each step in the process—leading to satisfied customers who will support the store’s growth.

This is the first in a series of posts we’re proud to compile as an essential guide to ecommerce customer journeys. In this initial guide, we’ll focus on outlining what the customer journey is, how to visualize your business’s unique customer journey, and how to analyze it to make sure the journey is working for both the customer and for your business.

What is the customer journey?

The customer journey is the set of steps a customer takes to purchase, use, and seek support for a product. From an ecommerce business’s perspective, the journey may be perceived as a funnel, starting with all site visits at the opening of the funnel and narrowing down through sessions with a conversion at the end of the funnel.

It’s important to keep in mind, though, that the journey is taken by the customer and that your business is not inherently in charge of what that journey looks like. A customer journey arises organically based on customer behavior.

However, your business can influence the customer journey using touchpoints, which are the tactics used to engage with customers and influence their behavior at every step in their unique journeys. By designing your marketing strategy around your company’s unique customer journey, you can shape the journey to drive desired behaviors like conversions and repeat purchases.

The Stages of the Customer Journey

Every ecommerce customer journey contains five stages with touchpoints that work well at each stage:

Awareness

At the awareness stage, a shopper learns about your brand and has a basic understanding of your offerings. They may or may not be looking for a solution to a problem that they have. With effective touchpoints, your brand can increase its audience.

Touchpoints for the Awareness Stage include:

  • Word-of-mouth
  • Traditional advertising methods
  • Social media presence and advertising
  • Search engine optimization
  • Media coverage

Consideration

Shoppers at the consideration stage know they are looking to make a purchase and are considering your product as a way to meet their needs and wants. They are actively researching and weighing their options. With effective touchpoints at this stage, you will engage potential customers and encourage them to make a purchase by sharing what makes your products valuable.

Touchpoints for the Consideration Stage include:

  • Ad retargeting
  • Product pages
  • Reviews on your site or third-party sites
  • Blog posts on your site or elsewhere
  • Promotional emails
  • Informational pages like shipping and return policies

Acquisition

When a customer makes it to the acquisition stage, they have decided to purchase your product. This is not the end of the customer journey. Effective use of touchpoints at this stage will optimize the customer experience and guide the customer into the final two stages of the journey.

Touchpoints for the Acquisition Stage include:

  • Discount codes
  • Account creation
  • Secure checkout process and payment methods
  • Shipping options
  • Installment payment options like Klarna or Afterpay
  • Confirmation and receipt communications

Retention

Retained customers who make repeat purchases are invaluable to ecommerce businesses because they require fewer resources to keep engaged. When customers enter the retention stage, an eCommerce business has the opportunity to exceed expectations with the following touchpoints.

Touchpoints for the Retention Stage:

  • Review solicitation
  • Blog posts
  • How-to guides
  • Email updates and newsletters
  • Loyalty programs
  • Customer support interactions

Advocacy

Guiding customers to the advocacy stage is the most difficult to achieve but provides great value to your online store. When a customer actively advocates for your brand, you will receive word-of-mouth referrals that are more likely to become customers than other acquisition methods. Gaining advocates requires optimizing the entire customer journey and the touchpoints used at each stage. Your business can support and encourage advocacy with the following touchpoints.

Touchpoints for the Advocacy Stage

  • Referral bonuses
  • Testimonials
  • Requesting customers to “spread the word”

What is a customer journey map?

The most effective way to understand and optimize your business’s unique customer journey is by mapping it. A customer journey map is a diagram that serves as a visualization of the steps customers take (often aligning with the stages outlined above) as they engage with your brand to achieve a goal they have in mind.

Customer journey maps outline key actions, customer motivations, and pain points during the purchasing process, showing areas where your company can optimize and smooth the process for the customer. Mapping the customer journey is not a one-time task—it’s an ongoing process that should be reviewed monthly or quarterly. 

Why is mapping customer journeys helpful?

Mapping your store’s customer journey is important because it’s a simple way to get a high-level overview of a customer’s experience in a manner that is detailed and data-driven. It provides a way to empathize with your audience and gives insight into how to guide their decision making and lead them through each stage of the journey.

Understanding the full customer experience also:

  • Helps a business understand how each process, internal and external, affects the customer journey.
  • Identifies pain points for customers and gives options for how to alleviate them, such as through proactive customer service.
  • Encourages a customer focus throughout the company, improving high-level decision making.
  • Improves retention by making customers feel valued.

How to Map Your Store’s Customer Journey

Identify objectives for the map.

Determine exactly what your company needs from mapping its customer journey. Chances are, you’re already working towards improving KPIs. Consider how a customer journey map will support those goals to keep your map focused.

Use customer personas to guide the map.

Knowing who your customers are will help you build out an effective customer journey map. Use demographic and psychographic information to construct customer personas and understand your customers’ motivations as they move throughout their journeys.

List all the touchpoints your business uses.

Keeping a master list of all the touchpoints your company uses will give you a “menu” of options as you create your map and as you make changes to improve your customer journey. There is no wrong or right way to use a touchpoint so long as it’s effective for your customer journey.

Select the elements to include in your map.

This includes actions taken by the customer, like email sign-ups or purchases, as well as the mental state of the customer (goals, emotions, motivations) as they move through the buying process. The elements you select will depend on the goals you outlined in the first step. 

Gather data that shows what your customer journey currently looks like.

Use Google Analytics or a heatmapping client to see how users move throughout your website and where they drop off. The Top Conversion Path feature on Google Analytics is also helpful to see where conversions come from.

If you aren’t already, include UTM codes to track how users got to your website and segment the results to match your buyer personas.

Compile the information into a graphic.

This can be as simple as an Excel spreadsheet or as elaborate as a fully illustrated map. Typically, labels for columns identify the stages of the customer journey, and the elements selected in the fourth step are the labels for rows. Include as much detail as you can so you can see both high-level trends and the circumstances that create those trends.

Use the completed map to analyze your customer journey.

Simply creating a map won’t do your eCommerce business much good. The map is a tool to guide business strategy, which changes regularly. Update your map and use it to analyze your customer journey at least quarterly.

How to Analyze Your Store’s Customer Journey

Getting the most out of customer journey mapping requires careful analysis. Audit your customer journey map to pinpoint where improvements can be made to support your customers and reduce drop-offs. Use the following questions to guide your analysis:

Where are the shopper’s expectations not met?

Customers have different needs at each stage in the journey, and touchpoints are the tactics used to meet those needs. Are there areas where your touchpoints are missing the mark for what the customer is looking for?

Where are expectations met or exceeded?

Auditing your customer journey doesn’t have to solely focus on the negative. Understanding what you’re doing right can help you carry strengths into all stages of the customer journey and recreate positive customer experiences.

Where are the pain points for the customer?

Some decisions are more easily made than others. Where are the toughest decisions made by your customers? What touchpoints can be used to alleviate these difficulties and provide a smooth experience?

Are there any unnecessary touchpoints or interactions?

A streamlined experience is best for both the customer and for your ecommerce business: Customers want a simple purchase process and your company benefits from using fewer resources to acquire and retain customers. How can you make your customer journey more efficient?

How can you ease transitions between channels?

In an eCommerce customer journey, users often engage with your brand through several channels before making a purchase, like social media, email, and your online store. While an omnichannel approach is important, it must be easy for the customer to navigate. Make sure your links, homepage, landing pages, and sign-up forms are all optimized to enable smooth transitions between channels. 

The Best Ecommerce Customer Journeys

Sephora

Sephora is a top-tier beauty retailer with an excellent customer journey for their eCommerce shoppers. Regular promotions and active social media channels guide shoppers to the brand, while user-driven content, personalized review profiles, and how-tos keep customers engaged. Plus they offer a generous loyalty program that allows shoppers to earn points that can be used on in-person services and product samples, driving repeat purchases.

Revolve

Revolve is an all-in-one eCommerce shop for designer clothing, often featuring brands that can’t be found elsewhere online. Revolve supports their eCommerce niche with influencer marketing. Their easy-to-understand return and exchange policy soothes any worries shoppers may have (designer clothing is a major purchase!) and makes the customer feel like their satisfaction is Revolve’s top priority.

Tuft & Needle

As the direct-to-consumer mattress market has grown, Tuft & Needle has emerged as a standout offering. They aim to be a single stop for mattress buyers who will also likely be looking for new sheets, bed frames, and pillows. Their generous 100-day warranty also keeps buyer’s remorse at bay, much like Revolve’s return policy. Tuft & Needle also offers thorough FAQ pages and how-tos to support their products and, in turn, their customers.

Adagio Teas

Adagio started as a small retailer of teas, tisanes, and tea accessories and has masterfully grown into an international eCommerce store for their products. Their online store design is easy to navigate and search, offering FAQs and recommendations so the customer isn’t overwhelmed by the variety of products. Their product pages contain thorough information, but the product listing pages themselves feature details like high ratings. To keep customers returning, they include unique tea samples and a rewards program that mirrors that of Sephora.

The Best Tools for Mapping Customer Journeys

UXPressia

UXPressia is a dedicated tool for researching and creating customer journey maps. This tool creates highly customized visualizations with real-time collaboration. Maps can be based on customer personas and omnichannel movement. Plus, UXPressia integrates with Google Analytics. The maps are easy to export into image and document files and can be presented right in the UXPressia client.

Medallia

Medallia is a customer experience optimization platform that offers a solution for understanding and optimizing customer journeys. Their CX Journeys solution has predictive capabilities and provides actionable insights based on data, making it great for customer journey development and mapping. 

Microsoft Visio

If you’re confident in your research abilities, flowchart programs are a good solution for generating high-quality customer journey maps. If your business uses the Microsoft 365 ecosystem, Visio is an option for diagramming your customer journey with interactive graphics, real-time collaboration, and easy-to-use designs. Pricing is flexible, too, depending on your business’s needs.

LucidChart

LucidChart is a data visualization solution that boasts appealing design and powerful integrations for a data-backed approach to your customer journey map. Templates are available to help you get started. LucidChart offers competitive pricing depending on the size of your team and what you need out of a customer journey mapping tool.

Apteo Supports Ecommerce Customer Journeys

Apteo’s AI-powered growth solution helps teams understand their ecommerce audiences and customer behavior, which are key elements in mapping the customer journey. To learn how Apteo will support your ecommerce customer journey and improve retention, try it free.

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UX Indonesia on Unsplash

About the Author

Shanif Dhanani
Shanif Dhanani
Co-Founder and CEO, Apteo

Shanif Dhanani is the co-founder & CEO of Apteo. Prior to Apteo, Shanif was a data scientist and software engineer at Twitter, and prior to that he was the lead engineer and head of analytics at TapCommerce, a NYC-based ad tech startup acquired by Twitter. He has a passion for all things data and analytics, loves adventure traveling, and generally loves living in New York City.

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