As an eCommerce business owner or marketer, you may face challenges, such as strong competition, complicated order fulfilment and the constant pressure to deliver an exceptional customer experience (CX). Better planning can help mitigate some of these challenges.

For instance, mapping out the eCommerce customer journey gives you useful insights you can use to understand customer behavior, tackle stumbling blocks, identify touchpoints, and inform your marketing strategy. This will enable you to increase engagement, conversions and customer satisfaction – and improve CX in the process.

In this article, you'll learn what a customer journey is and how to build an effective customer journey map in five stages.

What's a customer journey?

Mailchimp best explains the customer journey concept with this clear definition: a customer journey is the actions customers take before and after purchasing. By understanding these actions, you can plan and implement tailored marketing strategies to improve the customer experience.

Here's an example of what a simple customer journey might look like:

Bob needs a new sofa. He sees a TV ad for a nationwide furniture store offering a flash sale on sofas over the coming weekend. He visits the store on Saturday and interacts with a salesperson who shows him all the sofas in his price range. Bob puts a deposit down on one with a view to collecting in a few days.

The furniture store emails Bob a receipt and confirms the collection date. In the meantime, Bob has questions about the sofa's size, so he chats with the store over SMS. Bob visits the store on collection day and pays his balance before leaving with the sofa. Again, the store emails a receipt, and also a survey, so Bob can leave feedback on their service.

Man holding a blue smartphone

"The customer journey begins from the moment a customer first hears about your brand. It's the whole experience from browsing and choosing a product to making a purchase and receiving customer support. It also includes the interactions customers make post-purchase – and if they return and buy again."

Taavi Rebane, Head of Marketing, Messente.

What is the customer journey in eCommerce?

The typical eCommerce customer journey includes all the actions customers take before and after buying a product or service via an online store. These may include noticing a Facebook ad for a product, clicking on a landing page, browsing the store's testimonials, adding the item to their basket, completing the checkout process, and receiving post-purchase communications.

What are the 5 stages of the eCommerce customer journey?

Traditionally, the stages of the eCommerce customer journey were Discovery, Interest, Intent, Purchase, and Engagement. They reflected the way customers used to make purchasing decisions – by researching brands and eliminating choices until they found the one that best met their needs.

Thanks to the evolving digital and mobile landscape, customers interact and shop differently nowadays. They're more likely to come into contact with a brand much earlier than before, for example, through online ads, social media, product experiences, and video reviews. They may also have several informal conversations with a business before buying.

So, the five customer journey stages have been altered to reflect the modern consumer. Designed to be more customer-centric and macro-level, the stages are now Awareness, Consideration, Conversion, Retention, and Advocacy. The first three stages should also be considered as the customer moves into the latter stages of their journey. Let's explore this model in detail.

Simple funnel diagram - five eCommerce customer journey stages

1. Awareness

This first stage is about generating brand awareness among your target audience. Potential customers may know nothing about your business or products, so you need to grab their attention with content that resonates with their needs. This can be done through paid and organic digital marketing campaigns, such as online ads, social media posts, blog posts, website landing pages, and SEO.

2. Consideration

The consideration stage involves getting customers to trust your business and evaluate your offering. Case studies and testimonials are excellent tools for building credibility and authenticity. Another option is to create comparison blog posts or videos to help prospects see the benefits of your products compared to your competitors. Retargeting is also a good strategy for recapturing visitors who leave your store without purchasing. Use direct marketing (e.g., email or SMS campaigns) for audience segments where you have contact details.

3. Conversion

At this point, potential customers make a purchasing decision. Your aim is to encourage them to convert and make the process as simple as possible. Your marketing campaigns should contain persuasive copy that reinforces the benefits of your products or services, plus clear call-to-actions that leave recipients in no doubt about the action they should take. The checkout process must also be smooth and fast so buyers don't experience glitches or frustrations due to technical errors or slow-loading pages.

4. Retention

Retention involves nurturing customers long after their initial purchase to build brand loyalty and increase customer lifetime value. Your efforts will focus on keeping customers happy and engaged, which you can do through a loyalty programme, exclusive offers and exciting content. In this stage, you shouldn't forget about awareness, consideration and conversion, especially in a saturated market where customers can easily switch to competitors. Think of those first three stages as a loop that customers go through in order for you to retain them.

5. Advocacy

In the final stage, customers become brand advocates and actively recommend your business to friends and family. Word-of-mouth is a powerful form of marketing, as people are more likely to trust and act on the advice of someone they know. When you have a group of brand advocates, you'll see more buyers being referred, more social media engagement - and more sales.

Building an eCommerce customer journey map

A customer journey map is a visual representation of the customer experience. It charts every possible interaction customers could have during each of the five stages described above, including any areas of friction.

Mapping out customer journeys helps sales, marketing and customer service teams understand how customers interact with a business and identify ways to improve the overall experience.

The process involves capturing all customer touchpoints—all the ways in which customer interactions happen. These can be direct touchpoints like your website, online adverts, email newsletters, promotional SMS messages (text alerts), and phone calls. They can also be indirect touchpoints like social media, surveys, blog posts, forum chats, or an online knowledge base. Let's look closely at other factors when mapping the customer's journey.

Considerations when building the customer journey map

A customer journey map requires a deep understanding of existing and prospective customers. You'll need to start with a solid research exercise and gather qualitative data. Identify a representative group of customers and interview them to learn what they like and don't like about your products and service. Previous customer feedback and reviews should also feed into the data. Internal stakeholders, such as customer service agents, should be interviewed to understand the types of queries and complaints they receive (and how these interactions are managed).

It's important to let go of any assumptions you've made about how customers feel about their experience with your brand. Your customer journey map should be created from the customer's perspective - it may help to employ a third-party research agency to draft unbiased survey questions.

Ultimately, you should aim to understand:

  • Every possible customer interaction with your business and how customers feel during each one, taking into account positive and negative factors.

  • Every touchpoint that customers use to interact with your business and how they are performing. For example, you should check whether your website is performing smoothly and how users navigate it (heat maps can help with this).

Once you've gathered enough data, you can begin to analyse and make sense of it. Use your findings to identify customer journey pain points and set measurable goals for improving them.

Finally, consider what you want your customer journey map to look like. The screenshot below is an example of a simple flowchart structure covering each of the five eCommerce journey stages and some touchpoints throughout. A more complex but useful example is Hubspot's linear design customer journey map, which captures snippets of customer feedback. There are also several online tools to help with customer journey mapping.

The benefits of customer journey mapping

Customer journey mapping brings several benefits to your business, the main one being that you'll know and understand your customers much better and perceive your business as they do. You'll also benefit from:

  • Increased efficiency – after identifying customer behavior and pain points, you can implement methods to address them. A smoother customer experience, with fewer queries and complaints, will ease the pressure on your customer support team.

  • Better effectiveness – you'll see how to optimise the links between touchpoints for an excellent customer experience. For example, you might learn through customer feedback that your after-sales support isn't as helpful or personalised as pre-sales support. In this case, you could focus on making pre and post-sales support more cohesive and tailored to each customer.

  • Precise, realistic goals – it's much easier to set achievable objectives when you know exactly what customers are experiencing - and what they expect from your business.

  • Better insights for upscaling and expansion – no more guessing at the best ways to grow your business - you'll have data to back you up that you're headed in the right direction.

  • Reduction in customer pain points – by removing areas of friction, you'll get fewer complaints and more positive customer reviews.

Enhancing the eCommerce customer journey

In addition to the specific feedback and pain points you'll identify when you map customer journeys, there are some general principles to abide by when making improvements:

  • Don't miss any touchpoints – even the forms you have on your website count as an interaction.

  • Offer proactive customer service – minimise the effort customers need to put in to find information.

  • Personalise interactions – customers appreciate a personal touch and expect you to know about previous phone calls or emails. Invest in a good CRM and build a holistic view of each customer.

  • Optimise the online experience – fast-loading pages, straightforward website navigation, frictionless checkout, and accessible customer support are essential.

  • Continue gathering data – and analysing it regularly since customers' needs are constantly evolving.

  • Keep an eye on the market – so you can adapt your offering if demand changes.

  • Keep developing your customer base – not just by attracting new customers but also by building relationships with existing customers.

Improving the online customer journey: strategies and tools

One thing you can start implementing very quickly during the discovery stage is on-page or follow-up surveys after every purchase or support request. These can help you gather customer data and identify pain points in real-time.

With automated survey software, you can send customers a brief questionnaire at the end of a live chat session to check whether their query has been resolved effectively. These can also be used to capture CSAT scores and customer comments.

There are plenty of marketing tools eCommerce businesses can use to help deliver a better customer experience. Using an email or SMS marketing solution, you can provide various automated campaigns, like personalised promotions, event-triggered messages, e.g., abandoned cart alerts and support messages like ticket confirmations and FAQ responses.

Woman opening package

Enhance the customer experience via customer journey mapping

eCommerce customer journey mapping gives you a thorough understanding of your customers and what they expect from your business. It also helps you set better goals, improve operations and reduce complaints.

When creating your customer journey map, consider the eCommerce marketing funnel customers go through – the five stages: Awareness, Consideration, Purchase, Retention and Advocacy. The latter stage is the holy grail you should aim for.

Creating your customer journey map starts with gathering information from customers and staff. Once you analyse your data, you'll identify customer pain points and how the various touchpoints are performing so you can start improving the customer experience. Using the principles we've described above, along with smart marketing strategies and tools, will help.

Considering automated SMS marketing campaigns to enhance the customer journey? Explore Messente's mass texting service today.