Of all the business tools available to online retailers, customer journey maps are one of the most valuable.
If they’re not already a big part of your business strategy, you’re likely losing out on sales.
Customer journey maps clarify and develop important parts of the customer journey. They allow you to stand in the shoes of your customers, enabling you to improve nearly every aspect of their experience.
They also provide you with the kind of high-level overview you need to target customers with the content and touchpoints that will move them down your sales funnel.
Customer journey optimization, based on mapping, leads to more conversions, revenue, and long-term loyalty.
In this post, we’re going to take a deep-dive into customer journey mapping in ecommerce. We’ll define key terms, clarify some common misconceptions, look at real-world examples, and give you a clear, concise, and comprehensive roadmap for creating exceptional customer journey maps.
What Does “Customer Journey” Mean?
What’s the Difference Between the “Customer Journey” and the “Buyer Lifecycle”?
What Is a “Customer Journey Map”?
Why Is Customer Journey Mapping Important?
How to Write a Detailed Customer Journey Map: 10 Steps
Top Five Best Customer Journey Mapping Tools
Templates and Examples for Your Customer Journey Map
Sounds good? Let’s dig in.
The term “customer journey” refers to the sum-total of all experiences that an individual customer has with your brand.
There isn’t one customer journey. Rather, your store’s “customer journey” or “average customer journey” represents all the possible interactions that an individual might have.
These interactions can be split up into higher-level stages common to all customers, irrespective of their unique experiences.
Generally speaking, a typical customer journey is split into three parts: awareness, decision, and purchase.
Here’s a quick overview of each:
When a customer first acts on a need and encounters your brand in some form, they have entered the awareness stage.
The awareness stage can either be passive or active or include elements of both. A customer may realize they have a problem and actively conduct further research, or they may inadvertently come across an ad that highlights an issue they didn’t know existed.
The key thing to understand is that the customer is experiencing some kind of problem. It might be a pain they are trying to remedy or a desire they are seeking to satisfy.
Let’s say, for example, that somebody is having trouble sleeping because of back pain. They see an ad from a prominent mattress company offering orthopedic mattresses proven to help ease back issues. They are now in the awareness stage.
Alternatively, they may actively act on the problem and search for companies that sell mattress designed specifically to deal with back pain. They conduct a Google search by typing “best mattresses for back pain” and your company is listed in the results. Just like in the previous example, they are now in the awareness stage.
Awareness begins with the first interaction a potential customer has with your brand. This interaction, as explained above, can be a result of either inbound (active) or outbound (passive) activities on your part. Inbound ecommerce activities include search results, content marketing, organic social media posts, and so on. Outbound ecommerce activities encompass all types of marketing activities, especially paid ads, where you’re “interrupting” an activity unrelated to your store or the products you’re selling.
A person enters the consideration stage when they are actively evaluating solutions that you offer. They have clarified pain-points and are willing to spend money on a solution, though might not have not fully committed.
Crucially, people at this stage are likely to undertake research outside of your customer journey. They will evaluate competitor products, consult review websites, and consume information about their problem to gain a fuller understanding of it.
In terms of practical touchpoints with your store, customers will visit your site and read product pages. During the consideration stage, a potential customer encounters your value proposition, the package of services and features that you offer, in a meaningful way for the first time.
At this stage, a customer has committed to making a purchase. They might decide to buy a specific product or to take a more general approach (a type of product). In either case, they feel they have enough of an understanding of both their problem and the available solutions to make a definite decision.
In practical ecommerce terms, a customer that is in the decision stage will add a product to their basket and check out. As a retailer, your job is to remove any friction that might cause them to abandon their cart or opt for a competitor.
You should also cement their decision to purchase, particularly during checkout, by re-emphasizing your value proposition. Tactics like re-emphasizing free delivery during checkout and highlighting high demand (thus creating urgency), are both good examples.
The stages of the customer journey described above can take anywhere from a few minutes to several weeks or months. There’s no exact time-limit.
Equally, the customer journey isn’t a finite process. It doesn’t end as soon as a customer makes a purchase.
Instead, the different stages of the customer journey manifest themselves repeatedly, in different ways, over the course of a customer’s lifetime.
After a new customer has made an initial purchase, they will go through the various stages of awareness, consideration, and decision as they experience new problems and seek solutions.
The terms “customer journey” and “buyer lifecycle” are often confused. It’s not uncommon to hear marketers and business people use them interchangeably.
But they’re separate concepts and it’s essential to understand the distinctions.
The key difference is that the customer journey is understood from the perspective of the customer, while the buyer lifecycle is understood from the perspective of the business.
The customer journey encompasses all the customer-facing experiences that visitors to your online store will have.
Here’s a quick overview of the different stages of a typical ecommerce buyer lifecycle:
It’s essential to keep in mind that the buyer life-cycle corresponds with different stages of the customer journey.
There are areas of overlap between the customer journey and buyer lifecycle, and different parts of the customer journey correspond with stages of the buyer lifecycle. Nonetheless, it is important to view them as two separate documents with different purposes.
When marketers fall into the trap of conflating the buyer lifecycle with the customer journey, they create a “map” that isn’t as useful as it could be for understanding the overall customer experience and improving it.
A visual diagram of the buyer lifecycle helps you target customers with the right content and move them through your sales funnel.
A customer journey map allows you to understand the customer experience and expand and improve it from a user experience perspective.
For an in-depth analysis of this topic, check out our article: Customer Journey and Buyer Lifecycle: What’s the Difference?
A customer journey map is a visual representation of all possible experiences customers might have with your store. It also accounts for the sequences in which these experiences commonly occur.
Customer journeys may consist of start-to-finish experiences that culminate in a purchase or brand evangelism, or they might constitute one-off interactions with your brand that don’t go any further.
The key thing to keep in mind is that a customer journey map accounts for all possible types of experiences, big and small, from the perspective of the customer.
It is an essential part of your ecommerce toolkit because it helps you improve your customer experience in a very direct way, and ultimately boost conversions and revenue.
Where a visual representation of a buyer lifecycle or sales funnel allows you to track the progress of customers through pre-defined stages and target them with certain types of content, a customer journey map enables you to see through the eyes of your customers and tailor content and optimize the way it’s delivered.
What a lot of retailers fail to realize is that individual customer journeys can be hugely diverse. There are many touchpoints, all the way from impression to purchase, through which customers can interact with your store and brand. And because customer journey maps need to account for all of these touchpoints, they can be very complex documents.
Customer journey mapping is the process by which businesses step into their customers’ shoes and chart all the possible experiences they might have.
When creating a customer journey map, the first step is to build detailed profiles, accounting for customers’ pain-points, goals, and objections.
Once you’ve done this, you can map out all of your brand’s touchpoints and link them to different stages of the overall customer journey.
Analytics data about customer experience, which enables you to rate the level of satisfaction for each touchpoint, also comes into play. This analytics data is a vital part of your customer journey map because it allows you to pinpoint those areas where you’re not meeting customer expectations as well as you could be.
A study conducted by My Customer and Quadient showed that customer journey mapping produces positive results in 90% of cases, with an emphasis on customer satisfaction.
So why exactly is customer journey mapping so important?
Here’s a quick rundown of the main reasons:
With all of the background out of the way, let’s move onto the actual process of creating a customer journey map.
Here’s a ten-step guide for creating a detailed customer journey map:
Data about customers forms the basis of your map. Generally speaking, this data will come from two places: direct feedback and customer analytics.
Most retailers will need to construct numerous customer profiles. It is likely that your potential and current customer base is made up of many different segments. And your customer journey map needs to account for this.
You may wish to incorporate multiple buyer personas into the same map, or create a unique map for each one. In either case, don’t ignore the differences between your customer segments.
When talking with customers, make sure you seek the following information:
It’s important to structure conversations, whether one-on-one or via opinion forms, to receive information about the whole customer journey, not just a small part of it. Your profiles need to account for emotions, pain-points, desires etc. at all the different parts of the experience. Build feedback mechanisms into all the key stages of the customer journey so that you can gather detailed qualitative data for each one.
Build both ideal and actual customer profiles. The customers that represent maximum value for your store – and for whom you can provide maximum satisfaction – will form a core part of your customer journey map. But it’s also essential to account for your whole customer base. Of course, it’s not possible to include every single person, and you will need to lean to those segments that are most profitable. But it’s good practice to be as broad as possible.
Also, remember to draw on insights from across your whole company. Sales, marketing, and customer service teams will likely have a deep understanding of customer behavior and psychology, so leverage this storehouse of information.
When conducting research, it’s also crucial that you’re aware of what you don’t know. Be wary of those areas where you might be operating on false assumptions or outdated information. List them out wherever possible. Past experience and knowledge is an invaluable tool. But it’s not a substitute for hard data and customer feedback.
Generally speaking, customer journeys are split into four stages: awareness, consideration, decision, and loyalty.
This framework has come under criticism for being inherently biased because it assumes that customers will make a purchase from you. You may find it beneficial to opt for an alternative framework that splits the customer journey into more generic stages like “early”, “middle”, and “late”.
Whatever framework you choose, it is important to bear in mind that you are seeking to understand the customer experience from the moment a problem is first experienced to the time it is solved.
Your customer profile is essential at this stage. It will enable you to identify the unique stages that your customers go through rather than having to rely on a generic framework.
When involving multiple team-members in customer journey mapping, prototyping at this stage is a good practice. It will allow you to delineate the broad strokes of the map, ensuring it’s aligned with your goals and outcomes you intend to achieve, before filling in the details.
You may also wish to extend prototyping to subsequent stages, particularly when defining goals and touchpoints, to ensure everybody on your team is in agreement.
What are the customer goals, needs, desires, etc. for each general stage of the customer journey? This is where your customer profile comes into play again.
All of the information you gathered for each part of the customer journey through user feedback and data analytics come into action here.
Consider the most pressing concerns during awareness, consideration, decision, and loyalty. Don’t be afraid of getting your hands dirty when collecting data. Direct customer feedback is invaluable. Other qualitative research methods, such as watching videos of users interacting with your store, listening to customer service recordings, and connecting with customers via email, are all good strategies at this point.
It’s also essential to explore customers’ emotions along with their reasoning. Don’t assume that goals are purely rational. Ask which emotional experiences customers are seeking when they’re interacting with your brand.
For more information about getting into the mind of your customers, check out our article on hearing the “voice of the customer”: How to Hear the Voice of the Customer at a Highly Profitable Online Store.
Outline all touchpoints – any way that a customer might interact with your brand – which are applicable to each stage.
Many retailers approach this stage too narrowly. It’s essential to account for all possible touchpoints, not just your website. Ignoring minor channel or interactions will lead to an incomplete customer journey map.
Account for all of the following touchpoints:
Along with specific touchpoints, it’s also important to identify unique sequences or paths. Which actions do prospects take after clicking on a referral email as opposed to a Facebook ad, for example?
Use analytics data to identify the most common touchpoints. Google Analytics, in particular, is an excellent tool for identifying the most popular parts of your site. Use the “Behaviour Flow” and “Goal Flow” reports to see how prospective customers are moving between different touchpoints and which flows are the most common.
The funnel visualization report is another useful report for understanding customer behavior patterns.
Finally, don’t forget about off-site and offline customer touchpoints. Offline interactions form a crucial part of the ecommerce experience for most retail customers.
Moments of truth occur when a customer makes an important decision. A key moment of truth is when a prospect decides to buy.
Here’s a quick rundown of the most important moments of truth:
Moments of truth are important to include on your customer journey map because they signify the small windows of time in which a prospect is essentially “integrating” all experiences up until that point and making a decision going forward.
Targeting customers with the right content and touchpoints at these key moments of action encourages them to cross the line and move along the customer journey. Failure to provide adequate experiences will likely mean that they fall away and don’t return.
Where are customers typically dropping off and ending their journey? Where are they successfully completing their goals?
This step is about measuring the effectiveness of your customer journey as it currently exists. It’s where you gauge whether or not users are completing their goals in a straightforward and satisfying way.
Arguably the most important part of this analysis is determining where customers are dropping off without returning. It’s common, for example, for retailers to see a high rate of drop-off during checkout, and this is often the result of poorly-designed checkout forms.
Google Analytics data is essential for identifying these areas of dropoff. By incorporating this data into your customer journey map, you can tie it to specific goals and pain-points and identify the reasons that customers might be leaving your site.
You’ve already gathered customer feedback so it might seem unnecessary to do so again.
But additional feedback can be immensely useful once you’ve started to put together your customer journey. At this stage of the process, you will likely be aware of what was missing in your original customer research.
Gather customer feedback for any touchpoints were data is lacking and incorporate this into your customer map.
You’ll also see clearly where your current feedback processes are falling short. Identifying these “blind spots” enables you to pinpoint the areas of your customer experience that you have been overlooking. You can then adjust your feedback processes accordingly.
This step is where the customer journey map moves from being an abstract document to a practical tool.
Highlight the most problematic areas on your map and prioritize them. Rank them according to the impact improvements will have on your overall customer journey.
Attaching KPIs to each stage of the customer journey will enable you to quickly see which areas are most problematic and hone in on the specific touchpoints that require attention.
You should also determine your conversion-centered metrics for each general stage of the customer journey. This will allow you to tie your sales funnel/buyer lifecycle to your customer map so they’re not two standalone documents.
Pinpoint the moments where customers are experiencing strong emotions. These represent fantastic opportunities to form a relationship and nudge customers towards a purchase. You can tailor content and CTAs to best meet their needs or leverage positive feelings.
Amplifying positive feelings is also one of the best ways to boost the satisfaction that customers feel when interacting with your store. Highlighting the best touchpoints, those which trigger positive emotions, is a great way to figure out where to allocate resources when maintaining and improving touchpoints.
How do competitor customer journeys compare to yours? What about heuristic frameworks like Nielsen’s? Comparison is an excellent way to stay ahead of the competition.
Your customer journey mapping process needs to account for activity on competitor stores and through competitor touchpoints.
You don’t need to build highly-detailed documents. But consistent mapping of your competitor customer journeys is one of the most effective ways of staying on top of industry trends and innovations.
An understanding of competitor maps will also provide you with new ideas for improving your own customer journey.
Take a look at our in-depth article on Nielsen Heuristics for some ideas about how you can improve your current customer journey.
Customer journey maps are excellent for generating new ideas, touchpoints, and customer experiences. They act as a focal document for your whole team, enabling them to brainstorm new approaches.
Using your customer journey map as an aid for idea-generation among your team is an excellent way of ensuring a continuous flow of options for testing and split-testing. Taking this approach guarantees that you will have suggestions for making improvements going forward.
It’s also good practice to ask what an ideal customer journey looks like based on your map. Ideally, you should create a separate document. This is an important supplementary tool that you can use to gauge the quality of your current customer journey and provides you with a tangible goal to aspire to.
Because customer journey mapping tools are essentially diagram-creation apps, they tend to be relatively inexpensive. You should consider investing in one if you haven’t already.
Here’s a quick rundown of the best tools on the market.
It’s important to build a customer journey map that accurately caters to the unique touchpoints and goals of your business.
Remember that it’s a practical, “living” document that will be used by multiple people in your organization to design the customer experience and inform sales and marketing decisions.
Here are some of the best templates from around the web:
All of the apps described in the previous section will also provide you with templates.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed when approaching customer journey mapping. Customer journey maps are complex documents that take time and research to build.
It’s essential, however, not to overlook this vital document. It will inform virtually all of your customer-related processes as an online retailer, with the power to improve and streamline your whole customer experience.
But there’s an important point to keep in mind.
Customer journey mapping is an ongoing process. Maps should be updated regularly – quarterly or even monthly. And testing, the basis of any successful and adaptable customer journey, needs to occur alongside this process.
Now, time to get to work on your customer profiles.
We’ve put together a comprehensive 115-point checklist for improving your whole store, from your home page to your checkout form. Download it now for free.