Skip to main content
Qualtrics Home page

See how CustomerXM works

Watch On Demand Demo

How to map the ecommerce customer journey

10 min read
Here’s how to create ecommerce experiences customers will love you for.

We’ve written previously about customer journeys and how they add value to your CX program. Today we’ll focus on mapping customer journeys in ecommerce businesses, and cover some of the things you need to consider when you start this task.

What is a customer journey?

A customer journey is made up of the steps a customer takes in completing a task, whether it’s making a purchase, booking a service or figuring out how to solve a problem with the help of your customer services. These steps, known as touchpoints, work together to create an overall experience which can be positive, negative or neutral.

Customer journeys typically involve multiple channels and platforms and can go on over days, weeks or even months, depending on the nature of your business. Touchpoints can be business-owned, such as your website and marketing, or third-party, such as reviews and referrals.

It’s worth noting that a consumer journey (ecommerce or otherwise) isn’t within a company’s control. Customers create their own journeys, making their way between touchpoints as they seek to complete their tasks and meet their goals. A company’s role is to anticipate these goals and build an omni-channel environment that supports, rather than blocks them.

Free Course: Customer Journey Management & Improvement

Why map customer journeys?

When we think in terms of customer journeys, rather than individual interactions or tasks, we can start to bring the full customer experience into focus and understand how different parts of a business fit together to create it. This is a crucial step in creating and maintaining positive customer experiences.

As McKinsey describes, It’s possible for a business to have every touchpoint performing well but still experience high churn and low customer satisfaction. This is because the pathways and processes linking the touchpoints aren’t designed with user goals in mind, and the resulting customer journeys are frustrating, confusing and overly drawn-out. The puzzle pieces are optimised, but the way they fit together is not.

Customer journey mapping offers a number of benefits. It can

  • Help you see important connections between different parts of your business (which from an internal perspective might seem quite separate)
  • Understand the customer’s pain points within a journey and get insights on how to fix them
  • Optimise the way individual touchpoints link together
  • Appreciate the context of a customer’s touchpoints – for example, when they call your contact centre, they may already have interacted with your social media accounts and made an attempt to self-serve on your website

Journey mapping is very important for online retail. Customers on a digital platform don’t have the option to ask store staff for support or observe and learn from other customers as they would in a bricks and mortar store. The quality of their experience rests on services, flows and interfaces a business provides, and if these aren’t performing at their absolute best, customers may leave and not come back.

Customer journey stages

There may be a large number of touchpoints to consider when creating an ecommerce customer journey map. It can be helpful to categorise them into macro-level stages, such as:

1. Awareness

The customer learns who you are and what you have to offer. The touchpoints might include:

  • advertising
  • word-of-mouth recommendations
  • media coverage
  • social media
  • search engines
  • your website or app

2. Consideration

The customer has identified you as a possible solution to their needs. They are researching and comparing options. Touchpoints might include:

  • review sites
  • buyer’s guides (on your site or elsewhere)
  • retargeting ads
  • promotional emails
  • your product pages
  • your delivery, guarantee and returns pages

3. Decision

The customer has chosen you. They’ll now go through the process of making a purchase, including touchpoints like:

  • adding items to a basket
  • finding and using coupon or discount code
  • third-party payment provider
  • finance or buy-now-pay later application process
  • confirmation and receipt

4. Service / ownership

After the transaction takes place, the customer moves on to touchpoints like:

  • customer service and support
  • feedback and reviews (on your site or elsewhere)
  • returns and refunds process

These are just examples of touchpoints in a typical ecommerce customer journey. Every journey is different, and your customers may revisit stages, skip steps, drop out midway or jump between touchpoints in unpredictable ways.

eBook: The Essential Website Experience & UX Playbook

Free Download

Drop-off points

Locating drop-off points is a key part of the ecommerce customer journey mapping exercise. Drop-off points, or drop-offs, are the times and places where a customer abandons their journey and fails to complete their task. Your ecommerce software data and your user experience feedback can work in tandem to tell you where the drop-offs are and what the customer is thinking and feeling at the point they decide to abandon their shopping cart during the decision phase or stop browsing product categories during consideration.

Buyer personas

As we’ve seen, customer journeys are complex. Mapping every possible ecommerce customer journey would take a long time and likely end up being prohibitively expensive. For many businesses, a better option is to identify the most valuable customer groups or segments and focus on optimising their typical journeys.

Creating a set of buyer personas for these high-value customers can help you gain a better understanding of their goals and behaviours so you can build ecommerce customer journey maps that are as intuitive and useful as possible.

Buyer personas are realistic but fictional characters that represent key segments of your audience. A persona might include images of the character, a biography and detailed descriptions of how they perceive and interact with your brand. It can also point to the character’s level of knowledge of your market, the kind of media they consume, their habits and their attitudes to shopping and retail.

You can use both qualitative and quantitative data to build up a picture of your key customer groups. Information like typical spend, length and frequency of website visits and product categories of interest, along with quotes from open-field feedback, can help illustrate a customer’s goals and motivations.

Customer and business goals

For each step along the ecommerce user journey there will be specific goals for both business and customers. Take time to think about and list out the total scope of possible user goals especially, as they’re likely to be diverse and detailed. The main and obvious one may be making a purchase, but there will be others that either support and feed into that goal or follow on from it. A customer’s goal might be to:

Educate themselves about a product category

Your site may help them learn about product features and benefits to help with purchase decisions – for example is a dishwasher equipped with a delay end timer feature, what is that and how does it help?

Use product information to eliminate concerns

A customer might come to your ecommerce platform with restrictions or objections that would rule out a product choice (e.g. a dress looks good but if it’s made from wool it’s not suitable as the recipient is allergic)

Understand where a product sits within a range

A customer might discover from your site that the item they have in mind is a mid-range option. Their goal might be to find out if there’s a cheaper one with fewer features, or if they can spend more to get a similar one that’s bigger or has a more attractive design.

Find out about finance options

Is buy-now-pay-later available, or could they pay in instalments?

Check and compare product guarantees

This might factor in at the consideration stage as the customer weighs up whether to buy from you or a competitor. Another store may offer the same product at the same price but with a longer or shorter guarantee period.

Returns policy

Like product guarantees, returns conditions could help a customer choose between you and a competitor.

Understanding user goals can help you develop richer and more nuanced buyer personas. It can also help you develop more supportive and helpful processes and pathways that allow customers to navigate your ecommerce platform in a way that makes sense and reduces the friction and frustration that might otherwise lead to drop-offs.

eBook: The Essential Website Experience & UX Playbook