The Shopping Journey for Online Customers

March 12, 2021
| by David Miles

The ‘shopper journey’ is a common phrase used in the retail and E-Commerce world. It refers to the steps taken by a shopper before, during, and after buying something.

We can compare the shopper journey to a race track of hurdles. All you have to do is jump over each hurdle and the sale is yours.

The Offline Shopping Journey

On the high street, you’re competing with potentially up to six other sprinters. If you sell to a specific niche, you might even be one of two racers taking part. There’s a high chance you’ll win the race.

The offline shopping journey is pretty straightforward: A shopper thinks of something they need, heads to the shop that’s most likely to have it, buys it, and heads home. There’s not a lot more to it.

Typically, there is a desire for something, a decision to visit a certain shop, and a conversion (a purchase).

If you need something that can be found in more than one shop — for example, clothing — you might visit the high street, browse each shop and by the end of it, decide on a shop to go back to. This is similar to the online journey, but much less complex.

The Online Shopping Journey

You might have six other sprinters on the offline racetrack, but online there are thousands. Not only do you have to leap over every hurdle, but you also have to be better and faster than everyone else. And if you don’t beat everyone? You have to start the race again. It’s rough.

The thing with the online shopping journey is that the customer has so many options: A customer begins their experience by needing something. They go online and, rather than visiting a specific store, type the item they need into a search engine.

They then receive results for hundreds of stores offering the item they need, all of which are eager to make that sale.

But when the shopper clicks your store, that doesn’t mean the game is won; online allows customers to view a wide selection of sites before deciding where to place their order. The trick is finding a way to attract a customer to your site rather than a competitor’s before they even realize they need something. And once you’ve got their sale? The next step is to figure out how you can get them to revisit your store, rather than starting their search all over again, next time.

This journey can be split into five stages: Awareness, Consideration, Conversion, Retention, Advocacy. Without completing the previous stage well, you can’t pass into the next phase.

Below, we break down each of these five stages to explain what they mean, where they are typically based and how you can improve.

1. Awareness — Getting your brand out there

Make your brand known to potential customers before they even have a need for it to get ahead in the race.

Rather than heading to a search engine, the customer will go directly to your store, without even looking at your competitors.

Awareness is the natural first stage of marketing. It can come in the form of word of mouth, media coverage, paid and organic social ads, etc.: Anything that gets your name in front of a customer.

Your aim is to provide potential customers with all the information they need to make a decision when the time comes. You need to show your legitimacy and expertise.

How to raise awareness of your brand:

  • Use search ads
  • Promote your brand on social media
  • Create a press release

2. Consideration — Making your brand look great

Even after the customer has clicked on your search ad, they might not end up buying from you. If winning the sale wasn’t hard enough already, the 2020 consumer is keen to follow advice from friends, family, and online influencers they trust and follow. So, if you want to get the sale, like the classic Spice Girls song says, ‘you gotta get with my (their) friends’. This is where the consideration stage comes in.

A shopper will use social media, review sites, and blogs to help them with purchasing decisions. Blogs can include your own website, as well as other advocate blogs. All these interaction points need to present your product as the best solution to the customer’s problem. That way, when the time comes, the customer will remember your brand and use you as the first port of call.

Ways of improving your chances of making a sale

  • Ask past customers to leave reviews on well-known sites (TrustPilot, for example)
  • Retargeting ads
  • Blogs about your expertise
    3. Conversion — Getting the sale

This where your path-to-purchase comes in. You need to make ordering from your site as simple as possible and offer impeccable customer service.

What is the path to purchase?

Many businesses will look at this as ‘how many clicks are required to make a purchase?’. The aim is to make the purchasing process as easy as possible for the customer. With every additional click it takes, there’s another chance for you to lose the sale.

The typical path to purchase is around 4–6 clicks: Clicking onto the website, the product, add to basket, view basket, checkout, confirmation.

How to improve the path to purchase

  • Remove requirements to create an account on your site
  • Use multi-channel E-Commerce (where customers can buy your products directly from social media)
  • Use speedy delivery and protective packaging
    4. Retention — Keep them coming back

So, you’ve got the sale. Isn’t that the end of the journey? Not quite.

Just because you win one race, doesn’t mean you’ve automatically won the race every time.

Because there’s so much competition online, you need to make a lasting impression to retain customers. Otherwise, when the time comes to use your services again, the shopper will just start the journey all over again on their favorite search engine. Repeat customers are much more loyal and cost-efficient, so retaining customers after their purchase is crucial.

How to retain customers

  • Retargeting ads
  • Newsletter subscriptions
  • Acting on feedback customers have provided and let them know of your improvements

Retaining customers through your returns policy

If a customer wants to return an item, it doesn’t have to be the end of the journey: A great returns service can still gain you a good reputation which can lead to the customer using you again.

That’s whereReturnGO can help: Using this system, your customer will be provided store credits instantly when they cancel a return request. That way, your business doesn’t have to deal with the costs associated with returns, and the customer can shop for something else without having to return the item. This innovative solution not only gives you a repeat customer but gives the customer a totally new returns experience that’ll likely end up with a positive review.

5. Advocacy — Getting customers to promote your bran

This stage a little less hands-on, and is more about how well you’ve done the previous stages. If you’ve provided your customer with great service, a perfect product, and a great path to purchase, you’re halfway to creating advocates for your brand.

As humans, we all like to complain about a service — twice as much as we like to talk about great experiences. This is why you need to create a truly amazing shopping experience in order to gain organic advocacy. Otherwise, advocates just need a little nudge.

Asking your customers for feedback or to refer a friend might seem a little naggy, but can have a great impact on gaining potential customers. Better reviews = a better reputation = more sales.

How to gain more brand advocates

  • Ask customers to post photos of their product on social media (user-generated content)
  • Create a referral scheme
  • Reward loyalty
  • Engage with influencers

So that’s the shopper’s journey. Try and find ways to improve each stage of the shopping experience to increase conversions and create more repeat customers.

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