From an initial expression of interest, to a purchase, to receiving ongoing support and ultimately buying again, customers take a variety of journeys as they interact with brands.
These journeys define the consumer experience and play an important role in the success of e-commerce businesses. The more a company considers and plans for the paths its customers will follow, the more likely it is that the business will be able to design effective journeys for those customers.
“The customer journey refers to the life cycle or stages an individual travels through in their relationship with a brand,” Yaniv Navot, chief marketing officer for Dynamic Yield, explained to the E-Commerce Times.
“From awareness to consideration, intent, purchase, and even loyalty, each journey differs per customer and encompasses a variety of channels, touchpoints, and experiences.”
Plan From the Customer’s Perspective
It’s crucial for brands to remember, as well, that no two customer journeys are exactly alike.
“One shopper may notice an advertisement on the subway and later visit the site for the first time to begin browsing, while another could end up on the site after searching for a specific keyword or item on Google,” explained Navot.
“Although both journeys may not include any previous exposure to the brand, one shopper, who is very much still in the awareness phase, likely requires more nurturing than the other, who has already exhibited intent and simply needs support in expediting their purchase decision.”
Visualizing possible customer journeys before they’ve ever taken place helps brands to understand how to design them in the first place.
“At a high level, a customer journey encompasses all the different stages and interactions a customer goes through with a brand over time,” Matt Nolan, senior director of product marketing, decision sciences for Pega, told the E-Commerce Times.
“This allows a business to visualize how a customer progresses so they can best determine the most efficient and effective path for them to take, the channels they use, and the right messages to send to ultimately convert them, build brand loyalty, and keep them coming back for more.
Just as brick-and-mortar stores pay attention to aisles, signage, and atmosphere, e-commerce brands need to think about the many possible experiences of the customers who enter their digital doors.
“Today’s consumer journey is less about a step-by-step route and more about building a strategy that recognizes the path to purchase now takes place wherever shoppers are and through whichever channels are the easiest to buy,” Peter Crosby, executive director of the Digital Shelf Institute and vice president of corporate marketing for Salsify, told the E-Commerce Times.
“Given how many channels and devices may be involved in the path to purchase, designing and planning effective consumer journeys is critical to winning on the digital shelf.”
Considering all the different ways consumers interact with e-commerce companies, it’s vital for brands to create journeys that feel seamless and continuous, even in a complex and multifaceted world.
“As consumers move between devices and channels, brands need to fully understand the specific path to purchase and maintain consistency in marketing messages across every channel,” said Crosby.
This requires a process and the technology to create a single set of product information across all channels and the ability to carry consumer data from one channel to another. This leads to stronger, more engaging consumer experiences and, essentially, more effective consumer journeys.”
Digital customer journeys need to be rooted in some of the same fundamentals initially developed for retail spaces and experiences — even as those principles are remodeled for the realities of e-commerce.
“The classic representation of the customer journey was created a long time ago to signify a model that helps to easily understand what metrics and channels to look at each stage for the users’ path toward becoming customers,” said Navot.
“In my opinion, while the funnel idea can be directionally helpful, it is too narrow and presents an overly simplified view of the world. Actual customer journeys today are much more complex than a linear funnel would indicate.”
Putting Data to Work
A large part of designing successful e-commerce journeys is making effective use of data.
“Data is the most critical element for a successful journey,” said Crosby. “In e-commerce, data equals power when used correctly. With better data, you can personalize the customer journey. In fact, 86 percent of marketers say their campaigns perform better when tailored to different audience segments.”
Harnessing the power of data can help brands create highly-personalized messaging — essentially the digital signage that leads customers from one point on a journey to the next.
“Brands that personalize the customer journey seize every interaction they have with customers to show how well they understand their unique preferences,” explained Crosby. “They use these opportunities to deliver contextual, relevant messaging.
“Knowing the digital journeys customers are taking also helps brands better understand customer interests and pain points. This insight allows them to create products and strategies that serve those needs. The result is more significant sales and improved customer loyalty.”
Despite all the changes brought about by digital technologies, the fundamental truth is that customers prefer to go on journeys with brands they like and trust.
“The consumer’s path to purchase is increasingly happening online, with fewer in-store interactions,” said Crosby. “This will continue even as we return to in-person activities, as 43 percent of participants in a recent Salsify shopper survey said they expect to shop more online instead of returning to their pre-pandemic behavior.
“Still, it’s important to remember that customers engage with organizations, not channels, and they will expect the same level of service and information across all channels. A single digital touchpoint can make or break a brand’s opportunity for consideration, purchase, or endorsement.”
Consumers will likely expect even more customization and personalization in the future, and brands that effectively use all the information they have about consumers will be able to design the most satisfying and productive journeys. In turn, their customers will experience a sense of agency since they are creating their own journeys.
“Today’s customers are more empowered to choose their own path and interact with brands on their own terms, flowing across channels and shifting preferences more frequently than ever before,” said Nolan.
“Businesses today must be able to take the right action in every customer touch and ensure every conversation delivers the right message, offer, or service, depending on a customer’s needs. Turning customer data into insight is no longer the end-all, be-all.
“If businesses can re-prioritize what they say to customers, based on what they learn and what actions the customer is actually taking, they’ll be better positioned to provide offers that are relevant, timely, and useful — and enable customer experiences that truly stand out against the competition,” he concluded.