Every customer you’ve ever had went through their own process to research, discover, select, and decide on your store. This is called a buyer journey, and it ideally culminates in a purchase. How well you optimize your buyer’s journey determines who becomes a customer, your retention rate, and your customer lifetime value.
For D2C eCommerce sellers, the buyer’s journey maps to your sales funnel. You likely already use awareness, consideration, and decision filters to build relevant content, target ads, and send out emails. You may have additional steps mapped out with more data, but for the sake of this article, I’ll simplify the buyer’s journey to: awareness, consideration, decision, and the post-purchase experience.
Read on to learn how to optimize every step of your eCommerce buyer journey.
In the awareness stage, prospects have just become conscious of a problem or challenge they have and are starting to look for solutions to fix it. For example, if you sell orthopedic shoes, the awareness stage of your target audience might be the realization they have flat feet, which causes foot pain.
This is where your customers discover you. So, to optimize, you need to learn who to target, how they’re finding you, and the impression you leave.
1) Find the right audience
The first step in any buyer journey starts with the right buyer. You need to figure out who your best customers are and how you define them.
In eCommerce, that can mean:
- Demographics — Ex. selling calcium supplements to people over a certain age
- Education level — Ex. selling resume editing services to fresh graduates
- Job role — Ex. selling audio and video equipment to a YouTube content creator
- Income level — Ex. selling a yacht to people who make a certain minimum income
- Interests — Ex. selling treadmills and exercise gear to fitness enthusiasts
- Life stage — Ex. selling formal wear to someone who just got engaged
Figure out who your audience is, and start there.
2) Create multiple touchpoints
Data shows customers increasingly discover products on social media and Google search. Even though most purchases don’t happen on these discovery channels, they’re usually the initial touchpoint where prospects first see your brand, products, or services.
Learn where your customers are doing their research, and create a presence there.
- 20% of product purchases begin on social media
- 83% of Facebook and Instagram users discover new products on the platforms
- 81% of Facebook and Instagram users research products on the platform
- 20% of product discovery starts on search engines like Google
- 18% of eCommerce traffic comes from paid search (Google PPC)
Tip: Be sure to link to your store on your social media profile pages, and add links to your website on product posts to encourage purchasing. Some social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram also double as marketplaces, allowing shoppers to discover and make a purchase all within their platform.
3) Stay consistent across channels
Your traffic comes from a multitude of sources, and even though not all traffic results in a purchase, it’s important to keep your messaging consistent.
Buyers who discover products on one channel, like Facebook or Google search, are likely to research a product on multiple channels. This might eventually result in a purchase on Amazon, Walmart.com, or your own store. But just because a channel isn’t making sales doesn’t mean it’s not a crucial element of your sales funnel.
For example, if a consumer discovers and likes your product, price, and messaging on social media, but doesn’t recognize you on Amazon, they could go to a competitor instead.
Maintain consistency across channels for:
- Shipping times
- Wording (e.g.,. product descriptions)
- Voice and tone
In the consideration stage, prospects have graduated from problem-aware to solution-aware. This is where you establish your brand as one of your audience’s top options. Nurturing leads and shortening your lead time is important during this stage, as shoppers start to filter out options.
At this point, shoppers are thinking:
- Do I need this?
- Is it a good value for the price?
- Are you better than X competitor?
To optimize this stage, you need to perfect your content, capture their information, and nurture your leads.
1) Find the content that speaks to them
Speak to your customers to determine their key decision drivers at this stage. Ask what their hesitations were, and why they ended up choosing you. Armed with this insight, you can craft your content and ads to hit home during the consideration stage.
For example, if you sell coffee machines, a common barrier could be lack of features. To combat this, your Instagram ad can showcase a series of photos featuring various coffee machine models, with different functions highlighted.
Identifying barriers and purchase triggers will help you deliver the perfect content to buyers in this stage.
2) Capture their information
At this stage, you should also encourage your audience to stay in touch by following you on social media or signing up for your newsletter. This is critical to continue to nurture your leads and move them along the buyer journey.
Once you know what kind of content your audience will find most valuable, you can leverage it. Create content your prospects would be willing to exchange their information for, such as ebooks or whitepapers.
An example of this could be an MBA program that requires an email address when downloading the program requirements or course catalog.
3) Stay engaged on every channel
Monitor your channels for any incoming questions, and keep an eye on your brand sentiment. Consumers will often send questions via social media, email, or your website contact form before making a purchase.
Staying responsive and providing useful information can help get customers off the fence and to your checkout.
4) Use retargeting campaigns
Retargeting campaigns on Google and social media can resurface your products to an audience that meets a specific set of criteria. For example, it can be people who’ve visited your website and viewed an item without making a purchase.
Signifi Media found that:
- Retargeting increases eCommerce conversion by 128%
- 37% of re-clicks are because consumers like the product
- Retargeted visitors are 800% cheaper per click
- Retargeting performs best 1-30 days after the first click
Use retargeting campaigns to make sure people who discovered you don’t forget about you, and to become a contender on their list of products or services to choose from.
In the decision stage, prospects are making their final choice. This is the home stretch where they compare products, pricing, features, and brands, and dig through your FAQs to learn how to buy.
Optimizing the decision phase of the buyer journey means making the checkout and purchase decision as easy and seamless as possible. You can do this by providing fast, free shipping, promising hassle-free returns, and reminding them why they should choose you.
1) Offer fast, free shipping
Fast shipping has evolved from “nice to have” to a necessity if you want to stay competitive. 20% of consumers expect their items in two days or less, and with 48% of all packages arriving within three days, those expectations have little room for forgiveness.
Offering fast, free shipping earns conversions. That’s why so many marketplaces have special programs for it, like Walmart TwoDay delivery, eBay 3-day and 4-day, and Wish 2-day.
80% of shoppers want same-day shipping and more than 25% would abandon their cart if fast shipping options weren’t available.
Can’t swing this on your own? Deliverr (a client of mine!) is an outsourced fulfillment partner for merchants of all sizes. We partner with fulfillment centers across the U.S. to get inventory as close as possible to forecasted demand and provide nationwide two-day and next-day delivery. Deliverr merchants also receive pre-approved access to fast shipping programs like Walmart TwoDay Delivery, and exclusive access to the Wish 2-day tag.
2) Promise hassle-free returns
Purchasing online is buying “blind,” without seeing, feeling, or trying any of the items. Offering free and easy returns can improve conversion by assuring customers they can easily return items if they don’t work, fit, or otherwise meet their needs.
More than 60% of consumers take the time to review a company’s return policy before making a purchase.
Just be careful of how you combine free shipping thresholds with free returns. You don’t want to risk customers purchasing more than they want to get free shipping, then taking advantage of your free return policy to send items they didn’t want back.
3) Automate cart abandonment emails
In March 2020, 88% of all shopping carts were abandoned. Those numbers, which vary from industry to industry, but are almost always above 85%, reflect a crushing reality. Most eCommerce prospects simply don’t convert. Your cart abandonment email is your last line of defense to recover that consumer. And they work. Studies show that well-crafted emails, especially those offering a discount or free shipping, have an 18.6% conversion rate.
4) Make it easy to buy from you
The best way to begin your relationship with would-be customers is to make it easy to buy from you. This usually entails selling across different marketplaces, wherever they shop. In addition to your own D2C website, you can create a brand and listings on popular marketplaces like eBay or Walmart.com, and set up an Instagram or Facebook shop.
For example, many shoppers begin their product research and comparisons on Amazon, and that marketplace alone accounts for more than 50% of total U.S. eCommerce sales. So, Amazon is a great place to start for eCommerce sellers who aren’t already on it.
Tip: High-quality product listings, including photos, descriptions, FAQs, and product specifications, can make or break a sale. Inability to find small details, like measurements, product material, etc., can result in a lost purchase. Make sure product listings are top notch, detailed, and similar across all channels.
In the end, the decision stage boils down to a simple payment process, reminding the customer of items they’ve left in the shopping cart, and removing barriers like concerns over shipping and returns.
Customer acquisition marketing spans from discovery to checkout, but the buyer journey doesn’t stop there. Most customers still interact with your brand by leaving reviews, answering prospect queries, and (hopefully) buying again.
During this stage, your customers prove their value expands beyond simple profit. They can improve your store’s reputation by sharing their first-hand account of their interactions, send feedback for improvements, and reconvert and make another purchase.
1) Nail your delivery
After someone checks out, do you send them a confirmation email with a tracking number? Even if you got your revenue, they haven’t received their product yet. To top off a five-star buyer experience, you need to deliver their item quickly, reliably, and in pristine condition.
Here are some ways you can do that:
- Confirm receipt of their order via email or SMS
- Include a tracking number so they can monitor their package
- Use a fulfillment partner with a reputation for speed and reliability
- Put in a few test orders to yourself to see how your packaging holds up
2) Ask for feedback
Customer feedback unveils a myriad of things that can improve your business. You’ll be able to pinpoint weaknesses in your buyer journey, overlooked marketing points, and blockers you didn’t even know you had.
After your buyer has had a chance to receive and review their purchase, invite them to leave feedback and suggestions for improvement. This shows you care about their opinion, and that you’re willing to grow and adapt based on their experience.
Try to uncover:
- What they liked and didn’t like about your brand/product.
- What blockers they ran into while trying to purchase from you.
- Their thoughts on your shipping, customer support, and website.
3) Extend your CLV
It’s 5x cheaper to retain a customer than to acquire a new one, and you can boost profit by up to 95% by increasing customer retention by just 5%. It’s also easier to convert customers who’ve already committed to your brand (providing you’ve delivered good service). You’re 60%–70% more likely to make a sale to an existing customer, compared to 5%–20% with a new customer.
All of these point to the same idea: You need to retain your customers and extend your customer lifetime value.
You can achieve this through reconversion marketing. Once someone makes a purchase, you likely have their email, social media information, or phone number, which you can use strategically to provide additional value and bring them back to your brand.
Here are a few things you might offer:
- Free shipping on follow-up orders
- Subscriptions for accessories/refills
- Periodic discounts
- Invitations to events
4) Encourage UGC
Some marketplaces prevent you from requesting reviews in email or marketplace communication, but you can get around this by including it in your packaging or on social media.
Building positive reviews and engagement across social media, your own website, and marketplaces will help you drive sales — especially when shoppers research brands and check reviews before deciding to make a purchase.
Here are a few things you can do:
- Add an insert to your packages that shares your social media profiles, website, and contact information, and encourage people to connect with you or leave a review there.
- Hold a giveaway on social media and ask your customers to list what they love about your brand to be eligible.
- Create a user community where you share tips and tricks, and encourage customers to post videos of how they use your product.
Perfect your eCommerce buyer journey
Optimizing your customer journey can increase sales, reduce the cost of marketing, and extend your CLV. Do your research and gather enough data to understand your customer journey. Then, use those insights to remove any blockers, boost customer retention, and drive conversions.