Optimizing the Customer Journey: Tips from Ecommerce Experts

Optimizing the Customer Journey: Tips from Ecommerce Experts

Can I have your attention, please? Statistically speaking ... probably not.

If I had to guess, 20% of the people who clicked on this article have already decided they have somewhere else to be.

And who can blame them? With all of the noise these days, it’s hard gaining a person's attention to become a first-time buyer and even harder to keep them engaged with your brand.

Still reading?

I'll let you in on a secret. Your best bet today isn't just about having a broad-reaching communication strategy that encompasses your brand values but to also optimize on the micro-interactions throughout every single touchpoint in the customer lifecycle.

As Brian Solis says in his new book X: The Experience When Business Meets Design

“Experiences are more important than products now. In fact, experiences are products.” 

“People increasingly share their experiences with companies and products in our connected economy, and we can either be active participants in creating and nurturing desired experiences or spend more and more time trying to react or make up for bad experiences.”

Brian Solis, Altimeter Group

And Gartner has found that 89% of companies plan to compete mostly on the basis of customer experience in 2016.

In 2017, it’s expected that “50% of consumer product investments will be redirected to customer experience innovations.”

Just as in real life, a customer’s digital experience with your brand is all about the journey.

So, why do ecommerce experts suggest to focus on customer journeys rather than on customer lifecycle marketing? And is it realistic to optimize everything at once?

Manage Customer Journeys, Not Lifecycles

As Kerry Munro, VP of ecommerce and marketing at Home Depot Canada describes in this Marketing Magazine article:

“[A connected experience] is all about ensuring the customer enjoys the experience of shopping with you, that you have the right products, that those products are available when they’re looking for them, and that when they have a question or a concern that someone is there to help.”

“That’s across all mediums, whether it’s a call center, a chat environment online, ecommerce versus in store, or now omni-channel.”

But a recent Diginomica post explains that while customer experience management is “on the top of every C-Suite executive’s list,” the reality is that designing a robust omni-channel retailing experience and “managing the customer experience within the entire customer lifecycle is virtually impossible.”

Why? Because it can be too high level to truly impact your customers’ experience with your brand.

Instead, Barb Mosher Zinck, a senior content marketer and marketing technology analyst, recommends identifying the most “high-value customer journeys” and augmenting them “one customer journey at a time.”

However, optimizing the customer journey is a difficult task – one that many companies intend to prioritize but very few have the time or resources to do successfully.

Conversion XL recently uncovered that many retailers are still focused on acquisition strategies, rather than on understanding and optimizing customer journeys. That’s because they admit it’s “cheaper to simply retain their existing customers.” In fact, “only 2 in 5 responding companies ‘understand customer journeys and adapt the channel mix accordingly.’”

So, let’s break down how to prioritize the optimization of your most critical customer journeys so that you don’t break the bank.

What Does Your Customers’ Journey Look Like?

If you ask Google, they’ll tell you that there are just four key “micro-moments” to consider when satisfying the customer journey.

As described in the chart below, each “micro-moment” is related to either: a customer’s path to discovery of your product, or the moment that they want to buy your product and need help finding the easiest and most affordable path to purchases.


Image via ThinkWithGoogle

But there are many other ways to envision a customer journey.

For example, Harvard Business Review defines a customer journey map as:

“A diagram that illustrates the steps your customer(s) go through in engaging with your company, whether it is a product, an online experience, retail experience, or a service, or any combination.

“The more touchpoints you have, the more complicated — but necessary — such a map becomes.”

Image via SlideShare

Create Customer Personas First

Before building your journey map(s), it is best to create customer personas to help you envision what your ideal customer might be going through when seeking your product.

This can be a lengthy process. Still, it’s worth putting the time in to get it right before defining the paths that different types of customers might take to purchase your products.

SilverPop, an IBM Company, explains that to create a good buyer persona, it helps to identify recent customers who made a purchase on your website and interview them to understand:

  • Why were they looking for the product that they bought on your website?
  • How did they research the product?
  • What criteria helped them make their purchase decision?
  • Which of your competitors’ sites did they visit while evaluating products?
  • Why did they choose your website?
  • What was their experience like on your website when buying the product
    and what can be improved?

Once you’ve discovered some commonalities between your customers’ interview answers, you can begin to develop possible personas.

As with your customer journey maps, it’s best to start small in the beginning and prioritize the most critical customer personas for your business.

But keep in mind that a few personas may have similar journeys. So, as mentioned earlier, you will want to focus on the most important journey(s) first. Then, you can iterate on your findings from the outcome of your earlier efforts.

So, as mentioned earlier, you will want to focus on the most important journey(s) first. Then, you can iterate on your findings from the outcome of your earlier efforts.

Here’s a  helpful link to a template which provides key details that you’ll need to develop your own buyer personas.

Image via IndieGameGirl

Next, you’ll want to overlay your buyer persona information with any internal analytics and competitive intelligence data that you have to get a better understanding of those customers.

This post provides some ideas on how to re-think your competitive intelligence approach using web analytics.

Creating Your Customer Journey Map

Each customer journey map you create will be specific to your products and your ideal customer touchpoints.

The UX Mastery video below provides a detailed overview of how best to develop a customer journey map.


When you have your customer persona and research data completed, the video recommends to next identify the key touchpoints with which your customer persona will likely interact.

Then, identify some of the challenges and pain points that customer may come across. But before you begin sketching out the customer journey map, you’ll want to brainstorm solutions to any challenges the customer may face. 

Finally, once you’ve organized your ideas, you can get started sketching out your UX design.

Remember that when you’re just getting started, simplification is key. While the screenshot below is an example of someone shopping for plumbing services, I think it gives a good picture what your customer persona’s journey might look like when researching, discovering and purchasing an ecommerce product.

Image via Pinterest

But there are many different ways to map out your customer journey(s).

Check out a more complex example below of an ecommerce shopper’s journey that maps both “the customer journey you want to ‘provide’ to the customer with the journey your customer would like to receive.

In other words, you need to ensure the journey you provide your customer meets your business and brand goals.

Image via i-scoop.eu

Again, if you start with just one journey, then expand on your key learnings, you’ll be better equipped to demonstrate the value and impact to your boss of optimizing additional customer journeys.

As this Customer Champions post implies, mapping customer journeys is a futile pursuit without proper tracking and documentation of the results (using web analytics and other customer feedback loops).

And without learning from your customers’ actual experiences (both before and after you implement a better experience design), you cannot continue to improve upon their journey to discovery and purchase of your products.

As the ancient Chinese proverb suggests, “the journey of a thousand miles begins with one single step.”

So, here’s a handy resource on how to customize user experiences, and an overview of how to measure the impact to help you get started.

Have a question about optimizing customer journeys? Let us know in the comments below and we’ll cover it in another post. 

About the Author

Andrea Wahbe is a freelance B2B marketing strategist and corporate storyteller who writes about Canadian SMEs, marketing, and digital media trends. Follow her on Twitter.