What is the consumer journey?

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Online merchants know that the secret to sales success is to help the customer find exactly what they are looking for, and then to guide the customer through the purchase process—step by step—in a way that minimizes effort and confusion and maximizes revenue.

Understanding this path, called the consumer journey, involves understanding the shopping habits of your online target audience segments, determining how they find your website, understanding the behavior patterns as they shop, and analyzing the checkout and payment process.

What are consumer journeys?

What are consumer journeys? Great question! Think of them as simplified e-commerce personas. A standard set of marketing personas will cover a vast range of demographic and user types, focusing on things like where they live, their income, and more.

Consumer journeys, on the other hand, are focused solely on how a user engages with your website. It is a walk in the user’s shoes, so to speak—from their online search for your product type, brand or category, all the way through your landing pages, shopping carts, checkout process and payment partners. By breaking down the each online interaction into a single step on a longer journey, you can uncover friction points in the conversion process as well as identify areas of opportunity to improve the user experience.

Only through research of your consumer journey can you design and build an e-commerce website optimized for end-to-end conversion. And this research should take place at the start of your website design process. As part of a well-defined design process, you should gather details about your marketing personas to align your e-commerce strategy with the needs of your users.

The three phases of the consumer journey

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The end to end journey your consumers travel fall into three distinct phases:

1. Enter/Discover: Ironically, the first step in the consumer journey through your website starts outside your website. Before they even arrive on your site, the consumer is visiting Google (or other search engines) and specifically searching for your product or category.  That means that the first step in your consumer journey typically takes place in the search engines.

If you’ve optimized your search (or purchased ads for the specified search terms), brand loyalists looking for your company, products, or even the broad category will find one or more of your pages within the Google Search listing. If you have several links on the first page of results, keep in mind that your consumer journey will differ depending on which link is clicked.

2. Shop/Consider:  After finding what they’re looking for in the search engines (and hopefully clicking!) consumers will arrive at a landing page associated with that link. Don’t confuse these pages with the very specific type landing pages associated with B2B marketing offers. For online retail merchants your landing page may be a product category page or the page for a specific product on your website.

Therefore it’s important to realize that not every consumer journey starts on the home page. As you gather more traffic from outside your site you may find that the first time a consumer engages your brand may be deeper within your site than you think.

The consumer at this point is looking for educational content that builds confidence. The merchant needs to ensure that every potential landing page provides opportunity for further engagement. This is a good step on the journey to incorporate “plus 1” recommendations or provide ingredient listings.

3. Cart/Checkout: The final phase of the Consumer’s Journey is the shopping cart and payment or checkout process. Understanding how consumers to your site behave in the face of a credit card form or other payment option may mean the difference between a completed sale or an abandoned cart.  Your customer journey may require additional assurances against stolen identity, price increase protections, or an explanation of your return policies,

This is also a great stage of the journey to introduce promotions and upsells.

By peering into analytics and traffic data, understanding existing visitor demographics, conducting user research and testing, and engaging in real-world evaluation of your current website, you can paint a picture of real world user activity along your consumer journeys.

As you detail the path of a user that comes from an organic Google search and lands on a category page in your site, consider their options on this page. See if those choices align with your overall strategy. If you are brand or education focused, provide the user with engaging content, videos, user generated content and more. If you are focused on driving sales, engage the user with product lineups, shoppable content, “plus-one” offers and similar content. Detailing this journey from the entry point to the end is a simple way to refine the experience.

Understanding your consumer journey is an important element of a successful overall e-commerce strategy. In order to increase revenue, conversion rates, and average order value, support your marketing personas by providing a simplified lens from which to identify opportunity for improvement.

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Matt Glaze
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September 26, 2016
Matt Glaze

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