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ECOM 101: Building Customer Journey Maps for Your Ecommerce Site

July 6th, 2023 | 8 min. read

ECOM 101: Building Customer Journey Maps for Your Ecommerce Site Blog Feature

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For online and hybrid retailers, there is perhaps no more valuable resource than a customer journey map. Sometimes simply referred to as your funnel, the map is your crystal ball—a dynamic repository that helps both predict and influence a buyer as they move to the purchase stage and beyond.  


In any ecommerce scenario, this ability would be important. In today’s world, it’s critical. Filled with static and distraction, the modern internet can feel designed to yank users from one page to another. For all we know, this is one of 6 pieces you opened on the customer journey and you’re hopscotching between tabs as you read. We’ve all had the “Wait…I was looking up blog metrics on Google Analytics. How did I get to Dua Lipa’s Instagram page?” moment. That’s just how it is. 


But with a customer journey map, you can cut down on the chaos, at least on your own site. By gathering data from vital touchpoints, you can begin to understand a user’s behavior, and from there, what they truly want, and how to get them there. 


Ready to become the ecommerce whisperer? 


Focus on experience first 


While the ultimate goal of a customer journey strategy might be to shepherd customers to the buying and loyalty stages of the funnel, the most immediate and overarching aim should be to understand the user’s experience on your site. 


Because online experience now means as much or more than in-store experience meant when ecommerce was still in its infancy. People aren’t just using your site because it’s faster than driving to a brick and mortar location; they’re using it for the experience of your brand, the chance to see additional complementary products and to learn what’s on the horizon. 


You want that experience to always be the best it can be and scrutinizing customer behavior via touchpoints can be critical for that. As an example, let’s imagine 2 different users on your site who spend about 10 minutes jumping between pages. The first customer is clicking subsequent links as they move from page to page, checking out recommended products, checking out your social feed and signing up for a newsletter. 


The second customer seems a little more focused on finding a specific item. While they move around the site, they’re frequently doing so by clicking “Back,” or navigating to your search engine. By the time they leave, neither has made a purchase. 


Despite not getting either to buy, the data gathered from these two customers is invaluable. Customer 1 may not have had a specific outfit in mind, but they clearly enjoyed exploring the site, even giving you valuable info for their customer persona file by signing up for your newsletter. Customer 2 on the other hand didn’t seem to be having such a great time. They had a purchase in mind, but couldn’t seem to find it. Was the site too byzantine for them, or is this an opportunity to install a helpful chatbot that navigates the site for the customer after they’ve gone back a given number of times? 


Based on experience behavior alone, I’ll give you three guesses as to which of these users might be coming back again. 


Put the customer before the journey 


Every ecommerce organization has its dream customer, who shops their site nonstop, follows them on Twitter, posts glowing reviews and glamorous photos on Instagram with all the hashtags your page recommends. They respond to every customer survey and their referrals are through the roof. What more could you ask for? 


Unfortunately, this is the dream customer, and while you might encounter one every solar eclipse, they can’t be the basis for an effective customer journey. For that, you’re going to need actual customers.  


Building customer personas based on observed behaviors and collected data is the cornerstone of a workable customer journey map. In fact, from a data collection perspective, you should be preparing to create one for every single person who visits your site. While some might be more detailed and actionable than others, in summation, they’ll help you see how users interact with your site generally, where they might tend to fall off, and which routes seem most likely to lead to conversion. You’ll be able to gain valuable insights from previously overlooked points of comparison, such as: 


  • How do customers usually reach your site?
    • Ads, social posts, search engines, direct emails, entering your URL, etc.

  • What are the most popular pages visited right after the home page? 

  • What links have the highest conversion rates? 

  • Are there certain pages with outstanding bounce rates? 

  • How often do customers with items in their cart leave but purchase later? 

  • What customer assistance tools (chat bots, AR product visualization) get the most use? What questions do bots get the most?


There are dozens more to research, but these should provide you with an idea of the depth of information you can obtain on customers when building profiles. When you then divide those profiles by New vs. Returning customers, age groups, geographic location and more, you’re able to get even sharper insights. 


You cannot put the map before the customer. It’s antithetical to the entire value of the map itself. Your users are smart enough to know when they’re being pushed towards purchase and they’re liable to ditch your brand if they have a bad site experience, followed by three “You Still Have Items in Your Cart!” emails. 


Yes, the journey map is, in part, meant to guide your customer; but it’s meant to guide them on their terms. Every potential detour or unexpected site interaction just gives you more data to improve the experience, shade in the borders of your map, and find better and more creative ways to encourage purchasing behavior.  


It’s great to have a customer visit your site and immediately make a purchase. It’s even better for your map to have a customer who might not purchase until their third visit, but signs up for newsletters and explores a wider range of products each time. 


In ecommerce, knowledge is power 


Customer journey maps are dynamic and evolving tools, suited perfectly for an industry where the landscape is changing constantly, while customer expectations stay on the rise. With the increasing power of personalization backed by new and exciting data collection strategies, customer journey maps are only becoming more effective. 


It’s important to truly understand the goal of these tools, however. Customers are savvy—they know when they’re being pressured or manipulated into purchase. Believe it or not, they don’t much appreciate it, either. That’s why putting site experience and customer understanding first are essential. Keeping these values top of mind will not only help build initial customer relationships, but deepen them as they progress via strategies like A/B testing messaging and discount emails for a given subset of customers 


Treasure maps with a big “X marks the spot” may not exist in real life, but for ecommerce businesses willing to put in the work and navigate the nuances, customer journey maps come pretty dang close.