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Journey mapping in e-commerce

March 4, 2021

Journey mapping in the context of e-commerce is just starting off, and it’s a very specific field for journey mapping. Even though it’s easy to show how customers flow through web pages, the customer journey is a different thing. In this article we look at how analyzing the customer journey can help us understand how visitors get to our webshop, what encourages or prevents them from making a purchase and how we can foster loyalty.

Buying and selling products on the internet is as popular as ever. Big players impact the entire market and medium-sized and small businesses need to stay on track to build up their market share and not lose out.

Like in any other business, the quality of the experience providers give to their customers is a decisive factor in terms of purchases and returning customers.

This article covers the following topics:

Why should we use journey mapping for our e-commerce business?

Imagine our e-commerce business in the offline world. Our customer’s experience with our brand and products is influenced by the whole journey: getting to our store in any kind of weather, finding the desired product, talking to a shop assistant and going through the check out. Well, it is exactly the same for our online customers – but online, it’s even easier to improve and optimize that journey based on concrete user data.

Working with customer journey maps offers various benefits to e-commerce shops. For example, it can help us to

  • Understand required actions and responsibilities for each step of the customer journey
  • Optimize existing operations based on concrete data
  • Identify potential new target groups for a shop
  • Optimize the strategy on how to reach our customers in the future

This is only a quick overview – if you want to learn more about the benefits of customer journey mapping, check out this article:

Link to chapter 2: purpose of customer journey mapping. You will learn reasons for and benefits of CJM and about the business impact of journey mapping.

Step by step: creating a journey map for e-commerce

Empathize with customer personas, understand their needs and expectations

There is no customer journey map without a customer. Hence, we have to think about who our customer is – or should be.

The first step is to create a persona that represents this target group in a customer-centric way. Defining a persona can help us  focus on the following questions:

  • What does the user need/want?
  • What channels and devices does the persona use in order to research products?
  • How price-sensitive is the user?
  • What are their concrete expectations regarding the shop experience?
  • What products does the persona value?

By answering these questions, we can get a better understanding of our target group. The questions above are just few of many – one could also include country specifics or cultural differences. Just think about which information might be helpful concerning our customers.

Illustration of the persona Carl, an actor who enjoys sustainable shopping end fashion.
Think about what information could be helpful about your customers and add it to the persona template.

Keep in mind that for an online shop, not only customers, but also potential customers or leads are important target groups to examine.

Learn more about how to create a persona here:

Link to basics of personas article: You will learn what personas are, why you need them, how to research, define and create them and some templates and a cheat sheet.

Define the scope of the customer journey map

When creating a journey map, we can choose between various scales and scopes. In the first phase, we can use a high-level journey map to visualize the whole experience our user has with our brand: from getting to our website, searching for the right product,  the check-out process, and up until the product delivery to his or her home.

In the second phase, we can create a more detailed map to dive deeper into a specific step, such as the product search on our website through different category pages or the check-out funnel.

For example, if our data shows that we lose many users during the check-out process, it might be interesting to take a closer look at it. Maybe something in this process is not intuitive, or confusing for our users.

To learn more about how to create a customer journey map, check out this article:

Link to Chapter 3: CJM How to create a customer journey map? You will learn how to create a journey map and how to analyze the customer journey.

Analyze experiences, step by step, stage by stage

Now we have to map down our user’s journey. Every journey map consists of several stages and steps. For example, for an e-commerce journey map, we could define the stages like this:

Stages of e-commerce: Awareness > Consideration > Decision > Delivery and Use > Return

Once we’ve defined the stages, think about the different steps and touchpoints we have with our users. The level of detail of each step depends on the overall scale of the journey map that we’ve defined above. We ask ourselves:

  • What are the steps within each stage and what are our customers’ goals and pain points at each step of the journey? What are our own business goals for each step?
  • Where do our current customers drop out of the journey, leave our website? → maybe they are missing some information?
  • Do they get the right information at the right time?
Describe your customer's journey step by step to empathize with him.

One important thing to keep in mind: The customer journey starts before users get to our webshop – it starts with a need, a desire for a more or less specific product. It does not end at the checkout or when users hold the product in their hands, either. Customers will also have experiences connected to our brand when contacting support, purchasing a similar product later on, or recommending the brand to their social network.

Visualizing processes

Depending on the focus of our project, we can also put the focus on the backstage activities happening during the customer journey. What needs to happen behind the scene, outside of the customers’ view, to deliver a smooth experience? Close to a service blueprint, visualizing different levels of processes helps to better understand who’s involved at what step of an experience and what parties need to be involved in the optimization of such.

In our example journey map, we can see what a journey map with a strong focus on enabling processes could look like.

Illustration of the backstage processes happening in an ecommerce business.
By looking at the backstage processes you will get a better understanding about internal activities influencing your customer's journey.

Example journey maps

In our first example journey map, we see a simple journey map that maps out the steps of two different personas and compares their experience. It visualizes the channels they use, their emotions, involvement (dramatic arc) and ideas for improvement. Finally, it also contains a simple backstage lane to give us a rough idea of  the processes that are invisible to the customer.

Example journey map: purchasing a product online

In this second example journey map we have a strong focus on backstage processes. It clearly differentiates between processes that are visible to the customers, and processes that aren’t – hence it gets very close to a service blueprint.

Example journey map: online shopping journey map with backstage processes

Challenges of journey mapping in e-commerce

Don’t get lost in all that data

In e-commerce, we usually see loads of data about our users, their preferences, purchase history and needs. This can be extremely useful and help us get a better and more holistic understanding of our customers. However, using all this data too early in the process can prevent us from getting an understanding of the big picture.

Moreover , quantitative data (e.g., from Google Analytics) are  a good resource for sure, but also make sure to look at qualitative data. We can for example try to interview some of our customers after their purchase or work with an online questionnaire on our website in order to get some qualitative insights.

The good thing is that qualitative data helps us find the biggest pain points easily. If there’s a hole in the street and three pedestrians point to it, we don’t need another 10 folks to confirm this.

Also, quantitative data will never give you an answer to the question “why”:

  • Why did users visit your page?
  • Why did they purchase on your page, and not another?
  • Why did they leave the purchase process?

Some more questions that could be interesting to dive into are:

  • How did they research the product? What online and offline channels did they use?
  • How do they evaluate the experience on our website?
  • How do our users think your page could be improved?

Consider context, think cross-channel: online and offline experiences

Many different channels influence the e-commerce journey: website, webshop, review portals and word of mouth… Even though a big part of a service is being used in an online context, it does not mean customers don’t have any offline experience. Consider physical context and direct, personal interaction! How is the room from which customers access those digital channels? Is the internet connection stable there? How’s the lighting? For example, it might be necessary to adapt the service if a significant group of customers uses the webshop by night, on the train. Again, this is something we will not learn from Google Analytics


Empty template: e-commerce journey

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Empty template: e-commerce journey

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