The coming years will be transformative for all retailers. We’re quickly entering an age where no digital presence, regardless of how robust, flexible, and secure it is, will be enough to ensure sales and fend off the competition.
Every retailer’s focus must turn to perfecting that customer journey. Consistently and for the long-term. This means retailers need to deeply recognize the customer’s journey. Both on a macro level and a detailed, and specifically targeted, micro level.
"Digital technologies will become enablers of one thing: the customer experience. At every touchpoint with a customer, technology will have to bridge the gap between ‘function’ and ‘emotion’ and ensure the entire experience becomes simplified, personalized, and frictionless."
While marketing used to be about the four P’s (Product, Place, Promotion, and Price), that began to change as a fifth P was increasingly thrown in the mix – People.
The human element is as important to a customer’s experience as a product or service.
To complicate the mix even more another two P’s are often considered. Physical evidence (your branding, packaging, site design) and Process (the processes and support involved with delivering your products and services). It can be argued that these three ‘new’ parts of the marketing mix, stand for the customer experience.
The past several years have also seen a new range of P’s being thrown in: Participation, Personalized, Pervasive, Present, and Predictive to name a few. But it’s clear what they’re all about. Meeting consumer needs and creating positive encounters with the business and its products. This shift into more relationship marketing – that is, the building of long-term relationships with customers – and truly embracing customer centricity, is essential for any retailer looking to build lasting connections, earn loyalty, and drive profits. But this requires developing a truly frictionless customer journey. This is what our whitepaper aims to help you do. So, buckle up, and get ready for a rewarding ride.
“Customers no longer just purchase products or services, they buy the whole experience that comes with the purchase.”
Georg Hansbauer, CEO & Co-Founder, Testbirds
Consumer behavior is changing to embrace multiple forms of shopping. Online is becoming more established and diverse, and traditional retailers are quickly embracing it – by setting up their own sites, joining marketplaces, or integrating the latest smart technologies into their physical locations (creating the so-called ‘phygital’ experience of having intricately connected physical and digital solutions). Flexible and custom-made e-commerce platforms are also ensuring businesses can quickly sell online with minimal experience. There’s also the rapid rise of omnichannel retail to contend with. No matter how a customer wants to connect with a business, omnichannel ensures they can.
Everything will be connected, with more competition for everyone, and fewer eyes on any single online store. Additionally, seasonal events such as Black Friday, combined with ongoing concerns, such as the coronavirus pandemic and supply chain disruptions, will also put ever-more pressure on retailers.
The average consumer, of course, cares little for this. If one business has problems, they can now – with one click – look at another. Long gone are the days where a single shop cornered the market. Technology alone cannot ensure a customer continues to shop with you. It is, increasingly, the experience a shop gives that makes the difference. For example, a PwC study showed that ‘82% of U.S. and 74% of non-U.S. consumers want more of the [human touch] in the future’ and that ‘one in three consumers (32%) say they will walk away from a brand they love after just one bad experience.’1 Also, according to Review 42, “75% of shoppers prefer to buy from brands that personalize the shopping experience.”2 Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, another recent study showed that 86% of buyers are willing to pay more for a great customer experience.3
Put simply, a wonderful experience helps to create a loyal customer who spends more and who shares their experience with family and friends. That’s good for business.
The rise of the connected customer
The modern consumers’ use of technology, how they link up with their social communities, and the ways they interact with any given store, are causing a rethink on the best ways to sell products and services. The old saying of ‘salesmanship begins when a customer says no, and support begins when the customer says yes’ doesn’t hold up in today’s online world.
A frictionless journey at every touchpoint is needed. Even before they ever visit your online shop.
This whitepaper looks at how to define and develop the customer journey, and what’s required to create an experience that will keep customers coming back. It also looks at some of the trends that will shape the future of both online retail and the customer journey.
Every journey begins with a single step
The customer journey represents the varied steps and interactions (touchpoints) someone has with your companyand product or service. From before they even know you exist to them becoming a true advocate. Each journey can vary in length and complexity and can be linear or have multiple loops. It can be as varied as your customers. It is also tightly connected with the overall customer experience – often known simply as CX – which is a person’s holistic view of your product, business, or brand and develops every time they interact with any of them.
For retailers selling and trading online, deeply understanding that journey and being able to identify and resolve pain points, is essential. Competition is fierce and growing. But it will take more than just knowing your customer’s need and wants. You must demonstrate that you are working to continuously optimize your relationship with them. This can be achieved with detailed customer journey mapping, which is ideally made in line with your total quality management strategy and/or Six Sigma approach.
Everything you do must be focused on delivering customer satisfaction.
Before you can confidently map out your customers’ journey, it’s important to gain a greater understanding of who they are, where they are, and how they make their decisions – so that you know exactly where you can best focus your efforts. There are multiple approaches. Let’s consider six.
1. Conduct quantitative and qualitative research
A proven way to establish generalized facts about your customers is to conduct numerically based quantitative research via surveys, polls, or questionnaires. For example, poll 1000 customers on whether they would recommend your business (yes or no) and quickly gain an overview of their experience with you. You can then gain in-depth insights into those results by using qualitative research, where you specifically ask them ‘why’ they responded yes or no.
2. Identify all relevant touchpoints
Consider every area where someone encounters your business online (the research above will help). This is important, not only so you know where and when to deliver relevant messaging and see where customers are experiencing high and low levels of effort, but to identify where customers feel they are receiving a personal or impersonal shopping experience. Segment’s 2017 State of Personalization Report noted that “71% of all consumers on average get frustrated with the impersonal shopping experience, while 44% of consumers are likely to purchase from a company again if they offer a personalized shopping experience.”4 Such touchpoints can include your social media advertising, blog, product video, apps, customer service, or packaging. Any moment at any location where the customer interacts with your business and its products and services.
3. Create empathy maps
In addition to, or to help you develop a comprehensive ‘customer persona’ (see below), an empathy map lets you collect and organize data about your customers. By utilizing your qualitative data (and team feedback – often through brainstorming sessions), you can create maps that outline each customer’s needs (or those of a group of customers), so that you can best see what you know and don’t know about your customer. Usually broken down into four quadrants (Says, Thinks, Does, Feels), the map places the customer in the middle and helps you visualize their needs.
First, consider your primary goal. You have a competitor who sells similar digital widgets, and you want to better understand why someone would use theirs rather than yours. This could also be their journey to buy a TV. Anything. Second, take a close look at who your customer is (i.e., Maria, 28, female, lives in Munich, earns 90,000 Euro as a senior marketing executive) and brainstorm (and/or use the results of your qualitative research) everything that person may think and feel. Their beliefs, concerns, and what makes them happy or sad.
Then do the same for what they say and do. At their workplace, with family & friends, during a workday or on holiday. An empathy map can also contain additional sections – as many as you feel are necessary – such as:
- Hear – What influences them, what do friends, family, and colleagues say?
- See – What does their home look like? What do they watch?
- Who – With what and whom do they empathize?
- Gain – What do they want to achieve? How do they measure success?
- Pain – What obstacles frustrate them? What challenges do they face?
With this information, you can better see if your offer is appropriate for that (average) customer, see weaknesses in your approach, understand their behavior, and even identify areas of need you weren’t previously aware of.
4. Create realistic customer personas
Knowing your customer means you can provide a highly personalized shopping experience. Not necessarily across their entire journey – but at specific moments.
But how can you do that when people expect (by some miracle) that you’ll instinctively know what they want? That your online store will be perfectly laid out to satisfy their needs, and the programs and discounts you offer are perfect and directed straight at them? What customer journey touchpoints have an influence? What causes them to abandon their shopping basket? What do they expect on their shopping journey? Why did they give you a one-star review because the t-shirt they ordered wasn’t delivered on a public holiday? It’s complicated. Especially when there are so many people with unique needs and expectations. This is where creating customer personas is an invaluable tool; especially for those customers you want to target and/or who are your top buyers.
Personas can help you ‘get to know’ your customers better, to identify – when comparing what you do offer – where there are areas for improvement. They can also enable your marketing teams to tailor appropriate content and messaging. You simply need to consider each aspect of their ‘personality’ that is meaningful to your business goals. This can include their name, a short biography, their demographics (age, job, marital status, location), key traits/personality (curious, emphatic), their favorite brands, goals, needs, pain points, preferred channels, and anything else that may be relevant.
The more data the better.
5. Organize your findings using affinity diagramming
An affinity diagram is an efficient way of sorting information (customer needs, opinions, insights) into groups based on how they are related to each other. When considering a customer journey, it’s important to look at the overall activity (the top level) you want to optimize, the problem to solve, or the theme. For example, if you want to create a great unboxing experience, focus on everything that would add to the experience. This way you can map out how to develop a positive experience, identify areas for improvement, and diagnose issues and more complex problems.
6. Identify the stages your customers go through before each purchase
Finally, if you want to better understand the cognitive stages that your customers go through, use the AIDA model (usually in the form of an inverted pyramid). Standing for Awareness, Interest, Desire, and Action, AIDA takes a close look at the thinking process of someone who is looking to buy a product or service.
You need to consider what will attract their attention (awareness), increase their interest, trigger their desire for the product, and how to initiate actions that promote them to purchase the product.
Armed with this extensive range of insight and information, it’s time to take a close look at developing an optimized customer journey.
“I’m always busy and feel like I have no time for anything. I want to buy wonderful things online without any stress whenever I want.”
Gender / Age: Female / 28
Location: Munich, Germany
Family: Married, one child
Work: Senior Marketing Executive
Apple, Louis Vuitton, Valentino
- No nonsense
- Introvert – Extrovert
- Passive – Active
- Analytical – Creative
- Conservative – Liberal
Maria grew up in the UK where she attended the Imperial College Business School. After graduation, she moved to Hamburg where she worked for a shipping firm. After two years there, Maria met her future husband and moved to Munich to lead the marketing department of a global electronics manufacturer. Now, with a young daughter, Maria balances a hectic job with an equally busy home life. She loves luxury clothes and fine food and only occasionally watches TV or reads. But she does have a passion for photography.FRUSTRATIONS
- Lack of time
- Too long to find what she wants
Mapping your customers' journey
At this stage, you should possess a greater understanding of your customers, what they expect, and what realistically happens at all relevant touchpoints. To have the exact information to provide a consistently positive experience with your business – and create a realistic customer journey map. The traditional customer journey is usually broken down into several stages:
- Awareness – where they become interested
- Consideration – weighing things up, gathering information
- Purchase – where and how they buy the product
- Retention – how a positive experience keeps them around
- Advocacy – sharing their experience
Interwoven within them are a range of steps (specifically, what customers do at each stage – they saw a banner ad about a winter holiday, decided they wanted a new winter coat, made an online search), which leads to a variety of touchpoints (where they may interact with your business – your online ad, product page, login dashboard, email invoice, etc.). However, today’s consumers are remarkably diverse, and the traditional journey is more complicated. Go back just one generation and a store knew exactly who their demographic was, and what they were after because it was those people walking into their stores. Now, your shoppers can come from any socio-cultural-economic group from any country on the planet. It’s important to ‘virtually’ walk in their shoes and understand their perspectives. Appealing to such an audience is a challenge but gaining true insights into their wants and needs can ensure that every phase of their journey with you is frictionless and positive. By mapping out their journey, you can:
- Create content that is relevant and targeted
- Better predict their behavior
- Quickly identify where you aren’t reaching them
- Identify if there are any issues at any touchpoint (is the customer unhappy, frustrated, feeling valued?) and remove those friction points.
With this in mind, a more detailed journey map is necessary. What must be defined includes:
- Needs and wants
- Awareness and interest
- Research and consideration
- Delivery and support
- Retention and engagement
- Experience and advocacy
Additionally, you can then consider each stage and where it impacts the various teams within your own business. For example:
- Your marketing department would be responsible for the banner ad, the smartwatch’s description on your site, moderation of reviews, any content at point-of-sale including the ‘thank you’ receipt email, pamphlets, and other materials placed in (and on) the box, to the newsletters and loyalty program materials.
- Customer service would look at shipping confirmations, invoices, delivery confirmations, FAQs, online and/or call chat, handling return address forms, and helping to ensure the product was resent.
Creating such a map, however, is not the end of the journey.
Customer Journey Testing
The line between the real and digital world continues to fade. Test interactions in all parts of the customer experience with the help of the Crowd, and in real-world conditions.Find out more
Driving customer satisfaction
Crowdtesting is all about letting real people test your digital products in real-world conditions. By leveraging the collaborative force of testers from around the world, and their collective knowledge, you can test for and realize an elevated level of user friendliness, usability, and functionality in your digital solutions.
Every part of the customer journey is connected
It’s difficult to verify how an online retail experience is received by your target group. How do you check if your defined brand image and the perception of your customers match? What values and impressions does the layout of your online store convey? Do your channels reflect the high quality of your offer and justify a high price point? How do you know if your delivery process works in Norway when you’re based in Austria? Or whether your customers feel sufficiently informed about delivery and return conditions? To answer these questions, you need a deep, unbiased evaluation of your (potential) customers.
As customers assume more control in the products and channels they use, and which influencer or niche key opinion leader they get advice from, your ability to keep them focused on your online shop will become harder than ever. Seeing what they do online can help.
Gain a competitive advantage with Digital Customer Journey Analytics
A potential game-changer is to use digital customer journey analytics to capture and analyze your customer’s data as they move throughout your digital channels. This information can provide a 360-degree view of every digital interaction your customer makes with you. Once they log in to your website or mobile app, you can track their activity and see how they interact with your brand. This includes their purchase history and shopping habits, what advertisements they click on that bring them to your site, information from surveys you send them, how they interact with you on social media, any contacts with your service department, and more.
It can provide vast amounts of detail on what they like and don’t like while giving you an overall profile of behavior that lets you target other similar customers. To boost this knowledge even more, customer satisfaction surveys and crowdtesting can provide more personal insights (while boosting customer engagement).
Focus on the frictionless journey
With the information gathered via your analytics, surveys, and crowdtesting, you can look at any friction points in your customer’s journey. This, while seemingly minor, is very important. A 2019 Gartner study5 showed that friction points that caused a high effort within a customer’s journey far outweighed any good, stand-out experiences. However, low effort points were highly beneficial. For example, 94% of people who experienced a low-effort journey repurchased a product or service, compared to 4% who experienced a high effort. A low effort also saw 88% spend more compared to 4% who had a high effort. 81% who experienced a high effort provided negative word of mouth with only 1% of low effort doing so. And overall disloyalty was seen by 96% who experienced a high effort to 9% with a low effort.
Removing friction points during their journey is a big positive for online buyers. This also includes taking a close look at your technology. Beyond the emotional component of their journey, it’s the technology that determines whether they purchase or not.
Awareness + interest
Research + consideration
Delivery + support
Retention + engagement
Experience + advocacy
If you look at the numbers, a well-performing and, specifically, a fast-loading online shop effectively means higher revenue. According to a study on BigCommerce6, a mere 1-second delay in page load time can lead to a conversion decrease of 7% because people just don’t want to wait. Especially those shopping on their mobile device. Convenience, ease-of-use, and tailored experiences are becoming more of an expectation than a nice-to-have.
If your shop has a confusing interface, an unclear point of sale, looks outdated, is incompatible with different technologies, or doesn’t provide options (such as a mobile version or an app), it’s not going to leave a great impression. Especially when you want to build a frictionless, long-term relationship.
Focus on customer service
Another point of friction can be customer service. A PEGA 2019 Global Customer Service Insights report7 noted that 89% of customers say that poor service negatively impacts a brand. The report also stated “Poor customer service can pose some serious threats to a business. It damages brand reputation and can lead to customer attrition. Customers have little tolerance for poor service. If they have a poor customer experience when making a purchase, 46% typically tell people they know, and 44% will stop the purchase and seek a different provider.” Another recent survey of 1000 companies by Norwegian CRM company SuperOffice, revealed that the average response time for a customer service request was 12 hours and 10 minutes8. It’s highly likely that with such a long time for a response, customers would not feel valued and acknowledged. This could result in a negative review, your site being deleted from their favorites, or your app uninstalled.
Good, consistent, and timely help can make an enormous difference when it comes to customer satisfaction. Increasingly so for those shopping online and/or using apps in-store.
Unfortunately, for most retailers, having an appropriately trained, 24-hour customer service team bristling with the latest tech is prohibitively expensive. The answer, for many, is to use software programs, such as chatbots and virtual assistants, which use a combination of natural language processing, machine learning, and (perhaps most importantly) artificial intelligence to directly interact with their customers. But when looking at your customer service, four problems can result in friction (for you and your customers):
- Need to determine what level is right versus the benefits you get – while factoring in the costs of maintaining that level (or levels).
- Rather than solving the issue, you put too much focus on being ‘a friend’.
- It’s easy to put too much focus on one aspect, which detracts from the real causes of a friction point/why the customer is unhappy.
- Rather than focus on ensuring the customer gets what they ordered in a timely way, too much focus is put on the ‘touchy feely’ aspects.
True customer satisfaction comes from getting positive results and feeling valued. Their long-term journey with you can end very quickly if your service leaves them stranded.
The importance of trust
An essential element of the customer experience is trust. It’s not just that your technology does what it’s expected to do, or that your user interface is second-to-none, it’s that they view your business as serious, credible, and dependable.
To achieve this, you need to consider how you present yourself and what you say:
Design for the long-haul
When it comes to design, The Nielsen Norman Group highlighted four areas that impart trust:
- Design quality (that your site appears legitimate and professional)
- Upfront disclosure (with all information that relates to the customer experience – that is: “Be open about the things you offer and about the things you don’t. The more potential questions are answered at first glance, the more your users will trust you.”)
- Content is comprehensive, correct, and current (“It should be crystal clear, from the very beginning, what products you offer and for whom.”)
- That you are ‘Connected to the Rest of the Web’ (and not an isolated website ‘that does not link to and cannot be found on third-party review sites, social media, or news outlets’).
The fourth point, in many ways, is an essential one when you consider the customer journey. Everyone now expects a wide range of connection points. Are you more likely to purchase from a website that is mentioned on multiple other sites or one that seems to have appeared yesterday? But it’s also essential – when building trust and a frictionless journey – to be in constant ‘active’ communication with your customers.
Engage, understand, and participate
Clear and effective communication is about showing your customers that you are invested in meeting their needs. It is a key element to boosting brand loyalty and customer satisfaction. Whether from your online shop, social media, loyalty programs, emails, or even live chats – how you communicate is important at every touchpoint. It should be consistent, unambiguous, and relatable to your audience. It should also, when appropriate, be two-way to demonstrate that you understand their concerns and are actively participating in finding solutions.
Effective communication is about building a relationship where you share your knowledge, sell your brand, and persuade people to purchase from you. The challenge is doing it in a way that is clear, concise, accurate, and engaging. While being mindful that the customer is always in a hurry – keep that in mind when your search function always gives bad results.
No matter where they are in their journey with you, if a customer finds bad grammar, a lack of information, confusing messaging, and an unclear focus, it can directly impact their trust in your business and create uncertainty in their purchasing decision.
All of this is why understanding your customer’s journey is so important to gain loyal customers. The experiences that you give them are crucial to your business. But it must be done continuously. A customer’s journey is always changing. Whether from innovative technology, changing expectations and needs, or that the very industry is rapidly evolving.
Tomorrow’s customer journey
For most online retailers, the past years have focused on SEO and conversions and is only now starting to target the customer experience. But with 2.14 billion digital buyers worldwide9 and ecommerce sales climbing to US$4.9 trillion throughout 202110, it’s certain that online retailers are looking for the best ways to attract and keep customers.
Social commerce (shopping via social media platforms) will be one area to watch. According to an eMarketer study, social buyers (in the US alone) will number 97.2 million in 2022 with an expected increase to 108 million by 202511. For consumers, such social shopping will make the entire experience more connected and interactive – particularly because they are shopping on the same platform12 that their friends and family are on and can ask for advice, review comments, comment on a friend’s purchase, and more. 83% of people surveyed said that Instagram helped them discover new products or services, and 87% said they took action after seeing production information on the platform. Are you well placed to capture your share of this popular shopping method? Do you know how many of your customers also shop via their preferred platform and on what device (odds are good it’s a smartphone)?
Another trend, considering the vast amounts of data being collected at every shopping touchpoint, is predictive data analysis. In use by retail for many years, the massive surge of people now shopping online is seeing this range of technologies and approaches, gain renewed attention. By analyzing existing data, predictive analytics can make long-term predictions about product demand or customer behavior, enabling you to better target customers with highly relevant and personalized recommendations.
But the biggest shift in consumer behavior is the increased focus on ethical and values-based shopping. A report by 5WPR13 showed that 71% of consumers prefer buying from brands that align with their values, whether social, political, or environmental. Retailers now need to be more forthcoming about their values and how they are being put into action than ever before. Two sources are driving this: the customer, who wants to know they are buying from someone that has similar ethics and values, and the global push for organizations to implement environmental, social, and governance strategies.14 By being transparent about your stance on these subjects – even taking a direct stance on them – can help build trust and loyalty.
Be prepared for the journey ahead
“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”
HERACLITUS, ANCIENT GREEK PHILOSOPHER
The customer journey is fluid and ever-changing. Once you think you’ve got it all worked out, the customer radically changes direction. You can never sit back and think you’re done. Constant, consistent, and in-depth check-ins are always necessary. You need to check the data. Review the personas. Update the maps and fix any friction points. Revisit how and where you’re selling. Take another look at your marketing. Then do it all again. Because no journey is the same. But giving them an unforgettable experience means they’ll want to travel with you again.