The Online Customer Journey












A customer journey involves the steps a customer takes to complete a conversion.

Conversions vary depending on organisation types and can include signing up for a newsletter as well as completing a sale. The steps the customer takes from the initial action to the final conversion are known as a customer journey.

For all purchases—from minor low-cost items to high-value expensive luxuries—a customer goes through a process in which they first decide to make a purchase, then decide where to buy, and then finally make the purchase. This process is called the customer journey. When it comes to the online purchase process, the journey can be more complicated, because there are so many different ways that a potential customer can be influenced. What is the online customer journey? How can you improve that journey and increase sales?

What is the Customer Journey?

The customer journey is the experience that a person has when they make a purchase or complete an action. It is referred to be several different terms, as shown here:

At first glance, this may seem like a fairly simple process, but once you start looking at this journey in detail, it can get complicated. The customer journey includes all the various interactions that a customer can have with a company or brand, such as viewing advertising, signing up to a mailing list, researching products, and reading customer reviews, as well as visiting a store or using a website to look at products and make a purchase. It also includes all of the different ways a customer can hear about your business and products; for instance, via a search engine, a referral or recommendation, on social media, or via your own marketing campaign.

The concept of the customer journey is a holistic one: it doesn’t examine each of these things in isolation. Instead, it looks at the overall customer experience and examines each part of the journey in relation to all the others. The ultimate objective is to refine and improve each stage of the journey to make sure you’re not losing potential customers at any given point of contact.

Stages of the Customer Journey

Fundamentally there are three stages to the customer journey, pre-purchase, purchase and post purchase as shown here.

However, there are different aspects to the average customer journey, each of which has a particular purpose. Not all customer journeys look exactly the same, but in most cases, these stages play an important role in the process. Within each aspect there are typically several different interactions or mini-processes that can occur. Google has termed these micro-moments. For instance, in the awareness stage—where a customer first becomes aware of your company’s existence—this can occur through marketing, search results, social media, or various other methods.


  1. Awareness

At this stage, the customer is peripherally aware of your company or brand. Content marketing or advertising has put you in their range of awareness. They may not need your products or services yet but if they’re already aware of you, they’re more likely to consider you when the need does arise.

The best methods for this stage depend on what your company or brand offers, and to whom. For instance, Fujitsu’s I-CIO website—a B2B-focused site aimed at global CIOs—does a great job of positioning the brand as an industry expert and thought leader. But this approach would be highly unsuitable for a small regional business.


  1. Discovery

The customer has a specific need, and has identified a product or service they want to purchase. They need more information before they’re ready to make a decision on exactly what they want to buy, and where they want to buy it. At this stage, content is focused on providing a potential customer with information about specific products they are or might be interested in. Emotional triggers can be important here too, so this kind of content is often highly focused on story-telling as well as providing information.

This kind of dual approach—that appeals to emotion as well as technical information—is a strong feature of the car-buying process, exemplified by Range Rover. Here, customers can find out all the highly detailed information they want about specific models, but there are also powerful emotional appeals that focus on the first-class experience of driving the car.


  1. Purchase

This is where the purchase happens. At this point the customer must have all the information they need to make an informed purchase decision, including information about the product and your company. Range Rover is a great example of this part of the journey too, with features that allow customers to compare various models against one another, download brochures, and locate local dealers, as well as discover all the features and specifications of each car.


  1. Post-sale relationship

The journey isn’t over when the purchase is completed. At this point your aim is to turn 1-time customers into repeat customers. Investing in the customer relationship may not be immediately beneficial but it does reap rewards over time. If a customer makes a purchase they’re more likely to buy from you again if you make the effort to form a relationship. Email updates, quality content, special offers, and other deliverables help ensure that customers retain that essential awareness of your company or brand.


Building a Customer Journey Map

The best way to examine the customer journey is to make a customer journey map. This map is a visual representation of all the interactions a customer can potentially have with your company or brand, before they make a purchase from you. By creating a map you can benefit in a number of ways:

  • Discover and define all the points at which a customer can interact with your business.
  • Show the relationship between points of contact and the customer needs they serve.
  • Determine whether the customer journey is in a logical order that facilitates interaction and purchases.
  • Help you locate any gaps that exist in the buying process, or if there are any points at which the customer’s buying journey deviates from the ideal.

It’s about listing every possible stage, as this example shows.

Ultimately, creating a customer journey map does two things: it helps you pinpoint the stages of the journey where it would be most effective to focus improvements, and helps you improve the buying journey in whatever way is most beneficial to your customers. And overall, both aspects help you improve your conversion rates, sales, and profitability.