magine a world where everyone who lands on your website instantly buys and then comes back every month to buy again.

Spoiler alert: That’s never going to happen.

Some visitors might be ready to buy, especially if one of your email campaigns primed them for action. Some landed there after clicking on a search or social ad. Others saw your brand somewhere or are comparing your products to your competition.

All of these potential customers are in different stages of the buying process. They need your guidance to move on to the next stage. However, you can’t always know where each prospect is hanging out on your site. The next best thing is to make sure wherever they are, you’ve mapped out a clear path they can follow to their next steps.

That path is your ecommerce conversion funnel. In this article, we’ll discuss the ecommerce conversion funnel, how you can track the performance of your sales funnel, and strategies to optimize your ecomm funnel.

What is an ecommerce conversion funnel?

The ecommerce conversion funnel refers to the visual representation of the journey someone makes from becoming aware of your brand to making a purchase from you and becoming a customer. 

This customer journey has multiple stages. A good ecommerce funnel includes marketing efforts that guide leads from the “top of the funnel” (TOFU) to the “middle of the funnel” (MOFU) and ultimately to the “bottom of the funnel,” where the purchase happens.

Why should you create an ecommerce conversion funnel?

If you don’t know which stage a lead or customer is in, you’ll find it hard to send targeted messages. Someone who has just found out about your brand needs different information from someone who put a product in a cart but abandoned it later.

An ecommerce conversion funnel allows you to customize a communication approach for the stages that most customers pass through on their way to purchase. This customization gives you a higher chance to convert prospects into loyal customers.

The stages of the ecommerce funnel

Your ecommerce platform and the products you sell will influence the stages in your conversion funnel. However, most ecommerce businesses will have an ecomm funnel with similar general stages. The stage names might vary, but the following five stages are widely considered to be common for almost all ecommerce businesses.

ecommerce conversion funnel

1. Awareness

Also known as the Discovery stage, this is the point at which a potential customer learns about your brand. In ecommerce, prospects enter the awareness stage the first time they visit your website.

They could also learn about you through an article you’re featured in, a social post or ad, banner ad, friend recommendation, TV commercial, or print source. Having a user-friendly ecommerce site (being easy to use on a mobile device) will help keep them around long enough to decide whether they want to move to the next conversion stage. 

2. Consideration

In the Consideration (or Interest) stage, the potential customer actively shows interest in your products, such as going to a specific product page or checking out other interior pages like an FAQ page.  Some say this is the true beginning of the conversion funnel ecommerce businesses find most useful because all brand activities can now start to focus on persuading the customer to convert.

3. Intent

Adding a product to a cart is a strong signal of customer intent. However, they have not purchased yet. At this point in their customer journey, they might still leave your online store but use their carts to hold items that they’ll buy later. Or they’re going to your competitors to compare prices or products. Sometimes they drop out because they encountered a problem at checkout. Or, they just leave. 

4. Decision

Hurray! At this stage, your visitor buys a product and becomes a customer. But the conversion funnel doesn’t stop here. That’s one shortcoming of the funnel model—it assumes that a one-time purchaser is a customer for life.

5. Loyalty

In a perfect world, first-time customers become repeat customers and, eventually, loyal fans. Customers who buy again and even become brand advocates have reached the end of your sales funnel. Now your work to retain them as loyal customers begins.  

Loyal customers are your most important customers. Your marketing efforts should now focus on making sure they stay happy and engaged so they keep buying from you. 

Be aware of non-linear customer journeys

The ecommerce funnel model has a major drawback. It assumes that leads go in at the top of the funnel, proceed through all the buying stages in order and exit the bottom as loyal consumers.

In reality, a customer’s life situation, needs, goals, and other external factors can cause them to leak out of your funnel and come back in several times before converting, if ever. Also, each customer will experience your website differently from others. You need to figure out which stages of your customer journey are easy for people to move through and where they are likely to fall out.

Farther down in this guide, we’ll discuss strategies to help you improve your conversion funnel.

Ecommerce sales funnel example

  1. Awareness: A potential customer sees an ad for sustainable sunglasses on Facebook. 
  2. Consideration: They click the ad and are taken to a product landing page on the brand’s website. 
  3. Consideration: But they don’t find a lot of information about the brand’s production process. So they track down the company’s customer support email address and send a message asking how sustainable the sunglasses are. 
  4. Consideration: While they wait for a reply, they search for product reviews to figure out whether the company is trustworthy. It appears to be, and then…  
  5. Consideration: They get an extensive reply from the brand’s customer support, which assures them the sunglasses are truly sustainable. 
  6. Consideration: They go back to the website to look at the product page again.
  7. Intent: They decide they like how these sunglasses look and place them in their shopping cart. 
  8. Decision: They click “Check Out Now” and buy the sunglasses. 

Tracking the performance of your conversion funnel

You can’t fix what you don’t know is broken, and you can’t double down on what works when you have no idea why customers convert on your ecommerce site. That’s why it’s crucial to track the performance of your sales funnel in each stage of the funnel.

Here are a few ways to do that.

Track crucial KPIs

These include:

Conversion rates
Conversion rate optimization is an important part of improving your conversion funnel. Conversion rates to track include your overall conversion rate, and individual conversion rates for each of your marketing campaigns, your product pages, your marketing channels and individual search, social and banner ads.

As an ecommerce business, your sales conversion rate is your primary conversion rate. It indicates how well you’re doing and helps you understand the ROI your marketing campaigns generate.

Each sale is made up of a series of micro-conversions, each of which sends a signal you can track. Visits to and bounces from product pages, adds-to-cart, and initiated checkouts can tell you how smooth your ecommerce site’s purchasing process is and where people drop off.

The formula: Number of conversions / number of total visitors x 100 = conversion rate

Click conversion rate
Your conversion rate tells you how many conversions you get. Your click conversion rate tells you how many website visitors actually convert. If you get a lot of traffic but not a lot of sales, that’s an issue.

The formula: Number of visitors who convert / total number of visitors x 100 = percentage of unique visitors that convert.
Cart abandonment rate
Likewise, if a lot of people add products to their carts but not a lot of shoppers complete the purchasing process, there may be something wrong with your checkout flow, or perhaps you’re scaring shoppers away by suddenly adding on a high shipping fee or asking for loads of personal information.

The formula: 1 – (total number of completed purchases / number of created shopping carts) x 100

Retention rate
To know whether customers come back for more and become loyal to your brand you need to calculate your retention rate.

The formula: number of customers who make multiple purchases / number of customers who only make one purchase x 100

If you sell a lot, but shoppers also return a lot, there might be something wrong with your marketing and/or the quality of your products. That’s why it’s important to also track your returns.

Survey visitors and customers

A tool like Hotjar will let you survey website visitors and customers in different stages of your ecommerce funnel to figure out what works and to try to spot trends or problems. Here are a few questions you can ask and the stage to ask them in:

  • Awareness: How did you find our website?
  • Consideration: Did this answer your question? (on an FAQ page, for example)
  • Intent: Not exactly what you’re looking for? (as an exit-intent pop-up on a cart page)
  • Decision: On a scale of 1 to 10, how easy was the ordering process? (post-purchase pop-up or email) 
  • Loyalty: On a scale of 1 to 10, how likely are you to recommend us to your friends?

Use Google Analytics

In Google Analytics, you can track events such as downloads and purchases to evaluate your ecommerce funnel’s performance. You can also evaluate the journey of visitors through your website and analyze which pages are most often visited before customers add a product to their cart. Don’t forget to track how many people abandon their carts either.

Google Analytics even has an Ecommerce Tracking feature that allows you to track things like your conversion rate, your average revenue, and how much you’ve sold of each of your products. You can find all of this information and more by clicking “Conversion” in the left sidebar and then selecting “Ecommerce”.

Record user behavior

Use heatmap and session recording tools such as CrazyEgg to discover how individual customers use your website. Watch how they scroll, where they click, and which parts of your product pages they spend most of their time on.

9 Conversion funnel optimization strategies

As creating brand awareness and generating leads should be part of your marketing funnel, the strategies below focus solely on improving your ecommerce conversion funnel from the moment a potential customer turns into a lead.

Let’s dive in!

  1. Ensure a smooth on-site user experience

When someone is considering buying from you, you still need to earn their trust. Chances are good that people will leave a buggy website with unintuitive navigation and slow-loading product pages and go to a competitor who can offer them a smooth user experience.

After all, what will the customer experience be like once they’ve ordered from you if your website doesn’t work properly?

Go through all of the steps a potential customer on your site would go through and make sure there are no barriers to purchasing:

  • Are your site elements visible and easily clickable on all types of devices?
  • Do you have clear call-to-actions on your product pages?
  • How easy is it to add a product to the cart?
  • Do you highlight secure payment options?
  • How seamless is the checkout process?

All of these matter in creating a pleasant user experience.

  1. Establish brand authority

Whether it’s through blog posts, a detailed FAQ page, or how-to guides for your products, you have many ways to show potential customers that you’re there to support them, help them buy the right product and stand by your brand claims.

This isn’t something that should be exclusive to your website either. Other ways to grow brand authority and trust include:

  • Responding quickly to comments on social media and questions you get via email
  • Showing social proof across your channels: testimonials, user-generated content
  • Asking for reviews on the platforms where your ideal customers hang out
  • Sharing helpful content in your newsletter
  1. Catch browse abandonment

Someone who’s just browsing around your website might not be ready to make a purchase yet. But if they have allowed cookies, you can easily target them with remarketing ads when they visit other websites or social media platforms. And if you’re great at getting potential customers to sign up for your email list, you can send them smart browse abandonment emails.

It’s also a great idea to generate custom QR codes that will take them right where they left off. Include the code in your email message so it’s easier and more convenient for them to continue browsing if they’re reading your email on their mobile devices.

Who does it well? Shoppers aren’t as motivated to buy at this stage of the ecomm funnel, so you have to soft-pedal the hard sell. North Face’s three-email browse-abandonment journey focuses on sending shoppers back to their products. A great detail: The calls to action in the three emails progress from “See it again” to “Add to cart.” (View the entire email.)

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  1. Send cart abandonment emails

The kid dropped the hamster in the toilet, your shipping fee is higher than they’d like, or they’re simply not sure yet. Customers abandon their carts for many reasons. Depending on which study you read, between 57 percent and 85 percent of carts get abandoned. That’s a lot!

Abandoned cart campaigns are a great tool to bring people back to their carts. You can simply remind them they forgot something or offer a limited-time discount on the item in their cart to create a sense of urgency.

Don’t have their email address yet? Then this is another situation in which you can set up a paid remarketing campaign. Combining both strategies should help with your conversion rate optimization.

Who does it well?: Hydrant, a subscription wellness brand, sends a three-email cart-abandonment series. Each one has a different message but we’re highlighting Email one because it concentrates on the product’s benefits instead of waving a discount right away. (View the entire email.)

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  1. Offer a guest checkout option

As much as you want every customer to create an account and sign up for your email list, those two actions can form a block for people who’ve never bought from you before. Give them the chance to buy as a guest during the checkout process. 

You can always add an incentive to create an account once they’ve finalized the checkout process or in your order confirmation email. Keep your checkout page as barrier-free as possible.

  1. Keep customers engaged

After a site visitor converts into a customer, it’s crucial to keep them engaged and coming back. After all, it’s easier—and cheaper—to hold on to existing customers than to try to win new ones again and again.

The best way to stay top of mind is through access to your customers’ inboxes. Create onboarding drip campaigns, send out a regular newsletter, and offer them targeted discounts and promotions based on their customer profiles and buying behavior.

If your customers tend to hang out on social media a lot, you might want to put some effort into getting them to follow your social media channels so you can pop up in their feed and invite them to interact with you there.

Who does it well? As part of its four-email onboarding journey, Birkenstock devotes Email three to promoting its social channels. Then, because a good onboarding journey nudges newcomers to go back to the website and buy, the brand tacks on some updateable and static purchase recommendations. (View the entire email.) 

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  1. Set up a loyalty program

You can even take it a step further and create separate campaigns for customers who sign up for your loyalty program. A loyalty program offers benefits and/or rewards in exchange for repeat purchases. Having one is a great way to increase the chance that customers will keep buying from you, and not from your competitors. 

Sending loyalty emails to your customers who also opted in to your promotion emails means you can incrementally increase your email frequency with highly relevant messages.

Who does it well? Jenni’s Splendid Ice Creams recaps program benefits in the first message it sends to new members and caps it off with an irresistible CTA: “Get your cone.” (View the entire email.)

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  1. Create win-back campaigns

You won’t be able to hold onto everyone all of the time. When someone cancels their subscription or doesn’t purchase for a while, try sending them a win-back campaign. Remind them about what they’re missing, send personalized product recommendations, or show how much value your products can bring to their lives. 

You can send one email to subscribers who have never purchased, another to active subscribers who haven’t purchased during the regular product lifecycle but still read your emails, and a third version to customers who have not purchased in the lifecycle or opened emails in a set period.

Who does it well? Bulletproof sends this email to lapsing but not inactive customers and includes a simple incentive to sweeten the deal. (View the entire email.)

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  1. Research what your competitors are doing

Know of a brand that’s great at winning customers? Need a bit more inspiration for your funnel optimization project? You don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Research the strategies your competitors are using to convert customers and keep them engaged.

As a MailCharts user, you get access to the email campaigns of hundreds of ecommerce brands. See exactly what they’re sending and when they’re sending it to move leads through their conversion funnel.

Have you mapped out your ecommerce funnel yet?

An ecommerce sales funnel helps you tie messaging to different points in the customer journey and guide them from one stage to the next. It’s crucial to track the performance of your conversion funnel so you can remove friction points, keep prospects on the customer journey to buying and loyalty, and increase their customer lifetime value for your brand.

Email marketing plays a large role at every stage of your sales process. One of the easiest ways to improve your campaign is by looking at what your competitors and other successful ecommerce brands are doing.

MailCharts tracks cart abandonment, win-back, loyalty, and many other types of email marketing campaigns by hundreds of ecommerce brands. Try MailCharts to inspire your next ecommerce email campaign! 

Post tags   Ecommerce Insights