For proof of the fundamental change in the customer journey, you don't have to look much further than Amazon. Once a distinctly US phenomenon, changes brought about by an increasingly digital centric economy has now enabled any third-party brand to sell globally on the very same platform which enabled that economy.
For better or worse, Amazon has altered the face of customer expectations—and subsequently, the overall customer journey.
But while new channels and new delivery methods continue to be developed daily, catching up with changes in consumer habits isn't always a question of innovation. It's a question of understanding those habits and how they apply to the customer journey.
Specifically, the online customer journey.
The Post-Pandemic Customer Journey
Both brands and vendors alike found a drastically altered retail landscape as the world began to emerge from the pandemic. But it has less to do with the growing shift towards a digital economy as much as a shift in consumer needs.
Customers understand their own loyalty better than brands can ever hope to. They understand their own priorities. Their own values. And their own needs.
That understanding is what historically has differentiated traditional marketing from its digital counterpart. Customers demand to be spoken with, not to.
As early as 2018, it was predicted that digital ad spending would surpass traditional advertising within the span of a year.
But if that prediction didn't necessarily come true, the pandemic did help accelerate digital ad revenues in the US—to the tune of $139.8 Billion during Q4 2020.
The question of how consumers are making their purchases is becoming increasingly more fundamental than what they're purchasing. And it's a lesson both brick and mortar as well as eCommerce can learn from.
But if the retail landscape will be changed dramatically, what will the eCommerce customer journey look like after the pandemic?
Reimagining the Customer Journey Map in 2023
If maintaining a customer's attention prior to 2020 was difficult enough, you may want to strap in your seatbelts during 2023.
Despite the prediction of naysayers that the influencer marketing bubble has burst, customers are still increasingly more responsive to more organic methods of product discovery. That's largely because the eCommerce customer experience is dictated by the same principles as the overall digital experience: democratization.
There's a reason why social proof remains one of the most valuable assets a brand can hope to maintain. A user-driven landscape demands validation from a customer's peers, first and foremost. This doesn't mean that internal marketing strategies are no longer valid. It simply means that brands need to reevaluate customer journey mapping in light of digital shopper's standards.
eCommerce and the customer journey mapping process
Traditional customer journey maps tend to follow a relatively standard formula: develop a buyer persona, target a prospective customer, identify touchpoints, analyze behavior and take appropriate action.
But a digital customer's experience isn't necessarily so linear. That's because different stages will affect the customer experience in wildly diverse ways. For example, few online shoppers appreciate being pigeon-holed into customer personas. There may be specific motivations which trigger their purchasing habits, but they're rarely based on standardized demographics.
Uncovering those motivations can present a dilemma for traditional marketers: how do you create a customer journey map if there are no consensus demographic standards to rely on?
The answer is simple. By listening directly to customer pain points. That means data driven by proactive customer support and engagement, not hypothetical predictions. It can be a time consuming process. But it's only by understanding the diversity of customer motivations that marketers can come to a greater understanding of customer diversity as a whole.
It's an understanding which fosters an engagement throughout the whole of a customer's journey. And it's that same engagement which can encourage customers to commit to brand loyalty.
Luckily? Smaller brands have a distinct advantage over big name retailers. Namely, a small online business owner can afford to glean direct insight from consumer engagement, lending an altogether human voice to otherwise cold and distant marketing strategies.
Larger brands, on the other hand, are still viewed as anonymous, unapproachable entities by most customers. They may be able to maintain customer retention and loyalty by sheer visibility, but it's rarely fostered by any form of organic engagement.
It's been estimated that up to 70 percent of Americans prefer to shop from small to medium sized businesses. And as shopping habits informed by social media are rapidly becoming the norm, that number is only increasing.
Subsequently, any thorough eCommerce customer journey map template is going to have to take a much more holistic approach, favoring specific consumer needs over statistics.
Customer journey maps are still going to be relevant beyond 2022. In fact, even more so. But to develop an efficient one, brands need to be aware of just how fundamentally different the digital landscape of 2023 is going to be compared to just five years ago.
And the process of mapping the customer journey needs to be flexible, agile and responsive to constantly evolving customer needs.
The Shift Towards Omnichannel Accessibility
A 2020 survey from Nielsen found that financially and physically constrained consumers represented 72 percent of omnichannel shoppers globally. More importantly, their shopping habits appear to have changed permanently as a result.
The coronavirus has forced formerly infrequent online shoppers to adapt to a necessary change in both habit and necessity, with some 11 percent of digital consumers indicating they had more than doubled their online shopping purchases during a November 2020 survey conducted by Rand.
That may have been expected. But a 2020 poll from Ipsos revealed that 92 percent of consumers were likely to continue their pandemic shopping habits after brick and mortar establishments reopened.
Yet the rate at which consumers are adopting new delivery technologies will demand constant reassessment.
Consumer spending through mobile devices may have reached a record $64.9 Billion in the US during the first half of 2021, but actual installations only saw a 1.7 percent growth. Yet while omnichannel shopping may have seemed like a rare ideal ten years ago, it's become a firmly entrenched part of the consumer experience in 2022.
With an estimated 73 percent of shoppers using multiple online channels during the course of their journey, brands can no longer afford to overlook omnichannel marketing strategies in their digital presence.
As newer devices continue to be adopted at a rapid pace, brands need to adapt to 24/7 accessibility through both multiple delivery options and marketing through entirely different channels if their online store hopes to survive.
There's no such thing as a ready-made buyer, either online or in physical retail. Nor is there a magic wand that will instantly materialize a following. It can be frustrating for brands who have historically relied upon a singular channel to attract customers, both in terms of investment as well as marketing logistics.
Yet the time, expense and effort is a small price to pay for the single most critical factor in the success of your business: brand loyalty.
Touchpoints: Need, Not Whim
The variety and flexibility of delivery options has a parallel in the digital customer journey itself.
More often than not, marketers assume that consumer touchpoints are universal as opposed to an adaptable model compartmentalizing an audience. Touchpoints may provide a useful customer journey map, but a map is never a territory—particularly in the constantly evolving spectrum of the digital customer experience.
Despite an estimated 18 percent of American shoppers increasing their impulse buys during the pandemic, customer journeys are becoming more defined by need-based touchpoints as discretionary purchases decline.
But customer touchpoints aren't necessarily aligned with a preconceived marketing strategy. More frequently, they're aligned with customer needs—needs which can vary considerably across both demographic and category.
Yet certain touchpoints will remain specific to certain customer segments. Context will always inform content, not vice versa.
Businesses which can address both the context of a customer's needs as well as providing a relevant solution which can bridge the gap will find themselves more likely to achieve brand loyalty, no matter how crowded their consumer segment may be. And brands who don't put their audience's needs first may find themselves being written out of the customer journey map altogether.
Personalization: The Customer is Their Own Navigator
What held true for digital marketing prior to the pandemic will still hold true after it. It's defined by its users, not its sellers.
The digital landscape is a purely democratic one, where testimonials and social proof can ultimately determine the success of any brand. And in a democratic landscape, neither legacy nor name recognition count nearly as much as personal engagement.
During the pandemic, necessity forced customers to engage with brands at a significantly higher rate. What that means for brands is that performance and how customer touchpoints are met aren't just a question of measuring KPIs. It means that the customer is defining those very KPIs themselves.
Personalization is one of the strongest advantages a small or medium-sized business can have. While larger brands may have the resources to launch immersive marketing campaigns, smaller brands can afford to focus on the customer—not internal metrics informed by spending.
A customer-driven journey will dictate its own content and context. Personalization is merely one solution which can make the most out of a customer's journey.
Is the Future of the Online Customer Journey Unwritten?
The customer journey may have come a long way since Amazon changed the face of retail back in 1994. But the online customer journey is likely to look drastically different in 2033 compared to 2023, as well.
Brands need to be aware that much like customer behavior itself, a customer journey map is never set in stone. Even the most loyal customers can change their minds at any point in their journey. And there is no advertising solution which is entirely immune from that change.
What brands can do in 2023 is to develop a campaign which emphasizes the customer first and foremost. Brand visibility is as much a reflection of the customer as it is of a product. And a customer's experience is based on their needs—needs which aren't always easy to uncover.
What will the customer journey look like beyond 2022? Just like a customer. As diverse, nuanced and subject to change as the marketplace.
And a product which can respond to diversity and change is the ultimate goal of that customer journey.
Brand visibility in eCommerce demands adaptation. We can help. Find out more atColor More Lines