Understanding the ecommerce customer journey

As the UK ecommerce industry grows, so does the need to stand out in a crowded marketplace. Investing in the right strategies and technologies that help increase conversion rates and encourage customer loyalty is ever more important. To be able to do this you need an understanding of the customer and where they are in their buying cycle.

In the next instalment of our Marketer’s Challenges Series, this guide will help ecommerce marketers master an understanding of the customer journey and how to ensure optimum results at every stage.

Breaking down the Customer Lifecycle

One of the best ways to create personalised communications that speak to your subscriber’s individual needs and ensure you are sending the right message to the right person, crucially at the right time, is to understand where they are in their journey with you.

The customer journey (lifecycle) can be split down into five key stages:

Customer Lifecycle

The needs of your different customer personas will change depending on where they are in their journey with you; informing what content they require from you to help them move to the next stage.

Treat your customers and prospects differently based on their current needs.

At each stage, your prospects and customers will be trying to accomplish different tasks, asking different questions, feeling different emotions, and the email marketing campaigns that you will send will need to address these differences along the way.

Let’s take a look at each stage individually…

Acquisition Stage

Aim: to attract, welcome and start building the relationship with new subscribers

Key behaviour: a subscriber finds your sign-up form, subscribes and starts their relationship with you.

They are looking to find out more about why they should shop with you, your credibility, if they can trust in the service you provide and if you have the kinds of product(s)/service they may be looking for.

They may not be specifically looking for anything yet (they may not know exactly what they want) or they may have found you because they were searching for something specific (or at least a category of product/service types) and are moving towards the next stage and deciding whether or not to make a purchase.

Example: In this stage think about how to optimise your sign-up process to capture their attention and maximise conversion to opt in, as well as implementing a welcome and on-boarding email programme – a targeted series of emails to introduce the new subscriber to your brand and offerings and set expectations over the first 30 days of the relationship.

Jimmy Choo

Jimmy Choose Preference Centre

Jimmy Choo Mobile

Research and Consideration Stage

Aim: to help the new subscriber make the decision as to which product to buy, and why they would benefit from purchasing from your company

Key behaviour: Having found you, the subscriber now needs to be educated, inspired and helped to make the right purchase decision for them.

Consider the categories of products/services or the specific items they are browsing on your website, the blog posts they are viewing and the other pages they are navigating to.

For example, if someone is viewing your FAQs or delivery information, they are telling you they are looking for more information to help them make their decision, related to how your company operates.

Browsing multiple products in the same category (for example, lots of skirts within women’s clothing), tells you that is the product type they require but they haven’t yet found the perfect one for them.

Browsing different types of blog posts tells you they are looking for inspiration, and looking at multiple in the same topic area also gives you more insight.

In this stage, you will also have more specific behaviour such as searching for certain products, registering for back-in-stock notifications or adding items to their basket and then not going on to purchase.

Example: Campaigns sent to prospects at this stage may include communications to a subscriber that hasn’t purchased within a specific number of days after signing-up but has shown certain behaviour on site.

You will also send regular promotional emails and newsletters to educate and inspire subscribers, following up on-site behaviour such as browsing a specific product or category with a targeted series of emails to help them make the decision to purchase, or support an abandoned basket action with a reminder to purchase and other related product recommendations.

Ralph Lauren



Purchase and Experience Stage

Aim: to make the purchase process as easy as possible and give customers the best experience after buying from you

Key behaviour: a customer decides on the product/service that’s right for them and goes through your purchase portal, confirming their transaction.

They then await the delivery of their product/service to them (either physically or online in the case of systems access or information, for example).

When their purchase arrives, how they feel about it, start to use it and follow up with your company (for example, providing reviews) are all part of this stage.

Example: Campaigns during this stage will include, transactional emails (such as purchase and dispatch confirmation emails) and a post-purchase follow-up series (for example, review requests) as well as helpful content to make the most of their purchase – a key step in building the relationship with the customer and ensuring an excellent experience that most companies neglect; instead only servicing the basic communications needed in this stage.

Offering up-sell / cross-sell items here can also be helpful to enhance the experience.

The most important communications, alongside those messages that have to be sent to confirm stages of the purchase process, again put the customer first – think about how can you go above and beyond to give them a fantastic experience of buying from you.

Can you provide additional information following the purchase to help them make the most of their items?

This could include showing them how to use the item properly (perhaps a short video or blog post), looking at the most common reasons customers return items and trying to combat these in your messaging, or answering FAQs.



Engagement & Loyalty Stage

Aim: to keep the subscriber engaged and encourage them to repeat purchase

Key behaviour: This stage sees first-time customers, going on to make a second purchase, and a third and a fourth and so on.

They may become advocates for your brand and share their purchases with friends and family or on social media for example.

This stage is very similar to the research and consideration stage and many campaigns that you plan will be the same between the two; aiming to educate, excite and inspire them towards the next purchase (rather than the first purchase in the previous stage).

The thought process is the same for the customer before each purchase; what do I want to buy and is this the right company to buy it from?

The difference from the initial purchase is that they now know they can trust you as a company as they have bought from you before. This is also why the previous stage (purchase and experience) is so important to get right and take beyond just the basic transactional communications that have to be sent, in order to help bolster this next, repeat purchase phase.

Example: Specific emails based on data you have about your subscriber including a birthday email or an anniversary of purchase email – campaigns that build loyalty and make the customer feel special.

You will also want to include campaigns that encourage a repeat purchase such as replenishment reminders for those products that run out (such as beauty products or razors for example) and further cross and up-sell campaigns based on the last purchase.

Your standard promotional mailings will also fall into this category in the cross over between this and the research and consideration stage, but think about how you can adjust these to make them more personal to the increased data you now have about these customers and their previous behaviour; perhaps using dynamic content to address them as previous customers or make product suggestions based on items they’ve already purchased for example.

Ancaster Marketing Email


Reactivation Stage

Aim: to identify and reengage subscribers and purchasers who have become or are becoming inactive with your brand

Key behaviour: there are two sides to this stage;

  1. Inactive subscribers: subscribers who have become inactive with the email programme (haven’t opened or clicked on your campaigns within a certain amount of time, for example 9 months).
  2. Inactive customers: customers who are no longer buying from you (haven’t made another purchase within a specified amount of time – this will differ depending on your business and average purchase frequency that you would expect)

Example: Implement an inactive subscriber reactivation series – a series of emails designed to re-engage a user who has not engaged with your email programme within a certain amount of time. You should also set up a series of emails to encourage inactive customers to come back and make another purchase.



To create an amazing customer experience, it’s important to plan manual and automated campaigns around the customer journey.

Start by plotting the current emails you send to each stage; this will allow you to quickly see if each area is sufficiently covered with relevant campaigns, as well as additional areas that could be optimised and new campaigns added to fulfil a subscriber need and help move them to the next stage.

Layer this alongside a data audit and you’ll start to discover new data points on which to target and trigger campaigns as well.

Customer Journey Segmentation

Optimise Your Automated Campaign Planning Process

When planning your automated campaigns, consider these six key questions:

  1. What will the trigger be that starts the email/ series sending?
  2. What are the criteria that subscribers must meet in order to be eligible for that trigger (i.e. which segment of your audience)?
  3. How long after that trigger has been activated will the emails start sending?
  4. How many emails will be in the series? Just one or multiple emails over time? If so, what is the time delay between each email?
  5. What will the content of the email(s) be?
  6. What is your conversion prompt? What is the overall goal of the series and what do you want them to do in each email to achieve this?


When you understand who your subscribers are, what data you need to identify them at each stage of the customer journey and what content should be delivered at each stage to meet their needs and help them progress to the next stage, you will truly start to build a customer lifecycle marketing strategy and see your results rise as a result.

We have a wide range of guides, useful templates and content coming up in our Marketer’s Challenges Series, so watch this space. In the meantime see how our all-in-one AI Marketing Platform can take your email marketing to the next level, with a 30-day free trial.

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