The Ultimate eCommerce Path to Purchase Guide 2023

In a world where consumers are bombarded with marketing messages and have near-endless choices, you need to make sure that every element of your buyer’s journey is optimised to lead them right into your sales funnel. This ‘journey’ is also known as your customer path to purchase – and it’s absolutely essential to get right.

In this article, we’ll give you a comprehensive guide to the consumer path to purchase, including what it is and how to optimise it.

Ready to learn more? Let’s dive in.


What is the path to purchase?

The path to purchase is your journey from this moment – the instant you become aware of a problem or a need – to the moment you take action to solve it. This purchasing journey will be different for every customer, and will depend on numerous factors such as:

  • Their demographics (age, gender, location) 
  • Their previous experiences 
  • Their buying behaviour 
  • The type of product or service they’re looking for 
  • The channels they use to research products and make purchases 
  • And which brands they trust the most.

 Understanding the path to purchase is essential for any business that wants to optimise their sales and marketing efforts. By understanding the steps your customers take on their journey, you can ensure that each touchpoint – from your website to your in-store experience – is designed to meet their needs and guide them towards a purchase.


Stages in the consumer path to purchase

To find out exactly how you can optimise the consumer journey for your benefit as a seller, it’s crucial to understand each of the stages involved in the process. Let’s start at the very beginning! Here’s a brief overview of each stage in the customer journey: 

The Awareness stage

Again, our journey as a customer never begins with walking into a store; it begins when we see a need that can be met with a product or service. This is the Awareness stage, and it’s where customers first start to engage with brands.

At this stage, your potential customer is not yet aware of your brand or your product. They may not even know that a solution to their problem exists. It’s up to you, as the seller, to make them aware of both the problem and the solution through marketing efforts such as advertising, PR, and content marketing.

Sometimes, the customer will come to awareness on their own; other times, you’ll need to nudge them in the right direction. Either way, some examples of this stage might be when a customer:

  • Breaks their hairbrush and can’t find any other combs around the house
  • Sees an ad for a better phone, and begins to notice problems with their current phone
  • Hears about a new book from a friend that piques their interest
  • Reads a blog post about the benefits of meditation; becomes aware that they are lacking relaxation

Again, this stage mostly happens behind the scenes – but it is absolutely essential to the rest of the process.

The Consideration stage

At this stage, customers are looking for more information that will help them make a decision. They’ll be comparing different options, weighing the pros and cons, and trying to figure out which solution is the best fit for them. For instance:

  • The customer with the broken hairbrush will search online for “best brush for fine hair”
  • The customer with the old phone will read reviews of the latest models and compare prices
  • The potential book buyer will look up summaries and reviews to see if it’s something they’d like
  • The would-be meditator will research which type of meditation is right for them, and look into some beginner guides

During this stage, it’s important to provide as much helpful information as possible to the customer. If they can’t find what they’re looking for on your site, they’ll likely go to a competitor’s site instead.

The Conversion stage

The customer has gathered all the information they need, and now it’s time for them to make a decision and take action – which is known as the Conversion stage. Your potential customer will make the all-important choice between your product and your competitor’s (or they’ll decide not to purchase anything at all).

The Advocacy stage

Advocates are customers who are so happy with your product or service that they’re willing to tell their friends and family about it. They might leave a review on your site, post about you on social media, or give you a positive rating on an online marketplace. 

Advocacy is a stage often neglected when talking about customer journeys, but it’s just as important – if not more so – as the others. The Advocacy stage turns the path to purchase from a linear process into a loop, because customers who are advocates for your brand will continue to purchase from you and spread your brand to other potential buyers.


How has the online path to purchase changed over time?

Buying something online was once a much simpler process. You would find what you wanted on a website, add it to your cart, and checkout. But as eCommerce has grown and evolved, so too has the online path to purchase.

Nowadays, there are a multitude of touchpoints that customers can use to research and buy products: 

  • Online marketplaces like Amazon and eBay
  • Social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat
  • Retailer websites
  • Comparison shopping engines like Google Shopping and Bing Shopping
  • Review sites like Yelp, Consumer Reports, and CNET
  • Blogs and other online publications

With so many options available, it can be difficult for customers to know where to start – or even where to look. That’s why it’s important for brands to have a presence on as many touch points as possible, so they can guide customers through the purchase journey.


How do you conduct a path to purchase analysis?

A path to purchase analysis is a research method used to understand how customers discover and select products. It involves tracking customer behaviour from the moment they become aware of a need or want, all the way through to when they make a purchase.

There are a few different ways to conduct a path to purchase analysis: 

  • Survey customers at various points along their journey, such as after they’ve made a purchase or left a review.
  • Interview customers about their purchase journey.
  • Track brand awareness metrics like website traffic and conversion rates.
  • Analyse customer behaviour data from platforms like Google Analytics.

At minimum, you should be tracking metrics like click-throughs, conversions, bounce rates, and time on site. This data will give you insights into where customers are dropping off, so you can make changes to your website or marketing strategy accordingly.


Optimising the purchasing journey

As customers go through their path to purchase, it is true that many points are out of your control; consumers will make their own decisions based on their needs, wants, and available resources. However, there are still plenty of opportunities for you to optimise the journey, making it as easy and enjoyable as possible for customers. 

Optimise for mobile

Did you know that nearly three in four customer dollars are spent through a mobile device? The majority of your customers are using their smartphone to make purchases – and that’s a fact you can take advantage of. 

You should:

  • Make sure your website and online store are optimised for mobile devices; maintain a responsive design that scales to fit any screen size, and ensure that your content is easy to read and navigate on a smaller screen.
  • Make use of push notifications to keep customers up-to-date on sales, new products, and more.
  • Invest in a mobile app for your online store; this can make the purchasing process even easier for customers who are used to using apps to shop. 
  • Use location-based marketing techniques to reach out to nearby shoppers with relevant deals and promotions.

Consider whether your budget can cover some social media ads, too; Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Reddit, YouTube, and Snapchat all offer excellent opportunities to reach mobile users with targeted ads.

Make the purchase process easy

Your goal should be to make the purchase process as easy as possible for customers. If it’s too complicated or time-consuming, they’re likely to give up and look elsewhere. 

Remove friction wherever possible; if your customers have to click through four pages, before making their purchase, reduce it to three. If you sell your products through multiple retailers, add a Where To Buy button to your brand website.

Also consider using an app like ShopPay or Apple Pay, which can speed up the process for customers who are already used to making purchases with their mobile devices.

Make your presence known 

It’s important to polish your user interface and purchase process, of course – but don’t neglect the awareness stage of the journey. There are a few key ways to position your brand at the top of the digital shelf:

  • Optimise your web content – ads, social media posts, blog articles, etc. – for SEO. This will help ensure that your content appears in search engine results when potential customers are looking for products like yours.
  • Engage in social media marketing, influencer outreach, and other forms of promotion to get your brand name in front of as many people as possible.
  • Use targeted ads on platforms like Google, Facebook, and Instagram to reach potential customers who are most likely to be interested in your products or services.

This omnichannel approach splashes your name across multiple platforms. By the time your potential customer notices a problem in their lives, your brand should already be at the top of their mind as a potential solution.

Final thoughts

Remember, the path to purchase is just that – a journey. Your goal should be to make it as easy and enjoyable as possible for your customers, so they keep coming back for more.

By optimising your website and online store for mobile devices, making the purchase process quick and easy, and ensuring that potential customers are aware of your brand, you’ll be well on your way to success.