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Customer Journey Maps: The Beginner’s Guide

No matter how much you optimize your website, your customers rarely take a straightforward path to your products. There’s a lot that happens on the journey from awareness to purchase. And that’s what customer journey maps are for.

In this guide, we’re going to cover what a customer journey map is and how to make one. Along the way, we’ll discuss a few ways you can improve your customer experience. We’ve also included a simple template you can use to start mapping your customers’ journeys right now.

First, let’s talk about what customer journey maps actually are—because it can be a little confusing.

What is a customer journey map?
A customer journey map is a visual representation of how your customers move from awareness to purchase. In its simplest form, this is just a table, with the stages a customer progresses through across the top, and some things to help you understand each stage from their perspective along the side.

This is a tool to help you see the entire process from your customers’ point of view. The whole point of customer journey mapping is to understand your customers better, so you can do a better job meeting their needs at every stage of the journey. It’s a helpful practice to go through as you develop a customer-centric strategy.

For example, here’s a customer journey map an athletic shoe company might create for a high-school football player:

Customer Journey Mapping Example
Customer Journey Map Example

(It’s OK if this doesn’t feel perfectly clear right now. In the next section, we’ll explain more about what each section is doing.)

This example is pretty generic and may apply to more types of athletic-shoe customers than football players, but customer journey maps can be a lot more refined and specific than this, too. As you can imagine, a shoe company may want a range of maps to represent and understand their full range of customers.

Someone who needs a wrestling shoe isn’t going to have the exact same motivations, questions, and needs as someone looking for football cleats or basketball shoes. There’s plenty of overlap, but while these athletes may be on parallel journeys, they’re completely different customers. The same goes for a parent shopping for their kid versus an athlete who can buy their own gear.

A customer journey map might also cover a broader range of steps and stages than you can directly impact. For example, an athlete will likely get recommendations from their teammates, their coaches, athletic trainers, or professional athletes. In that case, your journey map might help demonstrate why your business needs to develop relationships with influencers or create content that exposes your brand to people who affect the decision making process.

More elaborate customer journey maps also dig deeper into what your customers are thinking, feeling, and experiencing during each phase of the journey. You might want to indicate how important each possible action is to your customer.

You’ll notice that a customer journey map is not simply a path from one touchpoint to another. It’s not a flowchart of the paths a customer might take to buy your products. The customer journey is almost never completely linear, and there are infinite possible paths they could take.

That sort of map might help you eliminate some barriers between you and your customers, but it won’t help you understand the overarching journey from awareness to purchase. Customer journey maps are about understanding your customers and putting yourselves in their shoes.

Now let’s look at how you actually make one.

How to create a customer journey map
Creating a customer journey map is an exercise in understanding your customers. Here’s a quick overview of the steps you might take:

Create buyer personas
Identify all your customer touchpoints
Establish the phases your customers go through
List potential motivations, problems, and aspirations
Highlight current obstacles
Put yourself in your customers’ shoes
Streamline the customer journey
Review your map regularly
Depending on your goals and how in-depth you want your map to be, your process might look a little different. As we talk through each of these, feel free to modify, add, or remove steps as you see fit.

1. Create buyer personas
Even if you only have one product or service, you likely serve a range of customers who have different desires, questions, and challenges. Buyer personas (also known as marketing personas, customer personas, or simply personas) are research-based profiles that represent specific slices of your customer base.

In the example we used above, the athletic shoe company might have buyer personas for each type of athlete they serve, or for broader categories of people who might buy their products, such as parents with young children, high school athletes, college students, etc.

You don’t have to do this step, but there’s a lot of overlap between personas and customer journey maps, and having personas will help you create more useful customer journey maps. Ideally, you want to develop personas for each of the main demographics your products attract. And every persona will have its own customer journey map.

Creating a persona requires you to synthesize everything you currently know about your customers and usually involves surveying current or potential customers. You’ll want to use sources like:

Feedback from customer service and sales reps

8 Reasons Your Customers Buy from Retailers

No matter how much you optimize your website, and no matter how little exposure you give your retail partners, some customers are going to buy your products from retailers instead of directly from you.

Every person who comes to your website has their own shopping preferences and loyalties, and you can’t overcome them all. If you want to create the best shopping experience for your website visitors, then it’s important to think about why your customers may prefer to buy from a retailer instead of your site.

To help you understand your customers better, we’ve put together a list of eight reasons they buy from retailers.

You might have some exclusive perks people can only get when they buy from you, like bonus products or unique colors, flavors, and sizes. But retailers have perks, too. And some of them give consumers pretty compelling reasons to buy exclusively from a particular retailer. Here are just a couple of the big ones.

1. Free two-day shipping
Amazon Prime members get free two- day shipping on most purchases. They get their online orders sooner and they don’t have to pay for a premium shipping option. Some manufacturers offer free shipping, but it rarely matches Amazon’s delivery time.

If someone has never purchased from you before, they may also be wary of your shipping. With big retailers, consumers know their order is typically processed immediately (unless they buy from a third-party seller), so the shipping timeline starts from the day they made their purchase.

That’s not always the case when you buy direct from a manufacturer. Some brands take days or even weeks to process an order before they ship it. Even if you don’t do this, the fact that other brands do makes potential customers hesitate to buy directly from you.

2. Rewards programs
Most large online retailers have some form of rewards program. They may have a special credit card that gives customers discounts or points with every purchase. Amazon’s Visa, for example, gives five percent back on every purchase on! From the customer’s standpoint, that’s like getting five percent off your price. Other rewards programs might include automatic discounts, gift cards, access to exclusive sales, and additional perks that are tough for manufacturers to compete with.

Convenience is one of the biggest factors consumers use to decide where to buy a product. It’s also one of the main advantages major retailers have over manufacturers. In many cases, they’re simply easier to work with—and their customers are already used to shopping with them.

3. Account creation
At the very least, creating a new account with you adds several clicks and some manual typing to the checkout process. There are more digital barriers between your customers and your products. If your customers don’t have their credit cards handy, that makes this process even more time consuming—and depending on the situation, it may simply not be possible at the moment.

Consumers often buy products from retailers instead of manufacturers simply because they already have accounts. They may even already be signed into these accounts on the devices they use regularly, so they don’t even have to remember their username and password. In that case, retailers like Amazon even offer a one-click buying option, making the checkout process extraordinarily convenient.

4. Local pickup
Sometimes it doesn’t matter what perks you offer or even if you have the best price—your customers need your product right now. Or maybe they already have plans to stop at a local retailer for other purchases. Major retailers have thousands of brick-and-mortar stores across the US, and some of your customers prefer the convenience of buying products from local, physical locations. They don’t have to wait for shipping, and they can examine your product before they buy.

Many large retailers also have unique buying options like BOPIS (buy online, pick-up in store) which blend the advantages of online shopping with the convenience of in-person shopping. Unless you have thousands of stores of your own, it’s hard to compete with this as a manufacturer.

5. Return policies
You might have a great return policy. 30 days. No questions asked. Original packaging not required. Items accepted in any condition. But if someone’s never been through that process with you before and doesn’t have a relationship with your brand yet, they may be reluctant to trust your returns to be as hassle-free as a major retailer they buy from all the time. Some major stores (like Costco) have even more generous return policies, extending the time for returns up to 90 days or more.

If a consumer goes through that process with a retailer once, they’re going to be a lot less stressed about purchasing new products and buying from new brands when they go through that retailer. And if they’re dealing with a large retailer with a local presence, they don’t even have to re-package and mail anything—they can just drop it off at their local store.

6. One-stop shopping
Obviously, retailers generally carry a wider variety of products than manufacturers. And when someone can get everything they need—household items, groceries, electronics, toys, clothes—from Target or Walmart, that’s a lot more convenient than purchasing individual items directly from manufacturers.

7. Price
Sometimes you don’t have the best price on your own product. Retailers are constantly adjusting pricing for sales and promotions, and while you might price products based on your MSRP, a retailer’s pricing will often fluctuate between your MSRP and your MAP policy.

You probably publish product reviews on your website. But consumers are often wary of the reviews they see on a manufacturer’s website. Some brands hide bad reviews, so the ratings are skewed and potential customers can’t see if there are consistent problems. Even if you publish every review on your site, consumers generally trust reviews on a retailer’s site more because they consider retailers to be unbiased third parties.

8. Social proof
Major retailers have tons of customers. And that means popular products in any product category can easily accumulate hundreds or even thousands of reviews. Taken together, these reviews and ratings provide social proof, so consumers can see a more reliable picture of the experience they can expect to have with your products.