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Paul is an experienced eCommerce Consultant and Founder of Vervaunt. Paul's background is in eCommerce technology and customer acquisition strategy and he now runs the eCommerce services side of Vervaunt.
Liam joined Vervaunt as a Solution Architect in March 2020, bringing with him a wealth of Shopify Plus and general technical knowledge and experience. Liam has been working in eCommerce for over 8 years and previously managed the development team at a leading Shopify Plus partner agency. Liam is focused on architecting technical solutions and also has a background of being a full-stack developer.
This guide is designed to help with one of the key tools in creating and running an ecommerce function - the customer journey and setting benchmarks against it.
In this piece, we’re going to look at one of the key tools in creating and running an eCommerce function - the customer journey and setting benchmarks against it. Every website has its own intricacies, issues, successes and failures and without a systematic way of breaking this down, working on a website can quickly become a recipe for doing a lot of work without being as effective as you might like.
Looking at a website through the lens of the customer journey gives us a structure with which to assess and prioritise work on content, page structure, the user interface (UI), information and product hierarchies and so forth. In short, it allows you to understand what’s going on at any point on your website without having to know the detail of everything that happens on your website, and thus effectively make the changes that will have most impact on your KPIs.
The onsite customer journey simplifies the flow of customers through your website. A typical e-commerce on site customer journey might look something like;
Remember, the goal here is to create a simple, measurable view of what customers do on your website, something that represents an aggregate view. In reality, it’s likely that customers will visit multiple product pages, looping back and forth, saving products in their basket and doing any number of unusual things that you can’t predict. The import thing is - you don’t need to predict all of them, you just need to be able to identify the key actions you need people to take in order to check out, sign up, download or whatever your desired outcome is.
The journey for your website may be similar or it may be very different - it’s worth taking some time to consider, which may involve talking to and watching customers as they attempt to navigate your site.
Additionally, you may want to break the check out process down into multiple steps to track the various points of inputting address, shipping and payment details.
What this then allows you to do is start to measure the flow of customers from one step to another.
In order to prioritise, you need to measure. And in order to measure, you need to understand the metric for each step. In prioritising steps along the journey, it’s helpful to look at it like a leaky bucket - at every point customers may leave or escape, and so you are trying to find out which hole in the bucket is leaking most water.
The metrics, then, are one of two things - either how many people move on to the next step (which you are seeking to maximise) or how many people exit from that step (which you are seeking to minimise). You will find it helpful to be consistent in your approach to this, so you (and people you are explaining this to) always know whether higher numbers are good or bad.
So, looking at the diagram above, this is the same journey with the addition of metrics:
In each case, the metric is calculated by Number of Successes / Number of Opportunities, so for example, the add to cart rate for a product page would be Number of times the product is added to cart / Number of product page views (you may prefer the denominator to be unique visits, or unique visitors - the important thing is to be consistent with your measurement all the way through).
If you prefer to look at it in terms of site leakage, you’d simply take the inverse of these metrics e.g. you would look at cart abandonment rate instead of cart to checkout rate.
The good news is that most website measurement tools will allow you to track and measure these. It’s likely that you use or have used Google Analytics - setting up enhanced e-commerce gives you a good visualisation of a lot of these metrics. I do recommend that you have a look at your event tracking so you can identify the different banner and navigational clicks around your website. It takes a bit of work to set up but once it's up and running it’s pretty straightforward and very beneficial.
One last point on these metrics before we move on to benchmarking - make sure you can measure and track these at least by desktop vs mobile and preferably by existing vs potential customer as well. When you are looking at your weekly reporting on these metrics, you will want to be able to explain the various shifts in performance. One of the most common non website drivers of this is changes in the mix in customer type or device usage, which can alter your metrics without being an actual change in customer behaviour or website performance.
So why does the title of this include benchmarks and not just measuring the customer journey? It seems obvious to look at the customer journey and say, let’s focus on the point with the highest drop out rate. However, the highest drop out rate doesn’t always represent the biggest opportunity. Consider an extreme example - could there ever be a website with a 0% exit rate? It’s impossible to conceive of one that has a 100% visit to conversion rate.
Thinking about it like this, benchmarking each step gives us the chance to see where your website is under or over performing a typical website in your industry.
To use an example, if you have a product description page (PDP) add to cart rate (ATC) of 15% and a checkout completion rate of 45%, it might be tempting to look at that and conclude that you should focus your attention on the product page. However, following some research you discover that an ATC rate of 10% is typical in your industry, whereas the checkout completion rate is closer to 60%. In this context, the product pages are actually outperforming what you might expect and the checkout is under performing. Having this knowledge allows you to invest time and effort into the point of the journey that will give you the best chance of a good return on investment.
The other thing that setting benchmarks does is allow you to give a value to your website development road map. If you set a benchmark or target for each step in the customer journey, you can assign a value to improving each metric to those levels. It’s much easier to get buy in, investment and resource when you can put a monetary value on what you could achieve if you hit your marks.
The most important thing about setting benchmarks is to actually set them. Whatever you end up using will inevitably be a judgement call based on your experience, expertise and research. The worst thing that can happen is that you fall into indecision in a search for perfection.
Let’s examine this a bit more closely. If you are in the position of having the responsibility of making this type of decision, it’s likely you have some experience in the field. This is really important - don’t ignore your intuition if things don’t seem right. Secondly, rely on your network. Your fellow e-commerce professionals are a gold mine when it comes to finding the right bench marks and sense checking your decisions. This includes any agencies and tool providers you are working with - they see a lot of different sites and its likely that they will be able to provide some useful insight.
Finally, Google is your friend on this. Most major platforms have aggregate statistics, which are especially useful as they will provide versions of checkout performance that match your checkout structure. A few things to look out for - customers in different countries exhibit different behaviours, and metrics vary a lot from industry to industry, reflecting different price points and consideration lengths.
If you are conscious of all this, however, you should be able to synthesise this data into something that makes sense. As I mentioned earlier, it’s definitely worth doing this for mobile and desktop. Customer behaviour - and intention - varies a lot by device.
So you have your customer journey, your metrics and your benchmarks all set out. What comes next? This is the springboard for building web development, testing and content road maps. Looking at performance vs benchmarks gives you an idea of where you should be prioritising your investigations. This acts as a map for where to concentrate your search - it doesn’t tell you what is wrong or how it might be fixed. We’ll look at that in further articles on building an e-commerce road map.