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  • Writer's pictureRick Kenney

Anatomy of the Shopper Journey

‘Trend’ season has worn off. ‘This is the year of optimization’ and ‘the return of loyalty’ posts have given way to webinar invites for ‘10 ways to optimize the journey’ and ‘creating loyal shoppers.’

As we’ve settled into 2022, the steady state has begun, and that means moving from planning to doing. Along with that doing, some wondering has begun, specifically ‘How am I doing?

We’re shining the light on this evergreen inquiry in this all-in-one shopper journey benchmark. Here’s a look at the step-by-step view of how shoppers are progressing from visit all the way through – hopefully – checkout.

But first, refresher on why the shopper journey is so critical in 2022:

It is - on balance - more costly to attract a new shopper today than it was 12-18 months ago. Brands and retailers have come to worship the select few customer acquisition sources - namely Google, and Meta-mates Facebook and Instagram. But, those congregations have preyed on the faithful, expecting bigger contributions into their frequently-passed collection basket.

And, Q4 growth was meh; digital growth fell to single digits globally. Sure, anniversary-ing 2020’s massive growth is a high bar, but for an industry conditioned to growth in the teens or twenties, single digit growth feels like failing.

So, the well-paved path to growth has erupted with potholes: attracting new shoppers at a reasonable cost isn’t easy. Enter the shopper journey, and the need to make the most of every visit to convert shoppers to buyers. By knowing the answer to, even directionally, ‘how am I doing,’ brands have an advantage to spot opportunities, and optimize the traffic they have.

About this journey

We’ll take this step-by-step, with focus on shoppers’ single-step progress. While shopper journeys have changed thanks to headless commerce, wallets, and other journey innovations, for this journey analysis, we’ll take a traditional tour: site visit → cart → checkout → order. The performance combines shopping activity from the sources noted below, which focus primarily on enterprise brands and retailers.

Shopper Journey, Step 1: Visit → Cart

There are three primary actions for a shopper to take at the start of the on-site journey: bounce, browse, or add-to-cart. A merchant’s intent is clear – minimize the bounce, and encourage content and product consumption that motivates shoppers to create a cart.

The worst outcome is the dreaded bounce. Bounces are one-and-done visits - all that effort to attract, wasted. Unfortunately, bounce rates are significant, 48.4% of visits are bounces. Bounce likelihood depends on many factors, but slow site speed may be the most frustrating one for shoppers and brands alike. Slower page loads mean higher bounce rates. When page loads reach 6.5 seconds, bounce rate soars to 63% on mobile.

The most positive step forward is an add to cart. A merchant’s approach to doing so is ripe with diversity; sites offer an expanding assortment of tools and tech to help this matchmaking process. The foundation of shopper:product connection is built on searchandising, the combination of site search and merchandising. Site search is the most surgical approach to shopping. Shoppers express precisely what they want next to the little magnifying glass (hint: don’t hide that search bar). Salesforce reports site search usage of 9% overall, delivering 22% of orders. Site search is even more critical for large retailers, who likely see 2-3x that amount, while marketplaces and big box stores can expect even larger reliance on site search.

There are a myriad of tools for merchandising and connecting shopper with product, of course.

Guided selling has seen a resurgence in the past few years, as fitters, finders, and quizzes help direct shoppers to the right product based on a few questions. These tools are also advantageous to the rest of the journey - the explicit preferences voiced are useful for personalizing across the rest of the visit. Personalization through product recommendations (and offer targeting for those so inclined or even sporting loyalty programs) is a standard that shoppers have come to expect, right alongside ratings and reviews, as a key site utility.

All told, 9.6% of visitors start a cart. This is an important milestone along the shopper journey. An add-to-cart event is a signal, and a strong one at that, which serves as a proxy for intent. Prior to purchase, shoppers only have a few clear tells - site search usage, the cart add (and similarly wish lists), and checkout starts. Other events, like product views (or glances) help establish the digital footprint and represent varying degrees of intent.

The ‘middle’ result is a browser - a visitor that didn’t bounce, though didn’t create a cart. The breadth of this segment - 42% of all visitors - should motivate brands to find ways to address these shoppers. And, their trail is typically rich; a non-buying, non-bouncing browser consumes about 7 pages worth of content (note: this value includes those who do add-to-cart). Every page view provides a clue as to what the shopper is looking for.

At this point, the journey has come to an (hopefully temporary) end for more than 90% of visitors. The surviving shoppers - about 10% of those that began - have traditionally been lumped into 2 groups – buyers and abandoners. The benchmarks help deconstruct this population further. Onto the cart…

Shopper Journey, Step 2: Cart → Checkout

Maybe the greatest collab since MJ and McCartney (or Kenny and Dolly), might be the tag team of marketing and commerce coming together to defeat cart abandonment. With good reason, as marketers pointed to the massive productivity of cart abandonment messages with their 4x conversion rate compared to standard campaigns.

But, conflating all abandoners misses the mark of what’s really happening after that cart starts. A shopper can either progress or drop their cart. Of the 9.6% of shoppers that start a cart, 41% simply drop their cart before checkout. The cart shows good intent, the lack of checkout muffles that intent. That is not – at all – to say that these shoppers are not looking to buy. Quite the opposite - these shoppers that don’t start a checkout have presumptively looked to the cart as a de-facto wish list. Maybe they are considering competitive offerings or overwhelmed by choice. Or was the time wrong for them to buy. Whatever the reason, encouraging - and guiding - these folks back to site is a mandate. And, given that they added an item or few to cart, and likely have consumed additional product content, you have a strong sense of what exactly they are shopping for and comparing.

Where are we now? Removing these drop-outs, our survivors now account for 5.7% of all visitors.

Shopper Journey, Step 3: Checkout → Conversion

We’ve reached the edge of the journey. Checkout. The ultimate sign of intent. This is, digitally, the signal that a shopper is in line and ready to buy. But, there’s lots still to be done. Checkout shoulders a heavy burden. While the stages leading here involve inspiration and motivation, checkout is focused on decision making. Beyond the final decision – to tap or click the buy button - a number of micro-decisions must be made. Shoppers must decide when and where they want their order – maybe even weighing a discount to pick up in store. And, the once simple step of payment has grown to include choice. Wallets, led by PayPal which was found to account for 38.6% of orders when offered, provide a near form-field-free path through checkout to help accelerate the final steps of the journey.

Of the 5.7% of total visitors that have reached checkout, less than half actually complete: 46.9% overall. Through the gauntlet of the shopping journey, 2.7% of shoppers convert.

But, there’s another story still unfolding in checkout: device diversity.

While we’re been shopping mobile-first for the last few years, when it comes to checkout, mobile still trails. This mobile attrition happens not all at once, or even at one stage of the journey, but is a constant across the journey.

The mobile majority is strong at the start of the shopper journey. And, mobile remains on top even into the beginning of checkout. But, when coupling underperforming mobile checkouts with lower AOV on phones, mobile falls to the minority.

Is this old news? While we’ve known about the mobile gap for years, it was generally understood that what separated mobile from desktop happened early in the journey. Simply put, we were led to believe that mobile shoppers didn’t intend to buy. Maybe they were in a store, or simply just researching. Sure, that helps explain the initial attrition; from visit to cart or cart to checkout. But, it is not an excuse for why mobile falls during checkout. Checkout is the ultimate signal of intent. And, during checkout, mobile checkout completion rate trails desktop by a full 10 percentage points: 52% to 42%. Closing this gap should be a priority for brands looking to optimize the site experience. The mobile gap should simply not be acceptable.

Now we’ve made it through the whole journey:

From tip-to-tail, the shopper journey is vast. By deconstructing the journey, step-by-step, your opportunities and challenges come quickly to light, and the directional guidance of this benchmark provides a blueprint to test and optimize.

== Bonus Benchmark ==

While the shopper journey includes all shoppers -- bouncers, browsers, buyers and a few segments in between -- the buyer's journey is a focused view of the buyer's path. Courtesy of the Site Speed Standard, here's how a shopper consumes pages along the journey on their way to purchase.

Source data from:


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