Skip to content

A Customer’s Online Buying Journey in the Retail Channel

Here’s the online buying journey of Jack, who does most of his shopping in the retail channel. Indeed, retailers are eager to discover the online buying habits of Jack. That’s for a good reason, because of all the new media, consumers are dramatically shifting both their media usage patterns and how they utilize different media sources to get the information they seek 1. As a result, it influences when, where, and how Jack chooses his brands.

In fact, the online buying journey of Jack today is markedly different from his buying journey about a decade ago. About ten or more years ago, Jack had to search the local ‘Yellow Pages’ directory to find retailers who kept the products that he wants.  Jack’s buying journey at that time was a linear process with a beginning and an end with a couple of events, in sequence, in between.

Retailers did use the predictability of Jack’s buying journey to their advantage. They targeted each stage of the buying decision-making process with the right message in the right channel and so achieved their conversions. Indeed, it was exactly like the buying funnel model which was previously explained by (Is the Sales Funnel Relevant in Predicting Buying Behavior of Digitized Customers?)

However, Jack’s retail buying journey is now online – from start to finish. The online buying journey of Jack is everything but a rational, linear, sequential process. But what then is an online buying journey?

The dynamics of a customer’s online buying journey

Since the day that Jack had discovered the internet and learned how to use it, nothing else matters for him anymore… Nothing what is shown on the TV, or said over radio matters, today’s paper is yesterday’s old news, and Jack even stopped asking his confidants’ opinions.

Never in his live had Jack so much information, opinions and real-time news at hand – indeed a click away. Many times, when Jack surfs the internet, he’s dumbfounded with all the information he finds, so much so that he has difficulty to choose what to use.

The online buying journey of Jack is flooded with product information, hundreds of different brands and identical products with huge price differences. For Jack, this is very hard to comprehend. Nevertheless, Jack needs to buy that product he wants, and eventually does so…

In the days before the internet, Jack consulted a number of influencers when he had to make buying decisions. For example, he consulted with:

  • Family, friends or colleagues;
  • Marketers – getting information through sales personnel, advertisements, product displays and packages;
  • Public sources – reports in the media, ratings by independent organizations or individuals;
  • Experimental sources – Jack may also experience the product while shopping, for example by handling it, tasting it, smelling it or trying it out.

Just imagine the amount of time and effort Jack needed to do if he was serious in buying the right product. But now things are different.

What took Jack days or even weeks to make a purchase decision, can now be done almost instantly online. He achieves this as follows:

  • Using a price comparison website, Jack can in minutes find out who stock his product, what are the terms and conditions, if the supplier deliver the product, and which suppliers offer the best value;
  • If Jack is uncertain about the product or supplier, he can visit a review site to see what other people think about them.
  • Jack may decide to rather join an online community to so learn more about the product before making his final decision.

The internet allows Jack to quickly and effortlessly get to the information needed to purchase a product. However, being online, Jack can just as quickly change course or find an alternative or just bail the purchase. Therefore, the online buying journey of Jack is definitely not a rational, linear, sequenced process.

And that is the dilemma for retailers – at which point of Jack’s online buying journey can they claim his patronage?

How should retailers map the online buying journey of their customer?

An online customer journey map helps you find out more about your visitors so you can provide them with a seamless user experience. Additionally, a journey map helps you to refine your target market and narrowing it down.

Dave Brock, writing in Customer Think has a simple suggestion on how to map the buying journey of online customers. Dave proposes that instead of waiting to ‘catch’ them at the end of their buying journey (as with the sales funnel model), retailers need to follow them from the start of their journey – to wherever they decide to go…

It goes without saying that retailers need to get in step with Jack. Because, the more they are out of step with Jack, the greater the chasm we create between him and us. As a result, the probability of success for retailers plummets, says Dave Brock.

Jared Atchison, in suggests the following to start mapping the online buying journey of your customers:

  1. Create customer personas – You should already have customer personas, or buyer personas, created for your ideal customers so you have details on how to cater to their needs. If not, now is the perfect time to flesh them out. Include as much information as you can, including their demographics, buying behaviors, income, education level, issues they need to be resolved, and more. Read more about personas: Buyer Personas help you to Target the Right Customer Segments.
  2. Determine touch-points – Touch-points are essential in creating your customer journey map. They’re all the places on your site where your visitors can engage with you.

However, to do proper mapping of your customer’s online buying journey, you need to collect usable data and analyze them carefully.

Use analytics to map your customer’s online buying journey

Customer journey analytics is the weaving together of every touch-point that a customer interacts with, across multiple channels and over time (Steve Offsey in Pointillist). To that end it connects millions of events into journeys from your customers’ point of view and is a data-driven approach to discovering, analyzing and influencing your customers’ journeys.

According to Marketing Land, the data that you collect and analyze need to accurately explain what is happening with your customers across channels and to answer questions such as:

  • Who are they, and what did they do?
  • Where did they come from?
  • Which channel did they use?
  • Did they watch a video?
  • How did they react to a particular offer?

Most importantly, Google Analytics is a smart app that you can use to understand how customers move through your website.


We all are most likely users of the internet and probably had made an online purchase at some time. So, Jack’s online buying journey is probably close to what ours are. Sadly, this will be of little comfort if you’re the owner of an online retail shop. Because we all know that the more information we’ve got, the more difficult it is to make a decision.

But how can retailers get the visitors to return to their websites and become loyal patrons? It had to do with what they experience at your site while they’re busy with their online buying journey. We’ll discuss the online customer experience soon in a future post…

A Marketing Plan helps you to communicate the right content to the right audience.


1 Batra, R. and Keller, K.L. 2016. Integrating marketing communications: New findings, new lessons, and new ideas, Journal of Marketing, 80(6):122-145.

  1. Feature image – Pexels
  2. Image in the text – Pexels

Leave a Reply

× How can I help you?