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Everything that affects your ecommerce customer experience (and how to improve it)

When you encounter a brand for the first time, you form an opinion on it—whether positive or negative, consciously or unconsciously—and the same is true for your brand, and your ecommerce customers. 

Each time a person interacts with your brand or product online, they’re forming an opinion. And it’s your job to ensure their ecommerce customer experience is flawless.

Last updated

29 Jun 2022
Create the Perfect Ecommerce Customer Experience in 3 Stages

Since opinions and perceptions are subjective and nuanced, understanding how to systematically improve the customer experience is tough without a plan. This guide takes you through the key phases of the ecommerce customer experience so you can create an action plan to increase sales.

Never miss a detail

Hotjar’s product experience insights tools give you a front-row seat to how your customers experience your site. Pinpoint opportunities for improvement without the guess-and-check.

What is an ecommerce customer experience?

An ecommerce customer experience (CX) is your customers’ holistic perception of their experience with your online business or brand. It’s the culmination of every interaction they’ve had with you that determines whether they buy (and buy again). 

Ecommerce customer experience touchpoints involve your:

  • Marketing materials

  • Website browsing experience

  • Checkout flow

  • Transactional emails

  • Product and packaging

  • Customer support and returns

Since your audience encounters these elements together, as a whole experience, you’re only as strong as your weakest link. 

Analyzing and improving your entire customer experience makes the most of every interaction, leading to higher conversion rates, customer satisfaction, and ROI; and lower acquisition costs as a result of less frustration and customer support.

Big or small, you have to solve them all 

You can use two lenses to analyze your customer experience

  1. Macro-level customer experience issues include company processes, policies, product issues, and cultural mindsets. 

  2. Micro-level customer experience issues exist at the individual level. These are the one-off issues that you have to deal with person-to-person. 

Micro-level problems usually require immediate attention, but making progress on macro-level opportunities (like you are by reading this guide!) has a significant impact in the long run.

3 stages of the online customer experience

It can be overwhelming to think about each element of your customer experience as an individual touchpoint that needs to be scrutinized, analyzed, and constantly improved. Instead, it helps break the ecom CX into the three stages customers go through: 

  1. Deciding

  2. Buying

  3. Trying 

Here's what the ecommerce customer experience might look like for your customers at each stage: 

1. Deciding: the pre-purchase ecommerce CX

The first stage of your ecommerce customer experience is everything that comes before the sale. 

Your goals at this point are to increase awareness, build trust, and educate potential customers to encourage them to buy. 

At this stage you’ll measure website traffic, time on site, bounce rate, marketing engagement, and add-to-cart rate. Everything that leads up to the decision to buy is fair game in this stage, from tactile components like your marketing strategy, product pages, and testimonials, to more abstract levers like your positioning or brand reputation. 

To strengthen the pre-purchase experience, you need to understand your potential customers' motivations.

If this was your ecommerce store: you could survey your most engaged customers to learn about the demographics and psychographics of repeat buyers—specifically about their drivers, barriers, and hooks. Then, you could:

  • Create a content marketing campaign built around loyal customers' main drivers. 

  • Make customer testimonial pages more prominent in your website design to connect with people in your target audience. 

You could then use heatmaps to identify online customer experience issues. For example, MADE.com used heatmaps to discover that visitors scrolled to the bottom of a page, then left, because they couldn’t find what they were looking for. Redesigning the page based on these insights led to a 63% boost in conversion rates. 

How to improve your pre-purchase ecommerce customer experience

The touchpoints in the first stage of your online customer experience depend on knowing your target audience through and through. Use these strategies to get closer to your customers and speak directly to their goals: 

Who's your dream customer?

You know, the one you wish you could clone. ✨ A user persona survey helps you understand your audience to create an experience that resonates.  

Use our free user persona survey template here to get started.

Staying close to your audience doesn’t have to be an expensive or complicated process.

Staying close to your audience doesn’t have to be an expensive or complicated process.

2. Buying: the ecommerce purchasing experience

The purchasing experience is critical for ecommerce companies. 

Checkout needs to be easy, fast, and secure, or people will lose patience and trust—and they'll leave. Even someone who's excited to try your brand can walk away with a negative opinion of your company if it's difficult to buy. 

At this stage, you'll measure conversion rate, cart abandonment rate, and average order size. If any of these metrics are trending downward, or aren’t as high as you’d like, it’s time to investigate. 

But the checkout process is a bit like a black box without the right user analytics. For example, traditional analytics can tell you what percentage of potential customers bounce from the checkout page, but you have no idea why. That’s where user behavior analytics tools like heatmaps and recordings can help, giving you insight into how people experience your site, shining a light on their blockers and pain points, and helping you understand how to improve your checkout process.

If this was your ecommerce store: imagine you’re unhappy with the cart abandonment rate specifically from people who entered your site via your newsletter. Website analytics tell you they came to the site from their inbox, added products to their cart, began the checkout process… but then they left. 

After reviewing recordings and customer feedback from those abandoned cart sessions, you learn that customers didn’t see where to enter a discount code—from your newsletter!—on the initial checkout page. There’s a discount code field on the next checkout page, but customers got frustrated and bounced before they got to that point. 

In a scenario like this, product experience insights help you pinpoint CX issues so you can make the necessary changes and improvements to your checkout process and increase conversion rates before more people go through the flawed purchase flow and leave your site in frustration. 

For example, Zenprint used this exact tactic to find a design flaw, A/B test new buying layouts, and increase conversions by 2%. 

How to improve your ecommerce checkout experience

The steps to improve your ecommerce checkout experience fall into two main categories: following technical best practices, and regularly reviewing feedback. Here are some ways to create an easy, fast, and secure purchasing experience:

Get it while (the opinion) is hot

Perceptions are freshest immediately after an event, so a website feedback widget helps gauge your checkout experience as it’s happening. 

If you're using Hotjar, you could even take it a step further and filter recordings based on feedback. For example, you can prioritize viewing recordings of customers with negative on-page feedback of the purchase process to find and fix issues that hurt the bottom line. 

Learn how to use website feedback tools to improve UX here.

Recording filters help you find what you’re looking for faster.

Recording filters help you find what you’re looking for faster.

3. Trying: the post-purchase ecommerce CX

A sale marks the end of the traditional sales funnel, but it’s the beginning stages of a (hopefully) long customer relationship. A positive post-purchase experience leads to increased customer loyalty, and potential growth via referrals

To keep positive associations going long after the first sale, provide accessible support and ongoing communication—for example, through email marketing and referral programs. Every post-purchase touchpoint aims to create repeat customers, decrease returns, and increase customer lifetime value (CLTV).

If this was your ecommerce store: send order and shipping confirmation emails to assure customers that you’re holding up your end of the deal. While they wait for the order to arrive, you could send educational content to teach them how to make the most of their product—and even after their order arrives, you could follow up to inform them of new or related products they can use alongside their first purchase. 

Aaron Orendorff, the Editor in Chief at Shopify Plus, shares additional tips for providing a great ecommerce customer experience after a sale:

In ecommerce—or, really, any business—outstanding customer experience should invert marketing and sales's traditional three-part funnel. This means focusing the vast majority of your efforts post-purchase on high-touch interactions (i.e. human-to-human) and automating everything else using: 

  • robust onsite [support] within your FAQ and Help pages

  • interactive onsite support running on the same search engine but displayed within a chat box

  • a truly interactive chatbot—both onsite and through Messenger

Aaron Orendorff
Editor in Chief, Shopify Plus

How to improve your post-purchase ecommerce customer experience

Staying in touch with customers after the purchase can boost repeat purchases. Here are some ways to keep people happy after the sale:

Step out of your silo: CX is a cross-functional effort

You can’t create a great online customer experience without empathy. 

When we surveyed more than 2,000 CX professionals, 37% of the most mature teams revealed that delivering the most outstanding experience is their #1 goal. And nearly half said customer feedback is the primary driver of creating a positive customer experience. 

Continuous discovery and a willingness to learn and evolve based on direct user feedback and product experience insights will help you design an ecommerce customer experience without a ton of guesswork. But if you want to create a cohesive experience across the entire customer lifecycle, you’ll also need to work across functions.

Touchpoints like your website or checkout flow are cornerstones of CX, but your customer doesn’t experience your brand in a vacuum. Share insights, learn other teams’ goals and terms, and be mindful of your company environment

Getting started with customer feedback and cross-functional CX work require empathy and listening. Enter each experience with an open mind, learn from what you see (not what you expect to see), and go all-in on improving each phase of your customer experience. 

Improve your CX—without guesswork

Hotjar’s product experience insights tools give you a front-row seat to how your customers experience your site. Pinpoint opportunities for improvement without the guess-and-check.

FAQs about the ecommerce customer experience