The Ecommerce Buying Cycle |

How Ecommerce Sites can Leverage the 5 Stages of the Customer Buying Cycle

By Faye Foot / June 23, 2015

The customer buying cycle is a process that everyone within digital marketing should be familiar with. Whether you’re redesigning a website or improving the site structure the stages within the customer buying cycle should be considered at all times.

Identifying what your potential clients are searching for and the content required for each stage is paramount to turning a shopper into a client.

Whilst it’s common for online business owners to always focus on the sale, it’s important to remember that shoppers go through a purchasing funnel before they become customers.

What are the 5 stages of the customer buying cycle?

  1. Awareness: This is the first stage in the buying process where a customer has a need for a product and realises that your business might be able to fulfil their needs. Customers may become aware of you through a variety of sources e.g. PPC, organic, social media etc.
  2. Consideration: This is the research stage where the shopper wants to find out more about the products you offer and evaluate whether you would suit their needs. The shopper will likely also conduct the same research on your competitors’ sites. The shopper is looking for ways to save money, more information about the product, the best delivery options, and so on
  3. Preference/Intent: The shopper has made a decision that they want to buy. This stage of the process needs to give them everything they need that will entice them to make the purchase. This is the most logical stage of the process where they are justifying why they want to buy with you. This is where your emotional marketing helps too
  4. Purchase: The shopper (soon to be customer) is going through the motion of buying your product and wants the shortest and easiest checkout process
  5. Repurchase:  Just when you think the hard work is done, how you target your customers after purchase is equally as important. This aim of this stage is to create a long term relationship with your new customer

Why should I create targeted content for each stage?

Search queries are the golden ticket in identifying what your customers are actively looking for. Targeting customers at each stage of the journey is vital for achieving the sale.

The quality of a landing page sets the foundations of the user’s journey. So, if it doesn’t relate to their search query users will most likely bounce off the site, therefore resulting in a lost sale and poor engagement signals with search engines.

Kissmetrics make a very good point that window shoppers that walk past a brick and mortar store are just the same shoppers that hover around online.  The difference with online shoppers is you can find out exactly what they are searching for and how they are behaving online. That way you can make more informed decisions about what content is needed for each stage.

Don’t worry if you’re unsure of how to find out the search queries, the next section covers this.

But first we need to identify the search terms shoppers are using at each stage of the buying cycle. To put it into context I have used mascara as an example.

1. “mascara” –  This is a generic term that indicates the first stage in the buying process. The customer is aware that they need mascara but hasn’t considered any preferences yet.

Example content- Category page that includes all of the mascaras

2. “Compare mascaras” or “best mascaras’– The consideration phase normally results in the shopper comparing products. The need to compare products indicates that they haven’t yet made a selection but are looking broadly at what’s to offer.

Example content- Blog post that compares the mascaras

3. “Lancome mascara”- The preference phase usually takes place once the shopper has reviewed the products there are to choose from. In this case with a mascara, the shopper has selected that the brand they prefer is Lancôme.

Example content- Sub category page that includes Lancôme’s range of mascaras

4.  “Lancome doll eyes mascara” – The shopper knows exactly what they want and are intent on making a purchase. This is a very specific query that includes the exact product name as well as the manufacturer. This refinement in the search query indicates that the shopper is either looking to find this product on a website or is evaluating prices.

Example content- Lancome doll eyes mascara product page

How do I know what my customers are searching for?

There are a number of tools you can use to dive into your search queries. I have listed below the top three search query tools I like to use.

  • Google Analytics – this is the first place you should go to look at the search queries. Try and go back as far as you can when looking at search queries so you can get a big picture of what people are searching for.
  • Webmaster Tools (recently rebranded to Google Search Console) – Provides you with search query data (see our guide for more info)
  • Google Keyword Planner– Search for short tail and long tail keywords that you believe your customers will be searching for. The search volume with give you an indication of how common that particular search term is. It’s important to remember that short tail keywords will have a much higher search volume than longer queries.

If you want to discover more tools in addition to those listed above, my colleague Bobby recently wrote a really useful blog post which goes into further detail on all the tools you need for keyword research which is definitely worth a read.

How do I convert shoppers into buyers?

The most important step within the buying process is how we convert shoppers into customers. The last page a shopper will engage with before heading to the checkout is usually going to be the product page. This page should contain all of the content required to encourage shoppers to make a purchase.

The following types of content should feature on your product page:

  • Descriptive product pages
  • Product advice
  • User generated content (product reviews)
  • Stock availability
  • Delivery and returns information
  • Payment options
  • Add to wish list
  • Live chat
  • Blogs
  • How to videos
  • Product demonstrations
  • Testimonials
  • Product guides, dimensions, colours and size charts
  • FAQs

Why are shoppers abandoning products at the cart?

There’s nothing more frustrating than enticing customers all the way through the site for them to drop off during the purchase stage. With abandonment rates at 68% shoppers are failing to check out their goods, but why? There are a number of reasons why this can happen.

The most common reasons why people abandon their shopping are:

  • Needed to register before buying – no guest checkout
  • Didn’t want to pay the shipping costs
  • Lumped with unexpected costs
  • Total price was too expensive
  • Discount code wasn’t accepted
  • Wanted to find out delivery times
  • Item wasn’t actually in stock
  • Complicated checkout process
  • Slow page load time
  • Difficulty in filling out forms
  • Wasn’t easy to check out on a mobile device
  • Didn’t save payment details
  • Concerns about payment security
  • Website crashed
  • Website timed out
  • Payment was declined
  • Changed their mind
  • Decided to purchase from a competitor

How do I create loyalty with my customers?

Giving customers the best shopping experience will resonate with them when you make future contact. You want your customers to want to hear from you and be excited when they do. Econsultancy shared some great examples of how ecommerce sites have driven engagement at each stage of the buying cycle.

The process of re-engaging with clients that are already satisfied is the easiest part of the process. If they had a good experience with you they are more likely to come back and purchase from you time and time again.

Types of content that will drive repeat business:

  • Feedback surveys
  • Product reviews driven with incentives
  • New products
  • Newsletter sign up
  • Loyalty programme
  • Tailored email campaigns – new products, exclusive offers, etc.
  • Special offers
  • Free delivery codes
  • Refer a friend scheme
  • Competitions

Understanding shoppers search habits enables you to create targeted content to help support each stage in the buying process. Focusing on the needs and expectations your audience at each stage of the buying process will help your business achieve its end goal which is for your customers to purchase from you.

Do you have any other suggestions on how e-commerce sites should leverage the 5 stages in the buying cycle? Please let me know by adding a comment to and I’ll add them to the list.  I look forward to hearing from you.

Faye Foot

Faye has worked in the digital marketing industry since 2014. She recently joined White in 2015 as a Digital Specialist. Faye has an interest in consumer behaviour and UX.

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