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Demystifying the Ecommerce Sales Funnel

Demystifying the Ecommerce Sales Funnel

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If you’ve ever tried refilling your kitchen salt shaker without using a funnel, you know how fruitless it can be. Every grain of salt that ends up where it’s supposed to is a little miracle.

Marketing without the use of an ecommerce sales funnel is a similar struggle. Sure, some of your audience may reach the target destination—a sale—but most won’t.

Unlike with that silicone funnel in your drawer, however, every person that enters won’t reach the bottom. But that’s okay. When your ecommerce sales funnel is optimized, enough of your salty leads will reach the sales shaker and bolster your brand to tasty profitability.

Understanding the Ecommerce Funnel

The ecommerce funnel is a journey from wide to narrow. It takes online shoppers from “I’ve never heard of this brand before” to “I love this brand forever.”

As mentioned, however, it doesn’t convert all leads. Instead, The "funnel" refers to the number of people that progress through each stage of the customer journey. Because some shoppers will realize that your brand isn’t for them, many will opt out of the funnel along the way. In other words, the pool of customers gets smaller as you go.

That said, many will make it through the entire funnel, the stages of which are:

  • Awareness
  • Interest
  • Consideration
  • Conversion
  • Retention

For most marketers, that’s where the ecommerce funnel ends. However, we like to include a sixth stage: Advocacy. If you can squeeze your converted customers into a narrower portion of the funnel—where they not only purchase but convince others to do the same—you can secure your place in the ecomm world.

Optimizing the Top of the Funnel: The Awareness Stage

The ecommerce funnel begins with awareness. The top of the funnel (or “ToFu”) is about introducing your brand to the masses and drawing in as many as possible. The more people you can familiarize with your brand, the more you can bring to the bottom of your funnel.

Some of the oft-used ToFu strategies include:

  • Leveraging search engine optimization (SEO)
  • Partnering with social media influencers
  • Investing in pay-per-click (PPC) advertising
  • Producing TV and radio ads

Unlike the other parts of the ecommerce sales funnel, this initial stage usually happens off your website, on social platforms and billboards.

Still, the effectiveness is very much in your hands. By tracking ecommerce KPIs (key performance indicators) like traffic sources and ad impressions, you can optimize your top-of-funnel performance, making adjustments as you go.

Capturing Interest: The Curiosity Stage

Once shoppers know your brand exists, the next step is to convince them that what you’re selling is worth buying. This is the first half of the middle of the funnel, or “MoFu.”

At the interest stage, your goal is to encourage buyers to dig deeper into your products—to see the value for themselves. You can achieve this goal through various strategies, such as:

  • Blog posts – A well-crafted, well-written blog can subtly (or not so subtly) position your products as purchase-worthy. Blogs should be just one piece of your comprehensive content marketing strategy—consider supplementing them with graphics and videos.
  • How-to videos – Speaking of videos, a how-to is an excellent way to showcase real-world applications. These videos explain how, when and why to use your product, demonstrating the exact value of your offerings.
  • Free trials – Why not go a step further than a demo video and let your product speak for itself? Free trial strategies can range from sending samples to offering one-week subscriptions, depending on what you sell.

These elements should exist on your website under a “Resources” or “How it Works” section.

Creating Desire: The Consideration Stage

The second half of the MoFu section guides shoppers from passing interest to active consideration. The secret here? Position your products as must-haves by differentiating yourself from other brands.

Naturally, one place to achieve this goal is on your product pages. Accompany every product with high-quality photos, helpful descriptions (with applicable keywords) and reviews. This last point is paramount: social proof is extraordinarily powerful.

When potential customers compare your product to others, they may also want to read informative blogs, whitepapers, and warranty policies. Your site's written content should strike a balance between fun-to-read, on-brand copy and genuine information.

Making Sales: The Conversion Stage

Now, how do you turn those considering consumers into bonafide customers? You have to push them down to the bottom of the funnel (“BoFu”), using either the carrot or the stick.

The carrot is the incentive. How can you make it worth their while? The stick is a potential punishment. Will they miss a limited offer if they don’t act now?

Whatever you prefer, these tactics work. Here are some strategies to adopt:

  • Free shipping – The negative psychology of paying for shipping is real. If you advertise free shipping, shoppers are more likely to check out—even if your product is more expensive.
  • Promotions – Deals and discounts sway your prospects by further incentivizing purchases. Even small-scale ecommerce promotions can give shoppers a reason to try your brand. 
  • Abandoned cart emails – For customers who almost bought your product, an abandoned cart email that says “Did you forget something?” can help push them over the edge. Bonus points if the email includes a promotion.

In the context of your website, shoppers are most likely to see these strategies on the product or checkout pages. 

Creating Loyal Advocates: The Post-Purchase Stages

You’d be forgiven for thinking a sale is the end of the funnel. But in reality, it’s only the beginning. After that primary conversion, your best bet is to pivot to retention and advocacy.

Retention is when you encourage one single customer to continue buying from your brand. Advocacy is when you turn them into a superfan—one that shouts your brand name from the rooftops.

Naturally, retention is essential to your success. Returning customers spend 67% more than new ones, and strategies like loyalty marketing keep ‘em coming back.

However, when you can turn your customers into advertisers, you’ll really save. For example, a referral program that offers customers 15% off for referring a friend will pay for itself many times over. After all, it injects potential buyers halfway through the funnel, saving you money on awareness and interest tactics.

Some of these final stage strategies take place on your site, but a lot happens off-website in email inboxes or insider forums.

Success Stories: The Impact of a Well-Optimized Funnel

Okay, so the ecommerce sales funnel is an interesting concept. But does it actually lead to sales in practice?

The answer is yes. Check out these brands that we’ve seen succeed firsthand:

  • Softies—For sleepwear brand Softies, focusing on the awareness stage turned seasonal surges into all-the-time sales.
  • Kwik-Hang—The curtain-hanging industry disruptor Kwik-Hang saw wide-scale success by taking a full-funnel approach. Highlights include improvements in the interest and considerations stages, which we improved by doubling down on content marketing.
  • GoGreenSolar—Finally, there’s GoGreenSolar. We boosted conversions for this solar power company by designing and optimizing their website with speed and experience in mind.

Master the Ecommerce Sales Funnel

At the end of the day, the ecommerce sales funnel is more of a concept than a strategy. Still, it’s an essential concept to understand. Full knowledge of the ecommerce funnel allows you to approach strategy with a keen eye—and to convert more hoppers to long-time customers.

Of course, mastering the sales funnel from scratch is no simple task. That kind of expertise takes years of trial and error, reading and research.

When you’re running an online business, you don’t have that kind of time. At Human, we’ve already done the work, and we’re glad to share everything we’ve learned as part of our ecommerce marketing services.

If you’re ready to optimize your ecommerce funnel, drop us a line. We’d love to help you fill your salt shaker.

Topics: Ecommerce Marketing