How to Build A Killer eCommerce Sales Funnel
Updated: Feb 24
The key to great marketing is to deliver the right message to the right people at the right time.
But achieving such a feat is much easier said than done. For example, the way you communicate with somebody who just discovered your business is way different from how you interact with a long-time supporter.
One way to organize and optimize your marketing efforts is with an eCommerce sales funnel.
An eCom sales funnel lets you map your customer’s journey and guide them from knowing almost nothing about your business to becoming obsessed with your brand.
Sounds complicated, right? Well, in this post we're going to break it down in plain English.
We’ll cover what an eCommerce sales funnel is and then share strategies you can use at each stage to attract, seduce, convert, and retain more customers.
Let’s get to it! (feel free to skip ahead to the section you need)
What is an eCommerce Sales Funnel?
An ecommerce sales funnel (also known as an eCommerce conversion funnel) is an intentionally crafted series of steps that guide potential customers from first discovering your business to becoming life-long fans.
It’s called a “funnel” because interested people who've just heard of your brand go in the top and customers come out the bottom.
During that transition, there are multiple stages. At each stage, you need to address different objections and needs if folks are to move down to the funnel’s next stage.
To illustrate, think about the last thing you bought online.
It’s highly unlikely that you saw an ad from a brand you’d never heard of, clicked through to their site, and immediately made a purchase, right?
Instead, you may have discovered a brand’s excellent blog content, followed them on social media, seen their Facebook ads, looked at their customer reviews, and finally made a purchase once a discount code pinged into your inbox.
In other words, you went through various steps before you bought anything. Your customers do the same thing with your brand.
A standard eCommerce funnel has four stages. These are
Awareness - People who are just finding your brand or the problems you solve
Consideration - People who know you exist & are looking for products like yours
Conversion - People who are actively thinking about buying your products
Retention - People who have bought from you and may buy again
Your mission as an effective marketer is to attract people to the top of your funnel, push them downwards to buy, and then keep them coming back for more.
Let’s jump in and discover how you can optimize each stage of your funnel to do just that.
How to Optimize Your eCommerce Sales Funnel
There’s a lot that goes into building and optimizing your eCommerce conversion funnel. Here we break it down stage by stage, starting with the top of the funnel: Awareness.
eCommerce Sales Funnel Stage 1: Awareness
Right now, there are lots of customers out there who need your product to solve their problem.
But the issue? They don’t know you exist. And if they don’t know you exist, they can’t buy from you.
Alas, the aim of the awareness stage is to get people to become aware of your brand and the solutions you offer.
The best way to do that is by becoming a resource that helps to solve your customer's problems.
What's key here is that the awareness stage isn’t the place to hard-sell.
Instead, your goal should be to give value upfront, because as Gary Vaneyrchuck says in his book 'Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook':
"There is no sale without the story; no knockout without the setup."
To that end, here's six ways to help customers discover your brand:
1. Create a Free Course to Help Customers achieve their goals
Let’s say you want to learn how to play the guitar. You pop over to Google and type ‘Guitar for noobs.’
You find this course by Fender, which shows you how to master the basics and rock out to your first song. Pretty cool, right?
After completing the course, you now know a couple of things:
That ‘smoke on the water’ is a great song.
That Fender knows their stuff when it comes to guitars.
That Fender offers a great range of guitars perfect for beginners.
In return, Fender gets:
Your email address
A small but valuable piece of real estate in your psyche
A chance to remarket to you later
2. Start a YouTube channel with Tips, Tricks & How-tos
If a full-blown course isn’t within the scope of your current marketing budget, don’t worry. Simply creating helpful youtube videos is a fantastic place to start. Case in point, Beardbrand:
Beardbrand creates YouTube content around topics that interest their audience such as grooming, lifestyle, and self-improvement.
Today the company has amassed a following of over 1.5 million followers and, as a direct consequence, has built one of the most successful Shopify stores in the world.
3. Create Value-packed Blog Posts
Camera-shy? No worries. Sharing your expertise via your Shopify blog is another excellent way to help people find your business via search engines.
For example, see how athleisure company Gymshark attracts around 1000 visitors per month to their site from this single blog post:
Cool, but isn’t getting ranked in the search engines tricky?
It can be. So, if you’re just starting, or are in a niche that’s super competitive in terms of SEO, running your blog content as a Facebook ad is an excellent tactic to introduce yourself to new customers (more on that in a minute).
If you want to get a better understanding of how to optimize your store for the search engines, check out this video from none other than Stilyo Apps co-founder Eric:
4. Build a Genuine Social Presence
Social media is another brilliant way to build #Awareness around your brand. For example, Pet food company The Farmers Dog pumps out content that helps customers solve their canine-related problems.
If you’re blogging or producing videos for YouTube, social media is the perfect place to get more mileage out of your content by repurposing it into bite-sized nuggets of wisdom.
And with 87% of e-commerce shoppers in 2020 saying social media helps them make a shopping decision, there’s never been a better time to hop on the bandwagon.
💡 Pro Tip: Struggling to gain traction on social? Running a social media giveaway is a terrific way to get the word out about your brand quickly.
5. Promote Content via Facebook
If growing your organic traffic is taking a little longer than you’d like, using Facebook ads is an excellent approach for getting people talking about your business.
The goal of the awareness stage isn’t to hard-sell. People who haven’t heard of you probably aren’t ready to buy yet.
What to do instead? Take a leaf out of Shopify’s book and promote content instead of offers.
When people click through to your site, they’ll discover your content and think, ‘Wow! This brand is awesome!’
Plus, they’ll get pixeled so you can re-target them with another ad or offer further down your eCom funnel.
6. Start a Referral Program
Your current customer base represents a massive opportunity to spread the word about your business, especially if they’re delighted with your products.
That’s because when referred by a friend, people are 4x more likely to purchase than when discovering you on their own.
The key to your referral program is to offer customers a decent incentive to invite their friends to learn about your brand.
For example, sneaker store Greats offers shoppers $25 off their next order and $25 for their friend.
With just a two-step form to fill in, it’s almost hard not to take them up on the offer. Add a similar offer to your store and put the first step of your sales funnel on autopilot.
eCommerce Sales Funnel Stage 2: Consideration
Your awareness efforts have paid off. You’ve managed to pull in visitors via organic and paid channels. Now people know who you are and what problems you solve.
Shoppers might have been looking through your product pages, followed you on social media, or even added a product to cart. In other words, they’re considering buying from you. But they’re not quite there yet.
Your goal with the consideration stage is to gently nudge prospects down the funnel towards the next action: making a purchase.
The best way to do so is by further building trust with them and addressing any doubts or objections they may have about your product.
Remember, at this stage, your visitors may also be considering your competitors too. That’s why it’s essential to do everything you can to outshine them and prove why you’re the best option.
Here are four great ways to do that:
1. Snag Emails with a Lead Magnet
Paid advertising is great, but if you grab a customer’s email, you can market to them for free (well, almost free) forever.
Lead magnets aren’t as popular with eCommerce stores as with SaaS companies, but that doesn’t mean they’re any less effective. A physical product sales funnel and a software sales funnel aren’t that different.
One brilliant way to capture visitor emails is with a well-timed pop-up. Sumo studied over two billion pop-ups and found the average conversion rate for all pop-ups was 3.09%.
That may not sound like much, but it means for every 1,000 visitors to your site, you’ll add 30 red-hot prospects to your email list (and more if you design your pop-up well).
When designing your pop-up, ensure that you use:
A pop-up that's consistent with your branding
A clear call-to-action button
High-contrast text for maximum visibility
Eye-catching images or visuals
As few input fields as possible
When you’re happy with the design, think about adding an incentive to boost conversions such as:
Free advice to help customers reach their goals
A discount code or cash discount
A how-to guide
A free shipping offer
Once you have a subscriber on your list, It’s time to send them a welcome email to nudge them further down the ecom funnel.
2. Craft a Welcome Email
A well written welcome email has the power to push people from awareness into full-blown ready-to-buy-mode.
And dollar for dollar, welcome emails are one of the highest ROI forms of marketing, generating up to 320% more revenue than other promotional emails.
The general idea with an eCommerce welcome email is to:
Thank subscribers for joining your list & deliver the incentive you promised
Introduce the key elements of your brand proposition
Let subscribers know what to expect from future emails
Give subscribers a reason to return to your store
Here’s a super example from clothing store Huckberry:
Huckberry doesn't include an incentive, but the email copy and design are on-point, appealing directly to their target audience. Plus, they have a strong CTA ‘Explore’ to encourage subscribers to return to their store.
3. Leverage Social Proof
Imagine you’re walking down the street looking for a place to eat lunch. You pass two restaurants, one bursting with diners, the other completely empty. Which do you choose?
If you’re like most people, you’ll opt for the restaurant where other people are eating. That’s because that restaurant has social proof. You know, if other people are eating there, it must be good, right?
Well, shoppers in the awareness stage of your eCom sales funnel do the same thing with your store. Only they can’t look in the window. Instead, you have to use various tactics to show them how much other people love your store.
a) Showcase Reviews on-site
According to Brightlocal, 76% of consumers say they trust the reviews they read online as much as personal recommendations.
That’s why using them in your store is a super way to convince people about the value of your products.
For example, check out how skincare brand Then I Met You adds authority to their store by displaying reviews from various reputable sources.
I mean, if The New York Times thinks their products are worth reviewing, they must be pretty good, right?
If you haven’t gotten any press coverage, don’t fret. Customer reviews can work just as well. For example, Then I Met You also features reviews on their product pages too:
b) Showcase Reviews on Social
Don’t just limit your customer reviews to the confines of the site. Some people in the awareness stage mightn’t have even visited your store yet.
Broadcasting reviews via social media is the perfect way to remind followers how great your products are.
Remember, if your customer is on the fence between you and a competitor, a few glowing reviews on their newsfeed can be enough to tip the balance in your favor.
c) Showcase Social Proof in Emails
Emails are another terrific way to share social proof with your audience. Eyewear brand Coastal is a superb example of how to use customer reviews to make a case for your products.
By combining short reviews with impressive product images, readers get a full understanding of each product and the benefits it offers.
4. Set-Up Retargeting ads
Retargeting is another uber-powerful way to re-engage folks who visited your store.
Once people warm up to your brand, a well-designed retargeting ad can be just the ticket to convert browsers into buyers.
Two of the most potent ways to retarget visitors is by using:
Meal delivery business HelloFresh combines social proof with retargeting in this pursauive Facebook Ad.
The offer is simple but compelling, and an endorsement from a celebrity like Jessica Alba drives home the perception of Hello Fresh as a reputable brand.
Don’t overlook Google Ads for retargeting either. While researching this post, I visited a shoe store called Valesca.
Later in the day, when I went looking for something to watch on TV, low and behold there, I saw the shoes I was checking out earlier, enticing me to return to checkout.
And then later, as I was browsing Instagram before bed (bad habit, I know!), I get hit with another ad:
Pretty powerful stuff ey?
If you've ever been stalked around the internet like this you'll know how effective (and slightly creepy) this form of advertising is.
Here are four tips to grab your audiences attention and remind them to come back for a second look:
1. Deliver the right message by segmenting your audience: Show different ads to different people based on what products they viewed, how long they spent on your site, and how many pages they viewed.
2. Add a burn pixel: A burn pixel is a line of code on your thank you page that’ll stop your audience from being retargeted once they’ve made a purchase.
3. Set a frequency cap: We recommend showing your retargeting ads no more than 15-20 times within a 30-day period. Any more and you risk annoying potential customers.
4. Rotate your ads: Using just one retargeting ad may result in ad fatigue and brand blindness. Use 3-4 variations to keep things fresh and conversions high.
eCommerce Sales Funnel Stage 3: Conversion
Your content, emails, social proof, and retargeting ads have worked wonders. Your audience knows who you are; they like you, they trust you, and at this stage of your sales funnel, they’re ready to buy from you.
But getting your customers to hand over their hard-earned cash isn’t easy. Often there’s a moment of hesitation or area of friction that can scuttle the sale.
That’s why the aim of the conversion stage is to remove all distractions and make it as easy as possible for purchase-ready prospects to seal the deal.
1. Optimize Your Product Pages
Shopping online is different from shopping in-store. Your customer can’t physically hold the products you're selling. It’s up to your product page to give them the information they need to buy.
Let’s look at shoe brand Allbirds to learn how to build an impressive product page:
This product page rocks because it has:
1. Eye-catching product images: The shoes are put front and center with beautiful product photography and videography.
2. A Compelling description: Graphics, paragraphs, and bullet-points make it easy to understand the benefits the shoes offer. Scrolling down the page, you find an extended description with more enticing images.
3. A clear CTA: The CTA button contrasts with the background, making it stand out from the surrounding content. Allbirds don’t mess around with the wording, and neither should you; keep things familiar with ‘Add to Cart’ or ‘Buy Now’ for maximum conversions.
4. Size charts & technical specs: Since customers can’t try the shoes on, they may be concerned they won’t get the right fit. The size chart helps them make the best decision.
5. Customer reviews: Over half of shoppers say that online reviews influence their buying decision. Product page reviews add social clout and let buyers know what to expect.
6. Shipping & returns info: Customers typically have concerns over shipping costs and how returns will work if they’re not happy with their purchase. Allbirds highlight that they offer free shipping & free returns directly beneath their CTA to maximize conversions.
2. Offer Real-Time Customer Service
Customers have all kinds of questions when shopping. A key part of your customer service strategy is having a well-written FAQ page. But sometimes customers have questions that your FAQ page can’t answer.
That’s where real-time support comes in. Giving shoppers the ability to get in touch with you via phone or live chat is a sure-fire way to assuage customer concerns to rest and close more sales.
💡 Pro Tip: If you’re using Shopify, you can buy a business phone number and add a live call widget to your store with the EasyCall app.
3. Streamline Your Checkout Flow
A flawed checkout process can be an unwelcome bottleneck in your eCom sales funnel. Here's five steps to make sure your checkout flow is smooth as possible:
Add trust badges to your store: Trust badges give customers peace of mind when shopping online. But the key is to make them appropriate. Make them fit with your store’s design and branding.
Don’t waste your customer’s time: Shorten forms to request only essential information, allow guest checkout, only ask for personal information once & offer express checkout options. Always make it clear what to do next.
Limit customer choices: For shipping, don’t offer many options. Limit the decision to the two main things customers want; cheap or fast. Guide customers through checkout by pre-selecting the most popular choices.
Reduce Distractions: Remove all banners, ads, and graphics. Hide your navigation too. You don’t want customers to give shoppers a reason to click away from the checkout page.
Avoid Upselling or Cross-selling during checkout: Upselling or cross-selling during the checkout process can confuse shoppers and prevent them from completing the sale. Plus, it can feel overly salesly, which undermines the shopper’s trust in your business. A wiser approach is to upsell after the transaction is complete (more on that in a moment)
👉 Suggested Reading: How to Add a Product Upsell to Your Shopify Thank You Page
4. Send Abandoned Cart Emails
Even if you do everything to optimize your checkout experience, customers will still abandon their carts.
Maybe their cat needed feeding, or their dinner was burning in the oven. Whatever happened, you still have a chance to win them back with an abandoned cart email.
Mattress retailer Brooklinen sends super abandoned cart emails like this one:
Here are a few things that make their email so successful:
They offer customers a small discount to incentivize purchasing
They use tactful scarcity, reminding customers that their discount is about to expire
They use a super-clean design with a clear CTA
They make it easy to contact support if you’ve got any questions
The email is optimized for mobile devices
There are many tools out there to help you start sending cart abandonment emails, but one of the easiest and most cost-effective is Carti. An intuitive Shopify app that takes the stress out of recapturing your lost revenue.
👉 Suggested Reading: How to Send Super-Effective Abandoned Cart Emails
eCommerce Sales Funnel Stage 4: Retention
Woo-hoo! You’ve successfully earned a customer. Moving a prospect the whole way to the bottom of your eCommerce sales funnel is no easy feat.
But don’t take your foot off the pedal yet. It’s time to focus on keeping your new customer coming back time and time again.
Because research shows that existing customers are 900% more likely to buy from you than a first-time shopper. Plus, they also spend significantly more per transaction.
However, they won’t come back on their own.
You need a retention strategy that’ll encourage one-time customers to become raving fans
Here's three ways to do that:
1. Customize Your Order Confirmation Page
Your order confirmation page or thank page represents a unique opportunity to build a lasting relationship with your customer.
That’s because, unlike emails, customers view the confirmation page at multiple points through the post-purchase journey.
For example, they’ll see it immediately after making a purchase, once more when their order is dispatched and again for delivery updates.
Using an app like ReConvert, you can:
Offer customers related items that complement their order
Obtain feedback about their shopping experience
Ask for their birthday & send personalized gifts on the day
Offer a special discount if customers re-order the same item
All of these tactics dramatically boost the odds of you increasing your average order value and customer lifetime value.
2. Develop a Loyalty Program
A loyalty program can provide shoppers with the motivation to come back, create accounts, and spend more money. Plus, they’re a great way to build meaningful relationships too.
Just look at how beauty brand Sephora uses tired rewards to entice customers to spend more:
Monthly gifts, custom makeovers, express shipping, and dedicated support are some of the benefits shoppers can enjoy if they spend more money with Sephora.
3. Offer Awesome Post-purchase Support
There are few things more important for brand loyalty than excellent customer service.
In fact, 60% of customers admit to abandoning a brand and opting for a rival because of a poor customer service experience.
The implication? If a customer has a problem, you need to resolve it quickly and painlessly.
Offer fast replacements for damaged goods
Make returns easy (eating the short-term cost usually pays off)
Provide multiple ways for customers to contact you (social, chat, phone, email)
Call customers by their name
Fantastic customer service is no longer a nice-to-have. It’s a requirement if you want to keep customers hanging around. Remember, as former vice president of British Airways Donald Porter said
“Customers don't expect you to be perfect. But they do expect you to fix things when they go wrong.”
4. Send Retention Emails
Staying in touch with your customers via email marketing is sure to keep them coming back.
You can try many tactics but reminding customers that you’re grateful for their custom is sometimes all you need to get them to shop once more.
That’s precisely what Gap does:
This simple thank you note paired with a discount is one of the most potent retention emails you can send.