← Back to Blog

How to Build an E-Commerce Sales Funnel: A Complete Guide

  • Conversion Rate Optimization

If you’re feeling overwhelmed trying to optimize your marketing efforts, let me give you the (not-so-secret) formula for e-commerce success:

Send the right messages to the right prospects at the right time and you’ll generate more revenue.

The essence of successful e-commerce marketing lies in knowing your potential customers well.

  • Where are they in their buyer’s journey?
  • What are their main problems?
  • How can you solve those problems for them?
  • And so on.

When you answer these questions, you’ll know how to convince potential buyers to take the next desired action.

Building an e-commerce sales funnel for your online store helps you map the buyer’s journey and identify what you need to do at each stage.

Because let’s face it, not everyone who’s heard about your brand will magically turn into loyal customers.

Smart Insights found out that, on average, 43.8% of your site visitors view a product page, and only 3.3% of them end up making a purchase.

As they visually demonstrate, e-commerce consumers move through a funnel.

Your goal should be optimizing your marketing activities in each stage of the funnel to make sure that you carry as many users as possible to the next stage.

A typical e-commerce conversion funnel has four stages:

  1. Awareness
  2. Consideration
  3. Decision
  4. Loyalty

Today, I’ll show how to optimize each stage of your e-commerce sales funnel and nudge users to move down—by using 11 actionable strategies and examples from top e-commerce brands.

Free Downloadable Bonus

Want More Conversion Rate Optimization Strategies?

We’ve put together an exhaustive list of 100+ conversion rate optimization (CRO) strategies our fastest-growing e-commerce customers are using to turn more website visitors into buyers (organized for your convenience.)

Stage 1: Awareness

This is how it goes: The user has a problem in mind and looks for an answer. Maybe they just discovered that the problem they’re experiencing has a name. Then, they became aware that your online store is one of the potential solutions for them.

They’re at the awareness stage now.

You should persuade them that you are the best possible solution for their needs.

The awareness stage is the first point of contact you have with your prospects.

As the name suggests, these top-of-funnel prospects are aware of their problem and your brand, either through social media, a referral, a Google search, or simply by chance.

Your goal, first and foremost, is to draw as many users into this stage as possible.

But not any visitor would do. You need visitors who are interested in your products so that you can more easily move them to the next stage.

That’s why you need to attract targeted traffic to your e-commerce site to convince them later. And there are two effective ways to get more targeted visitors to your online store:

  1. Paid; and
  2. Organic.

Let’s take a quick look at both.

1. Use Facebook Ads to Get Targeted Traffic

With more than 2.32 billion monthly active users, Facebook is the perfect platform to create awareness around your brand.

Lucky for marketers, Facebook ads come in many different forms for your conversion goals.

Using Facebook ads, you can get the word out for your brand quickly and attract highly targeted visitors to your e-commerce site.

The best part is, there are no limits to how you can use the platform.

Here are some of the best practices for top-of-funnel Facebook ads:

i. Repurpose Your Value Proposition

Communicating your value proposition with Facebook ads helps users quickly understand what your business is about and what value you can offer them.

With a clear value proposition, you give users a reason to consider buying from you. You explain how your products are the best solution for them, and how you’re different from competitors.

Here’s how ArtSnacks includes their value proposition in their ads:

ArtSnacks’ goal here is to make more people aware of their online store. And they do it successfully by telling their potential customers what’s in it for them: “Discover your new favorite art supplies.”

They combine their value proposition with strong social proof through the use of five stars and the number of customers they have.

Lastly, they direct visitors to their site with a “Learn More” button.

ii. Display Product Categories

Another way to create awareness around your brand is to simply explain what customers can find in your online store.

Listing all the products you have is not an option, but you can bundle products together under brand names or categories.

Using Facebook’s carousel ads, you can display several products in one ad, and help users learn more about your product range.

Check this example by Beauty Bay:

They showcase the brands they’re selling in their online store to attract top-of-funnel prospects.

Clicking the “Shop Now” buttons, users can go to the brand page they’re interested in, which gives them a better chance of moving to the consideration stage.

iii. Promote Offers

Promoting sales and special discounts on Facebook work for multiple stages of your conversion funnel.

One way you can catch users’ attention at the awareness stage is offering introductory discounts.

Blue Apron promotes their offers and products in one Facebook ad:

Note how they go beyond generic calls-to-action and tempt users with a “Get Offer” button instead.

Using carousel ads, just like Beauty Bay, the company uses Facebook as a catalog to display its product categories, as well.

iv. Promote Content

The awareness stage is where you should avoid hard-selling and intense product promotion.

Incorporating product marketing into your site content is a subtle way of product promotion for top-of-funnel prospects. And using Facebook ads, you can advertise your content to a relevant audience.

Here’s how Casper does it cleverly:

Instead of promoting their bedding products on this ad, they direct visitors to a blog post about sleeping with dogs.

If the content resonates with the user, they click the ad and visit the site.

And this is what they see when they click the ad:

It’s a piece of content about having pets in bed, first and foremost, but Casper embeds product promotion into the post, as well.

Now that the reader is aware of Casper and interested in the topic, maybe they’ll want to take a look at their products too.

2. Create Content to Attract Visitors for Free

Facebook is an effective tool to promote your online store to a specific audience.

But you can still get highly relevant traffic to your e-commerce site even if you don’t have an advertising budget.

Consumers begin their journey with a problem or idea in mind. Why don’t you offer them solutions or suggestions with content?

You already have enough knowledge within your field. All you have to do is to find a way to share it with your potential customers.

Content is a big term and it may scare many e-commerce marketers. But you don’t have to write long blog posts or host webinars to attract users to your site.

Whether it’s a quick how-to video on YouTube or free guide on your e-commerce site, you can create content for users in this stage without a big advertising budget or a crowded marketing team.

Offering content upgrades is also a smart way of collecting valuable leads, which you can nurture with email marketing and move down your funnel.

Beardbrand does content marketing right. That’s why you will most likely stumble upon their blog posts when you search for “how to grow a beard”:

Thanks to their detailed blog posts, the company ranks well for search terms like “how to maintain a beard,” “should I shave my beard,” or “can I grow a beard.”

These are highly relevant and important questions that top-of-funnel users have in mind. And Beardbrand answers them with their blog posts.

The company is also quite active on YouTube, sharing how-to videos and fun content to educate and entertain users at the awareness stage:

If you don’t know where to start, check out Quora or Reddit to find out the pain points of your customers. Learn about the questions they ask, gather the words they use, and answer their questions in your content.

For best results, combine content marketing with paid ads and boost targeted traffic to your online store.

Stage 2: Consideration

You managed to get targeted traffic to your online store through organic and paid channels.

Now you have people who are aware of your brand and who are interested in you.

Maybe they’re browsing through your product pages, or you converted them to email subscribers.

Consumers at this stage are now considering to buy from you. Your goal is to move them down the funnel and help them take the next action, such as adding a product to the cart or a wishlist.

At this stage, you should remove any doubts your visitors have and make things easy for them.

Start promoting your content and products subtly with email marketing and persuade site visitors with compelling copy.

3. Use Social Proof Across Channels

Social proof, a go-to tactic for many marketers, refers to our assumption that other people’s thoughts and actions are the correct behavior in a given situation.

Social proof applies to many aspects of everyday life, and e-commerce is no exception.

Social proof works in every stage of the e-commerce sales funnel and it’s an especially great tool to convince site visitors about the quality and credibility of your online store.

Social proof has many uses across different channels. Here are some of the best ways you can implement it to move users down the funnel.

i. On-Site Social Proof

Your online store is the first place where you should create social proof around your brand.

One of the most typical ways of displaying social proof is customer testimonials.

You can showcase your customer reviews on product pages and your homepage, just like Tuft & Needle does:

Using testimonials on your homepage can quickly impress visitors and convert them more easily.

Tuft & Needle also has a dedicated page for all their product reviews and let you use detailed filters:

This way, visitors can read both positive and negative reviews before making a decision. If you’re aiming for transparency on your e-commerce site, display all the ratings you have.

Another way you can use social proof on your site is through user-generated content.

You can regularly curate your customer’s pictures, videos, and social media updates on your site. This way, you can show your products in action and create social proof for them.

Here’s how Allbirds displays user-generated content on their product pages:

(Don’t forget to add information about how customers can submit their pictures and consider adding an incentive to encourage them.)

ii. Social Proof in Email Marketing

Email should be the key channel in engaging your prospects in the consideration stage.

Social proof and email marketing is the perfect combination to convince users to take the next action.

How you combine the two is up to you. If you want to send out emails founded on social proof, take inspiration from Brooklinen:

And if you’re looking for subtle ways to incorporate social proof into product promotion, take a look at how Firebox does it:

Don’t forget to make social proof a part of your email subject lines too.  You can include direct quotes from your reviews in your subject lines or imply the positive feedback you received.

iii. Social Proof in Paid Ads

If you’re running ads at any stage of your conversion funnel, social proof is always a strong addition to your ad copy.

You can incorporate social proof into your retargeting campaigns or social ads in order to nudge users at the consideration stage.

Here’s how Fabletics does it on Facebook:

The company promotes an offer on Facebook to attract interested visitors and they frame the campaign around social proof.

It’s much more powerful than displaying the product in isolation because it rather points at the value customers get from the product.

4. Optimize Your Product Pages

Product pages are where you win the hearts of your prospects at the consideration stage.

You need to assure visitors that your products are the best solution and nudge them to add products to their cart.

At this stage, you should align your product page copy with customers’ common questions and remove any doubts.

Start with keyword research to understand what your buyer persona is looking for. Then, use those insights across your copy, and position your products as an answer to those concerns.

i. Product Descriptions

Firebox, an online store selling “unusual gifts for people with imagination,” nails their product marketing with insightful product descriptions:

First, they raise a common problem: trying to distinguish your luggage among others. Then, they offer a hilarious solution to prevent this “baggage reclaim drama” with personalized luggage covers.

When you read this description, you can easily relate to the problem. And if this is your kind of product, you’ll think that it’s a brilliant solution and add it to your cart.

ii. Calls-to-Action

If you’re using “Buy Now” in all your CTA buttons, we need to have a serious talk.

Prospects in different stages have different needs.

And if you’ve been trying to persuade all of them with generic CTAs, it’s time for a change.

While writing CTAs, try thinking about the value you attach to that action. Why or what should they exactly buy now?

Check this example by Birchbox:

The company sells subscription boxes and they know that people can buy them as a gift to others, as well as to spoil themselves.

That’s why they use two different CTAs in the footer side-by-side: “Gift Now” and “Treat Yourself.”

They’re both stronger than “Buy Now” because they include the reasons why you should buy them now.

iii. Shipping and Return Information

Unexpected costs are a dealbreaker for online shoppers.

In fact, 60% of consumers abandon their carts when they see an unexpected extra cost.

That’s why you need to explain your shipping and return processes as clearly as possible, to convert prospects to the next stage.

Man Crates not only gives customers an estimated shipping date…

…but they also describe how the item will ship:

If you offer more than one shipping and return option, list all of them clearly on your product pages.

Here’s how Pull&Bear eliminates surprises for potential customers:

5. Promote Products with Curated Emails

Prospects at the consideration stage are ready to hear more about your products.

Instead of hard-selling, promote your products in a more subtle way through email marketing.

Curation emails are a smart way to do product promotion without being too salesy. They’ll work even better when you combine them with persuasion triggers, such as scarcity or social proof.

Curated emails also help you get to know your subscribers’ interests, so you can segment your email list better and send highly targeted campaigns.

You can occasionally send out curated product emails to convert leads who are considering to buy from you. Or you can incorporate them into your newsletter if you already have one.

There are different ways you can frame this type of email.

You can add social proof to your emails by positioning them as Customer Favorites or Best-sellers, just like Bombas does:

The company sent me this email with the subject line “The 2018 Bombas Best Sellers” at the end of last year. They curate their best-selling products and divide them into categories for convenience.

Best-seller is a magic word because it already contains a great deal of social proof in it.

You can do best-seller round-ups like Bombas and curate top products of the month, the season, or a certain category. It’s a good excuse to promote your products without being annoying.

If you want to add authority to curation emails, you can position these emails as Our Favorites or Must-Haves.

Take inspiration from kikki.K:

The company curates products that their founder has selected and positions them as an inspiration instead of being salesy. (They include the actual product recommendations in the rest of the email.)

Don’t forget to add some personalization to your curation emails and recommend products that your subscribers might like.

Track which categories or products they’re clicking and target them better in your next campaign.

Stage 3: Decision

You attracted interested visitors to your e-commerce site and convinced them to take action through email marketing and persuasive copy.

Maybe they added a product to their cart or wishlist. All they need now is the final push to complete the transaction.

You need to save prospects at the decision stage from possible interruptions and give them a gentle nudge to complete the purchase.

On-site messages and emails will be your favorite tools at this stage.

Let’s see how.

6. Leverage On-Site Messages

No two visitors are alike.

Some will complete a purchase during their first session and many others will go through the whole funnel to finally buy from you.

That’s why you need to distinguish between first-time visitors, subscribers, and returning visitors, and create special campaigns that target them better.

If you’re considering prospects at this stage already as customers, I have bad news for you.

With cart abandonment rates moving around 70%, you can’t afford to take those leads for granted.

Instead, you should engage them with on-site messages and nudge them gently if they decide to leave your site.

Exit-intent campaigns are the perfect tool to capture abandoning visitors and convert them with discounts or email marketing.

Check this example by minimum:

This campaign, triggered by exit-intent, helps the company reduce cart abandonment and collect warm leads that they can nurture with email marketing.

It has a clear message, two input fields, and a benefit-driven CTA copy. That’s all you need for a high-converting exit-intent campaign.

7. Nudge Visitors During Checkout

Your checkout page is the last thing standing between you and your visitors.

At this point, you can turn them into (loyal) customers or you can lose them forever.

A well-designed checkout page with multiple payment options and persuasive CTAs is a must for e-commerce stores.

But there’s always something more you can do to nudge visitors at the checkout step:

Use the power of free shipping.

Free shipping is an effective incentive to turn decision stage prospects into customers and to help them place an order with a higher average order value.

Check out how ASOS uses free shipping to tempt visitors to complete the order and spend more:

A better way of using this strategy is to combine on-site messages with product recommendations.

Here’s how such a campaign might look:

Note from Editor

With Sleeknote, you can easily create and customize a campaign to promote popular products. Watch the video below to learn more. Or, if you prefer, see it live in action.

Another way you can nudge visitors to complete the purchase is offering freebies at checkout.

Similar to free shipping, free samples or upgrades can also increase the average order value and sales revenue.

Estée Lauder offers customers several deluxe samples to choose from during checkout:

In addition to nudging visitors to complete the purchase, they also ask if you want to get another sample by spending $8 more.

They use free samples as an upselling tool and it’s brilliant.

8. Send Behavior-Based Emails

Whether you’re aware of it or not, you have tons of valuable information about your subscribers.

With every page they visit on your site, every link they click in your emails, and every product they add to their cart—they leave a mark.

Using this information you gathered through cookies, you can personalize visitors’ shopping experience and achieve higher conversion rates.

Luckily, e-commerce email marketing is not any different.

You can create highly targeted email campaigns based on your visitors’ behavior and help them take the last step.

One of the most common examples of behavioral emails is abandoned cart emails.

Some visitors will always get distracted and leave your online store empty-handed.

And that’ll cost you a lot of potential revenue—unless you do something about it.

Here’s a spot-on abandoned cart email example by Fanchest:

When you leave something in your cart, you receive multiple emails from Fanchest. First, they remind you about your cart items. Then, they offer you a 10% discount. And lastly, they send the “Last Chance” email above offering 15% of your cart items.

This email is a good example because:

  1. It shows my cart items;
  2. Offers me an incentive to return;
  3. Recommends me similar products;
  4. Contains urgency.

Be careful about this discounting strategy, though. You don’t want visitors to abandon their carts on purpose just to get a better deal.

A rather underused behavioral email type is wishlist reminder emails.

Adding products to a wishlist points to a purchase intention that you shouldn’t be ignoring.

Encourage visitors to use your wishlist feature and remind them about these items with behavior-based, automated emails. Set up a lead scoring system and send your subscribers highly targeted wishlist emails, when they visit a category page five times in one month.

Combine them with fear-of-missing-out to get better results.

Here’s an email I recently got from One Kings Lane:

The company reminds me of the items I favorited some time ago and highlights their scarcity of availability.

They incorporate the same trigger in the email subject line: “Going, going… Items you ❤ are almost gone!”

And they recommend me similar products at the end of the email.

If you want to make this type of email more engaging, try adding a discount code that only applies to wishlist items.

Stage 4: Retention

Congratulations!

You managed to move your prospect all the way to the bottom of the funnel.

And now the fun part begins: Make them return and buy again.

With an effective customer retention strategy, repeat customers will be the key drivers of your sales revenue.

Studies suggest that repeat customers are 9x more likely to convert than a first-time shopper and they spend more per transaction.

Here’s how you can make the most out of your existing customers and increase your revenue.

9. Promote Your Loyalty Program

Even though it looks like the end of the customer journey for many, a well-thought thank you page can skyrocket your sales.

There are several ways you can optimize thank you pages depending on your conversion goals: ask for referrals, conduct a survey, nurture your leads, and many more.

Promoting your loyalty program on thank you pages is an effective way to give customers a reason to return to your site and increase customer lifetime value.

With a powerful loyalty program, you can incentivize customers to move down the sales funnel, and make them come back for more.

After a transaction is a perfect time to promote your loyalty program. You can capture the excitement and appreciate customers for buying from you.

Introducing your loyalty program to visitors who just became customers will also create feelings of exclusivity and belonging. So don’t forget to make them feel special with your thank you page copy.

Setting up a timed trigger campaign on receipt or thank you pages, you can promote your loyalty program to the right people at the right time.

Here’s how it might look like:

Make sure the campaign is only visible on this page and the form copy creates an exclusive feeling.

10. Acquire More Customers with Referral Marketing

Inviting a customer to return to your site to buy again is an effective way to increase revenue.

But why should you stop there?

Your existing customers can return to your site while bringing in new customers.

Referrals can work wonders for e-commerce sites because, in one study, 84% of consumers stated that they trust recommendations from people they know.

With referral marketing, happy customers will bring you many others and you’ll get more sales on autopilot.

The key to a powerful referral marketing strategy is to offer the referrer a solid incentive, like a discount on the next order, store credit, free samples, or gift cards.

And make sure there’s something in it for the new customer too.

Away has a section on their site, dedicated to friend referrals:

The company offers you $20 credit for every friend who makes their first order through your referral link. And your friend gets $20 too. So there’s an incentive for both sides.

The form comes with a pre-written text so that you don’t have to think about what to write to your friend without sounding awkward.

You can decide on the channel you want to use for referrals because Away gives you four options: email, Facebook Messenger, Twitter, or link sharing.

They also ask you to send a follow-up to your friend in three days and the option comes pre-selected. The company wants to make sure that your email doesn’t go unnoticed.

Away also promotes their referral program with email marketing from time to time. Here’s what one of their referral emails look like:

Similar to Strategy #9, you can create a campaign that triggers after checking out and reminds customers to join your referral program.

You can easily set up a third-party tool, like Friendbuy, to track and manage your referrals.

Note that Away’s referral program is only available in the US. If you’re operating in Europe, make sure you get legal advice for GDPR regulations.

11. Keep Your Customers Engaged

Remember the shape of the e-commerce sales funnel and what it means: Only a selection of your customers will become brand loyalists.

But the good news is, there’s a 32% chance your first-time customers will make a second purchase from you.

And email marketing is the perfect tool to make that happen.

With email campaigns targeting existing customers, you can express how much you appreciate them while engaging them with a gentle nudge.

Celebrating milestones and sharing insights about your company is a great opportunity to re-engage your customer base.

See how Allbirds does it with an animated GIF and a warm thank you note:

In fact, this email goes beyond a simple thank you. It includes strong social proof in a smart way by referring to the number of customers Allbirds reached.

Milestones or random heartfelt thank you messages help you keep your brand top of mind.

If you want to engage your email list more, try adding an incentive to your appreciation emails, just like Moo does:

The company not only praises you for being awesome. They also give you a 20% discount to tempt you to visit their e-commerce site again.

If you’re collecting birthday information from your customers, celebrate them with a personal message and a valuable incentive.

Here’s how Saucey does that:

The company aims to build an emotional bond with you on your special day and engages you with a discount. To make things easier for you, they apply the discount directly to your account. So all you have to do is to visit them and place an order.

They’ll win your hearts on your birthday and, hopefully, you’ll become a loyal customer.

Free Downloadable Bonus

Want More Conversion Rate Optimization Strategies?

We’ve put together an exhaustive list of 100+ conversion rate optimization (CRO) strategies our fastest-growing e-commerce customers are using to turn more website visitors into buyers (organized for your convenience.)

Conclusion

No matter what you’re selling, your potential customers will go through these four stages in their buyer’s journey.

Some will jump through stages quickly while others will take months to convince, if not longer.

The key here is to know how your prospects are moving through your e-commerce sales funnel and use that information to optimize each stage for higher conversions.

I hope you’ll start implementing some of these strategies today and see the increase in your e-commerce conversions right away.

Which strategies are you using to move prospects down your e-commerce conversion funnel? Let us know in the comments below.

Like what you read? Leave a comment