How to Build an Ecommerce Sales Funnel

Ecommerce Best Practices | 13 mins

Imagine walking into a furniture store for the first time. Within seconds, a salesperson tries to show you a new sofa that she thinks “you would just love.” You’d probably feel overwhelmed and frustrated by how quickly the product was shoved in your face before you even got a chance to get to know the store.

Just like in brick-and-mortar shops, online retailers can push leads away instead of guiding them towards making a purchase.

Enter the ecommerce sales funnel—a map of the customer journey, from the moment they learn about a brand until they’re ready to place an order.

With this model, retailers can build a strategy for approaching leads. Instead of treating all leads in the same way, retailers curate their communication with potential customers based on how familiar they are with their brand.

To help you use this framework, we’re breaking down each stage of the ecommerce sales funnel. We’ll offer tactics for connecting with leads at every phase, so you’re able to meet them where they’re at and increase your conversion rate over time.

Let’s dive in.

Table of Contents:

The Awareness Stage

  • Place online ads that lead to your homepage
  • Use your homepage to sell your brand
  • Provide value with content marketing

The Interest Stage

  • Connect with leads on social to build their knowledge
  • Nurture leads through email marketing
  • Build leads’ confidence in your brand with social proof

The Action Stage

  • Craft enticing yet trustworthy product pages
  • Optimize your checkout experience
  • Remind leads to return to their cart

The Awareness Stage

The ecommerce sales funnel starts with leads who have never heard of your brand before. Now is not the time to make a hard sell. Instead, show the lead how your company can help them. Highlight the mission of your brand so shoppers see how your company serves its customers and community. Share educational content about your sector that leads will find useful. The goal is to motivate them to explore your brand further once they see how much value you provide.

Place online ads that lead to your homepage

While word-of-mouth recommendations do happen, don’t count on new leads to stumble across your ecommerce store. Jump-start their discovery of your brand with online ads.

Because you’re targeting people who don’t know about your company, these ads shouldn’t be product-driven. Promote the high-level value of your brand instead, and set up the ad to direct people to your homepage.

Make the most of your ad spend by placing promotions on sites that your target customers visit frequently.

  • Social media ads: Place ads on the social platforms your target customers frequently use and use the targeting feature to make sure they see your promotions.
  • Paid search ads: Create ads for your homepage to appear on the search engine results page (SERP) for a keyword about your product. Use Google Ads to set up this search-driven promotion.
  • Site ads: Place banner or sidebar ads on web pages that your target customer is likely to visit. Not sure what sites these might be? Find your buyer persona information, and identify sites that align with the interests and day-to-day activities of your core customer profiles.

Don’t wait for new leads to hear about your brand. Introduce them to your company yourself with online advertisements. Once they click on these promotions, leads will be able to explore your online store from your homepage.

Use your homepage to sell your brand

Once new leads discover your brand, it’s likely they’ll visit your homepage—whether through an ad or their own search—to learn more about your company. Make a positive impression with a page that inspires shoppers to continue browsing your site. Quickly engage website visitors with high-quality photos and graphics and highlight the value of your brand with a minimal amount of text.

Consider, for example, how the jewelry company Brilliant Earth balances imagery and information on their homepage.

Most of the homepage is filled with product photos, so new leads are quickly engaged. It also includes a small amount of text about the brand’s diamond ethics policy to build shoppers’ trust in Brilliant Earth.

To welcome new leads to your brand, build a homepage that catches their eye and conveys the value of your products. Here are a few tips from the marketing agency Impact to help you craft your page.

  • Include large, bolded text at the top that inspires people to learn about your brand. Use positive language that is either motivational “Love inspires”) or specifically about your products (“America’s #1 mattress”).
  • Feature large, high-quality photos of your products on the majority of your homepage to captivate visitors.
  • Briefly describe what makes your products exceptional. When deciding how many factors to mention, consider following the rule of three so the information is more memorable for shoppers.
  • Share quote snippets from customers, influencers, and the press about why they love your product. Keep these testimonials brief. New leads are just learning about your brand, so they aren’t interested in reading lengthy reviews.

Revamp your homepage with these tips, and it will dazzle new leads just enough to pique their interest in your brand.

Provide value with content marketing

Help new leads from the get-go with thoughtful, relevant content marketing. Create and share resources about your industry and the lifestyle of your target customers that shoppers will find useful and interesting.

The cookware company Made In, for example, published the blog post, “What is a roasting pan? And why every kitchen needs one” to connect with people who are interested in cooking. The post focuses on roasting pans in general, not pans from Made In, so the article feels like an educational resource instead of a biased promotion.

Wow new leads before they even buy a product by creating a variety of useful content:

  • Blog posts: Optimize these articles for SEO so your target audience can easily find them through search.
  • How-to videos: Make them tangentially related to your product or service. For example, a furniture company might create a video about how to decorate a small bedroom. A company selling cosmetics may create a series on the history of eye makeup.
  • Social posts: Use hashtags in your posts on Instagram and Twitter so shoppers who are new to your brand can still come across your content, even if they don’t follow your account.

Whether it’s through content marketing or your homepage, give early-stage leads a taste of what makes your company so great. After dabbling into your brand, they’ll be eager to learn more about your company and how your products might help them.

The Interest Stage

Your lead is officially aware of your brand. Now it’s time to build their trust by showing how what you sell can solve a unique problem. You’ll need a reliable way to communicate with them — like social and email. Send them demos, share testimonials, and keep them up to date on your latest products and deals.

At the interest stage, you want to begin nudging them towards making a purchase.

Connect with leads on social to build their knowledge

Social platforms are ideal for helping leads learn more about your brand. You’re able to boost product awareness through ads, while also connecting with shoppers on a personal level through organic content.

The trick is convincing potential customers to follow you on social channels so that your posts will show up in their feed. If they don’t follow you, it will be much more difficult for them to come across your account, if they do at all.

Encourage leads to follow your accounts by extending your reach on social and posting engaging content.

  • Pay influencers who your target customers follow to post about your brand. Shoppers who follow this influencer will be able to click on your tagged account from their post, explore your profile, and will follow your brand if they like the content they see.
  • Sell your brand, not your stuff. People already have plenty of ads on their feed, so they’re not going to follow your account if it’s mainly full of promotional posts. Build a personal connection with shoppers by sharing content about your customers, team members, and your company values.
  • Promote organic posts that have received a lot of engagement, and target the ad towards users who match your buyer persona profiles.

Use these tips to expose more shoppers to your brand’s social accounts and create captivating content. Once potential customers see how engaging your posts are, they’ll be likely to follow your company. With this connection, you’ll be able to nurture your leads with regular posts about your brand and products.

Nurture leads through email marketing

Email is another powerful tool for teaching leads about how your products work and why they’re beneficial. People aren’t naturally eager to share their email address with you unless you offer something valuable in return.

  • Give shoppers a chance to win a contest by submitting their email address to enter.
  • Offer coupons and discounts in pop-up windows on your site in exchange for shoppers’ email addresses.
  • Help shoppers stay updated on your latest sales and product news by sending them an email newsletter (which requires that they give you their address).
The furniture company Interior Define encourages shoppers to sign up for their newsletter with a CTA in their footer.

Once you have built an email list for leads, regularly send content that will help them decide whether they want to invest in your product or not.

  • Send a demo video to leads who have just shared their email with you and are still learning about how your products work.
  • Share information about your new product lines with leads who regularly browse your site, but haven’t made a purchase yet.
  • Explain your brand’s charity initiatives. Many shoppers will find your products more valuable if they know that their purchase is going towards a good cause.

If you’re using an email marketing platform, track how many of your messages are opened, receive clicks, or result in an unsubscribe. Find patterns in emails that have a high amount of engagement—such as similar subject lines or designs—so you’re able to nurture more leads with your future messages.

Build leads’ confidence in your brand with social proof

Before they make a purchase, interest-stage leads want to see that your brand has benefited customers in the past. Boost their faith in your company by sharing positive feedback from your buyers.

Gaining shoppers’ trust through social proof is especially important if you sell high-end goods. Many people want to be sure about the quality of expensive products before purchasing, so it’s important to reassure them with evidence of your happy buyers.

Here are a few ways to highlight your past successes with customers.

  • Create a testimonial page on your website to showcase positive reviews from past buyers and the press. For tips on creating this page, check out this resource on building testimonial pages.
  • Repost user-generated content on your social platforms. Shoppers tend to find these posts especially convincing because they know that buyers are sharing this praise with little to no prompting from the company.
  • Film before-and-after videos that capture how your products improved customers’ lives. For example, a furniture company might create a before-and-after video to show how a buyer redecorated their home. Share these clips on social platforms with the customers tagged and on your testimonial page.

Seeing how much customers value your product, your interest-stage leads will feel more comfortable making their own purchase.

Use these interest-stage tactics to set up communication channels and share content with leads that will help them decide if they’re ready to place an order.

The Action Stage

Your lead is ready to make a purchase—congrats! But wait, your work isn’t quite over. The purchase could be delayed for any number of reasons, from second thoughts to a poor checkout experience. Encourage action-stage prospects to finalize their orders with these tactics.

Craft enticing yet trustworthy product pages

Every element of your product page must build a case for purchasing the item. Any part that causes shoppers to lose interest or raises doubts about your brand is likely to drive them away.

Keep people engaged on your product page by highlighting key details about your items and using attention-grabbing design elements.

  • Write clear, scannable product descriptions. Consider emphasizing the most important product information with bullet points since they’re easy to notice.
  • Use high-quality, expandable product images. With these photos, buyers are able to inspect product details and and confidently make their purchase.
  • Give your “Add to cart” CTA a noticeable design. Make the button a different color than the rest of the page, bold the font, and place it in a highly visible spot.
  • Highlight any financing options you offer so shoppers aren’t dismayed by the total price tag. For example, jewelry brand Noémie highlights the lowest monthly payment amount on their product pages. The brand also includes a pop-up to explain their financing offers in more detail.

Along with being captivating, your product page should instill trust in shoppers with a security seal. This symbol shows potential customers that your payment processing system is safe. It’s especially important to place this badge on product pages for expensive goods, as many customers will be skeptical about making a big purchase through an online payment.

Engaging and trustworthy, your product pages will motivate shoppers to add items to their cart and proceed to checkout.

Optimize your checkout experience

Even when shoppers reach your checkout page, there is still a chance that they may not make their purchase. They may, for example, decide that the checkout process will take too long to complete and exit, or they might have second thoughts about cost of the product.

Encourage shoppers to complete their orders by eliminating as much friction as possible from your checkout experience with these strategies.

  • Reduce your number of form fields to only ask for essential information, such as the buyer’s shipping and payment information. Aim to use 20 or fewer fields, if possible.
  • Don’t include distracting elements, such as photos of related products, that may cause shoppers to leave the page. All of the content on the checkout page should be directly related to the customer’s order.
  • Reveal the total cost of the order at the beginning of the checkout process. Don’t include last-minute charges—extra, unexpected fees may dissuade shoppers from completing their order.

Optimize your checkout flow to be as seamless as possible with these tips. For more information on improving your checkout experience, check out this resource from Bread.

Remind leads to return to their cart

If a shopper abandons their shopping cart, don’t lose hope. They may still be interested in making the purchase, but need a gentle reminder to finalize the order.

Encourage shoppers to complete their purchase by sending them a cart abandonment email. This retargeting reminds the person that they didn’t complete the checkout process and encourages them to return to finalize their order.

Send an email that convinces shoppers to complete their purchase with these tips:

  • First and foremost, ask customers for their email before they begin the checkout process. Without their address, you won’t be able to send the cart abandonment email. Many companies collect email addresses by asking shoppers to submit theirs when they checkout as guests.
  • Send the reminder email within 24 hours of the shopper abandoning their cart. It’s important to keep the message within this short time frame so the order is still fresh in the shopper’s memory.
  • Personalize your message by mentioning the shopper by name, highlighting the products they had in their cart, and including related items that they also might enjoy. This extra touch shows the recipient that your brand values them, so they’re more likely to complete their order.

Just because a person leaves the checkout process doesn’t mean they don’t want to purchase your product. Send them a reminder email, and they’ll be likely to return to their order and click “buy now.”

Strengthen customer relationships by following the funnel framework

Without a strategy for nurturing leads, you’re likely to miss the mark and lose potential customers. Follow the sales funnel framework for your e-commerce store, so you have a plan for easing leads into your brand. Use the funnel approach to teach shoppers why your products are beneficial and to continually provide them with value. With this strong foundation for your customer relationships, you’ll be able to cultivate a base of repeat, long-term buyers.