What Are the Customer Journey Stages?

Customer journeys are an important part of any business and it really is important to understand the path your potential customers take to get to your brand so that you can ensure you are doing everything you can to convert them into a buyer. So, if it’s been awhile, dust off that journey and take a closer look at all the stages to see how you can drive efficiency throughout your brand’s customer journey. 

It’s easy to think about customer journeys as a series of touchpoints. Someone Googles a problem and lands on your website. Later, they see an ad and sign up for an email list to get a free offer. Through the email list, they wind up using a coupon code to buy your product. And voila! They’ve just completed their journey to becoming a customer.

But that’s not how customer journeys really work. Your marketing channels and physical and digital touchpoints play an integral role in the journey, but it’s far more helpful to map your customer journey as a series of stages your customers progress through. Like this:

  • Awareness
    • Research
    • Familiarity
  • Consideration
  • Decision
  • Loyalty
    • Advocacy

These stages represent a consumer’s relationship with your brand over the course of their journey and/or the milestones and decision points on their way to becoming a loyal, long-term customer. At any given stage, you have a range of touchpoints you can use to reach the consumer, but how you use those touchpoints should be informed by what your customer is trying to accomplish at that stage of the journey.

While you want consumers to buy your products, your audience is trying to solve a problem, reach a goal, or achieve an aspiration. The point of mapping your customer journey is to understand where your goal (sales) and your customers’ desires overlap, and identify the messaging and tools that will most effectively guide them to the next stage.

So, what are the stages of the customer journey?

That’s ultimately up to you. Look at a few customer journey mapping examples, and you’ll see that there are many different ways to represent the customer journey and break it into key phases, and the stages you choose to focus on should reflect your product category, your audience, your business model, and the processes your customers go through.

Your customer journey stages might be unique. But there are some common ones that many different organizations use to map their customer journeys.

In this guide, we’ll walk you through the most popular stages, exploring what each one represents and what touchpoints you might use to reach and influence someone at that point. You can pick and choose the stages that make sense for your brand, or invent your own. 

You’ll probably want to select somewhere between four to six stages to include in your customer journey map, but the number depends on how granular you want to get and what makes the most sense for your organization. Since it’s common to see different names for stages that are essentially the same, in some instances, we’ll use multiple names to represent the same stage.

Awareness/Discovery

Most organizations use “awareness” or some variation of it for the first stage of the customer journey. This represents the moment when customers first discover that your product or brand exists. At this point, they may not know anything about your product category.

Since this is the beginning of their customer journey, they’re probably just beginning to explore their problem, goal, or aspiration. They don’t know what they need to learn, do, or buy. They might Google “how to get better at rock climbing” or “how to fix laminate floor water damage” and stumble into an article or video you created. They might see an ad for your grip strengtheners. Or they might find content from an influencer or a thought leader that introduces them to your brand.

In the awareness stage, most consumers don’t know enough to feel confident making a selection. But if your price point is low enough and there’s little difference between brands, they may only need a little nudge to transition from awareness to purchase. In higher-cost product categories or industries with a steep learning curve, consumers may require significantly more stages before they’re ready to buy.

Whatever comes next, the awareness/discovery stage is where you get your foot in the door. Your goal should be to catch their attention by speaking to their goal, position your brand as a thought leader, and show that you can help—either through content and expertise or, if it’s appropriate, directly through your products.

Research

In many product categories, there are concepts people need to understand before they’re ready to think about products and solutions. They may want to know the scope of a home improvement project they’re trying to do, or the reasons why most laundry detergent isn’t environmentally friendly, or what nutrients are most important for their fitness goals.

During the research stage, customers may explore product pages, but they’ll often consume other content (like videos and articles) from thought leaders, sources they’re familiar with, and sites they find through search engines. 

This is where it’s helpful to create a suite of content that explains core concepts, applications, and use cases that relate to your product category. Before people are ready to buy, you want them to see your brand as a helpful resource. Then when they are ready to buy, they’ll already have a positive association with your brand and the thing they’re trying to accomplish. You can advertise this content to people who have visited your website, or help customers find you organically through Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

Often, this research involves conversations with knowledgeable people a consumer trusts. Maybe a friend or family member just completed the project they’re looking into, or they’ll talk to a subject matter expert they have a connection to, such as a yoga instructor at a local studio. 

Building relationships with influencers and maintaining good relationships with existing customers can ensure that your brand becomes part of these conversations.

Familiarity

As the name implies, familiarity is the stage at which someone becomes familiar with your brand and the space you work within. They may follow you on social media or subscribe to your newsletter. Maybe they’ve received a product demo or watched some of your how-to videos. At this point, they’re listening to what you have to say.


So why haven’t they purchased yet?

They might not be in a position to buy yet. (Buying a new TV, computer, or a car, for example, is a big investment.) Or they may still have more research to do. If they’re familiar with your competitors, they may not know what features, qualities, or capabilities they should be comparing or how to decide which product best meets their needs.

Consideration/Evaluation/Comparison

In some categories, consumers may quickly (or even immediately) transition from awareness to consideration. In others, they’ll only get here after learning how to evaluate the quality of their options and find the right fit. 

This is where it’s crucial for brands to have excellent product pages, a high number of ratings and reviews (relative to your product category), and resources that allow consumers to directly compare the available products.

This is where many brands fall short. If you don’t give your audience the tools they need to compare your product to your competitors, they’ll find those resources somewhere else—where you can’t control the comparisons. They may use third-party review sites, niche forums, or even comparison pages on your competitors’ websites.

This is where you want to pull out all the stops to highlight your strengths and call out your competitors’ weaknesses. You might identify consistent negative feedback in their reviews and leverage that on your own product page, or create videos that showcase differentiating features. You may even be able to have some influence over third-party sites by driving your loyal customers there or developing partnerships.

Whatever touchpoints you use, you want to help customers make informed decisions, and you want to guide them toward your products.

Decision/Purchase

The decision or purchase stage is where someone finally buys your product. Many organizations end the customer journey at this stage because it represents their main goal.

Depending on your distribution model, this stage may involve a process of deciding where to buy your product. In many cases, consumers already know which store they want to buy from. They have perks they want to take advantage of, like rewards points, free shipping, hassle-free returns, and the convenience of saved account information.

This is where ecommerce brands have a little more work to do—because you can still lose the customer before they complete their journey.

Here, it’s crucial that you streamline the path to purchase and make it simple for customers to choose their preferred path. If someone is determined to buy from Amazon and you don’t link to retail partners (to maximize direct-to-consumer sales), you’re forcing them to search for your product on Amazon, or worse, Google. 

This additional step takes away your customer’s momentum—they may simply give up on the purchase—and it creates opportunities for your competitors to poach the sale because they’ll show up in search engines right next to your product. They may even appear above your product through paid search.

With a Where to Buy widget that highlights major retailers, links directly to your product on their website, and provides key information like pricing, stock availability, and ratings, you can equip your customers to select the best path to purchase. And the best part: when your customers leave your site and buy from a retailer, Where to Buy keeps a record of those purchases with universal tracking. This helps you determine which retailers represent the most effective path to purchase.

[Image showing Where to Buy highlighting major retailers w/ pricing, ratings, stock availability, etc.]

And while consumers already have preferences about where they’d like to buy, there is some degree to which you can influence their decision. If, for example, a particular retailer has lower conversion rates or drives your customers to your competitors (which you can see with Where to Buy), you may not want to link to them. By highlighting viable alternatives with better conversion rates—such as that retailer’s leading competitors—you wind up with more customers overall, even if some abandon their journey because they preferred the retailer you removed.

Loyalty

Just because someone buys your product, that doesn’t mean their customer journey is over. You want them to be loyal customers who consider your products again when they encounter new problems, or your product expires. This stage isn’t necessarily relevant for all product categories, but if you care about repeat customers, you’ll want your customer journey to include a stage that considers why customers come back, and what tools you can use to reach them.

One of the most effective touchpoints you have at the loyalty stage is your product itself. The more someone uses, depends on, and appreciates your product, the more likely they are to become a loyal customer. 

You can also reach them with packaging materials and follow up communications. With these channels, you might invite them to rewards programs, solicit reviews, or even upsell them with add-ons and related products.

If you have an appropriate communication channel, such as an email list they signed up for, you can encourage loyalty by sharing resources that help customers maximize the value of their purchase, or even simply sending them coupons and special discounts.

You don’t just want people to buy from you once. You want them to buy again and again and trust you as a leader in your space.

Advocacy

In the advocacy stage, you turn loyal customers into word-of-mouth marketers. These customers recommend your brand to others in-person, on social media, and through their other communication channels. 

The most effective way to turn customers into advocates is with an incredible product. But your customer service, loyalty program, and other perks may win them over as well. They may even simply value your brand voice and content enough to point people in your direction.

You can promote advocacy with helpful resources that go above and beyond, teaching customers to solve problems and reach goals, or through campaigns that encourage user-generated content, such as a photo contest. Asking for reviews or collecting feedback through surveys can also be an effective pathway to advocacy.

The key is to maintain communication with customers after they buy. If you’re difficult to reach and your customers never hear from you again after buying from you, they’re a lot less likely to recommend you to their friends and family.

Optimize your customer journey

Your customer journey isn’t a just a string of touchpoints. It’s a series of stages you want customers to progress through. Along the way, you want to empower your customers to get what they need while leading them closer to your main objectives.

Where to Buy is a versatile store locator that helps you close gaps in your customer journey and eliminate dead-ends by letting your customers select their preferred path to purchase. But it’s also so much more. We have enhanced our Where to Buy solution to make these digital touchpoints shoppable enabling purchase options along the journey. 

Customer journeys are an important part of any business and it really is important to understand the path your potential customers take to get to your brand so that you can ensure you are doing everything you can to convert them into a buyer. So, if it’s been awhile, dust off that journey and take a closer look at all the stages to see how you can drive efficiency throughout your brand’s customer journey. 

It’s easy to think about customer journeys as a series of touchpoints. Someone Googles a problem and lands on your website. Later, they see an ad and sign up for an email list to get a free offer. Through the email list, they wind up using a coupon code to buy your product. And voila! They’ve just completed their journey to becoming a customer.

But that’s not how customer journeys really work. Your marketing channels and physical and digital touchpoints play an integral role in the journey, but it’s far more helpful to map your customer journey as a series of stages your customers progress through. Like this:

  • Awareness
    • Research
    • Familiarity
  • Consideration
  • Decision
  • Loyalty
    • Advocacy

These stages represent a consumer’s relationship with your brand over the course of their journey and/or the milestones and decision points on their way to becoming a loyal, long-term customer. At any given stage, you have a range of touchpoints you can use to reach the consumer, but how you use those touchpoints should be informed by what your customer is trying to accomplish at that stage of the journey.

While you want consumers to buy your products, your audience is trying to solve a problem, reach a goal, or achieve an aspiration. The point of mapping your customer journey is to understand where your goal (sales) and your customers’ desires overlap, and identify the messaging and tools that will most effectively guide them to the next stage.

So, what are the stages of the customer journey?

That’s ultimately up to you. Look at a few customer journey mapping examples, and you’ll see that there are many different ways to represent the customer journey and break it into key phases, and the stages you choose to focus on should reflect your product category, your audience, your business model, and the processes your customers go through.

Your customer journey stages might be unique. But there are some common ones that many different organizations use to map their customer journeys.

In this guide, we’ll walk you through the most popular stages, exploring what each one represents and what touchpoints you might use to reach and influence someone at that point. You can pick and choose the stages that make sense for your brand, or invent your own. 

You’ll probably want to select somewhere between four to six stages to include in your customer journey map, but the number depends on how granular you want to get and what makes the most sense for your organization. Since it’s common to see different names for stages that are essentially the same, in some instances, we’ll use multiple names to represent the same stage.

Awareness/Discovery

Most organizations use “awareness” or some variation of it for the first stage of the customer journey. This represents the moment when customers first discover that your product or brand exists. At this point, they may not know anything about your product category.

Since this is the beginning of their customer journey, they’re probably just beginning to explore their problem, goal, or aspiration. They don’t know what they need to learn, do, or buy. They might Google “how to get better at rock climbing” or “how to fix laminate floor water damage” and stumble into an article or video you created. They might see an ad for your grip strengtheners. Or they might find content from an influencer or a thought leader that introduces them to your brand.

In the awareness stage, most consumers don’t know enough to feel confident making a selection. But if your price point is low enough and there’s little difference between brands, they may only need a little nudge to transition from awareness to purchase. In higher-cost product categories or industries with a steep learning curve, consumers may require significantly more stages before they’re ready to buy.

Whatever comes next, the awareness/discovery stage is where you get your foot in the door. Your goal should be to catch their attention by speaking to their goal, position your brand as a thought leader, and show that you can help—either through content and expertise or, if it’s appropriate, directly through your products.

Research

In many product categories, there are concepts people need to understand before they’re ready to think about products and solutions. They may want to know the scope of a home improvement project they’re trying to do, or the reasons why most laundry detergent isn’t environmentally friendly, or what nutrients are most important for their fitness goals.

During the research stage, customers may explore product pages, but they’ll often consume other content (like videos and articles) from thought leaders, sources they’re familiar with, and sites they find through search engines. 

This is where it’s helpful to create a suite of content that explains core concepts, applications, and use cases that relate to your product category. Before people are ready to buy, you want them to see your brand as a helpful resource. Then when they are ready to buy, they’ll already have a positive association with your brand and the thing they’re trying to accomplish. You can advertise this content to people who have visited your website, or help customers find you organically through Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

Often, this research involves conversations with knowledgeable people a consumer trusts. Maybe a friend or family member just completed the project they’re looking into, or they’ll talk to a subject matter expert they have a connection to, such as a yoga instructor at a local studio. 

Building relationships with influencers and maintaining good relationships with existing customers can ensure that your brand becomes part of these conversations.

Familiarity

As the name implies, familiarity is the stage at which someone becomes familiar with your brand and the space you work within. They may follow you on social media or subscribe to your newsletter. Maybe they’ve received a product demo or watched some of your how-to videos. At this point, they’re listening to what you have to say.


So why haven’t they purchased yet?

They might not be in a position to buy yet. (Buying a new TV, computer, or a car, for example, is a big investment.) Or they may still have more research to do. If they’re familiar with your competitors, they may not know what features, qualities, or capabilities they should be comparing or how to decide which product best meets their needs.

Consideration/Evaluation/Comparison

In some categories, consumers may quickly (or even immediately) transition from awareness to consideration. In others, they’ll only get here after learning how to evaluate the quality of their options and find the right fit. 

This is where it’s crucial for brands to have excellent product pages, a high number of ratings and reviews (relative to your product category), and resources that allow consumers to directly compare the available products.

This is where many brands fall short. If you don’t give your audience the tools they need to compare your product to your competitors, they’ll find those resources somewhere else—where you can’t control the comparisons. They may use third-party review sites, niche forums, or even comparison pages on your competitors’ websites.

This is where you want to pull out all the stops to highlight your strengths and call out your competitors’ weaknesses. You might identify consistent negative feedback in their reviews and leverage that on your own product page, or create videos that showcase differentiating features. You may even be able to have some influence over third-party sites by driving your loyal customers there or developing partnerships.

Whatever touchpoints you use, you want to help customers make informed decisions, and you want to guide them toward your products.

Decision/Purchase

The decision or purchase stage is where someone finally buys your product. Many organizations end the customer journey at this stage because it represents their main goal.

Depending on your distribution model, this stage may involve a process of deciding where to buy your product. In many cases, consumers already know which store they want to buy from. They have perks they want to take advantage of, like rewards points, free shipping, hassle-free returns, and the convenience of saved account information.

This is where ecommerce brands have a little more work to do—because you can still lose the customer before they complete their journey.

Here, it’s crucial that you streamline the path to purchase and make it simple for customers to choose their preferred path. If someone is determined to buy from Amazon and you don’t link to retail partners (to maximize direct-to-consumer sales), you’re forcing them to search for your product on Amazon, or worse, Google. 

This additional step takes away your customer’s momentum—they may simply give up on the purchase—and it creates opportunities for your competitors to poach the sale because they’ll show up in search engines right next to your product. They may even appear above your product through paid search.

With a Where to Buy widget that highlights major retailers, links directly to your product on their website, and provides key information like pricing, stock availability, and ratings, you can equip your customers to select the best path to purchase. And the best part: when your customers leave your site and buy from a retailer, Where to Buy keeps a record of those purchases with universal tracking. This helps you determine which retailers represent the most effective path to purchase.

[Image showing Where to Buy highlighting major retailers w/ pricing, ratings, stock availability, etc.]

And while consumers already have preferences about where they’d like to buy, there is some degree to which you can influence their decision. If, for example, a particular retailer has lower conversion rates or drives your customers to your competitors (which you can see with Where to Buy), you may not want to link to them. By highlighting viable alternatives with better conversion rates—such as that retailer’s leading competitors—you wind up with more customers overall, even if some abandon their journey because they preferred the retailer you removed.

Loyalty

Just because someone buys your product, that doesn’t mean their customer journey is over. You want them to be loyal customers who consider your products again when they encounter new problems, or your product expires. This stage isn’t necessarily relevant for all product categories, but if you care about repeat customers, you’ll want your customer journey to include a stage that considers why customers come back, and what tools you can use to reach them.

One of the most effective touchpoints you have at the loyalty stage is your product itself. The more someone uses, depends on, and appreciates your product, the more likely they are to become a loyal customer. 

You can also reach them with packaging materials and follow up communications. With these channels, you might invite them to rewards programs, solicit reviews, or even upsell them with add-ons and related products.

If you have an appropriate communication channel, such as an email list they signed up for, you can encourage loyalty by sharing resources that help customers maximize the value of their purchase, or even simply sending them coupons and special discounts.

You don’t just want people to buy from you once. You want them to buy again and again and trust you as a leader in your space.

Advocacy

In the advocacy stage, you turn loyal customers into word-of-mouth marketers. These customers recommend your brand to others in-person, on social media, and through their other communication channels. 

The most effective way to turn customers into advocates is with an incredible product. But your customer service, loyalty program, and other perks may win them over as well. They may even simply value your brand voice and content enough to point people in your direction.

You can promote advocacy with helpful resources that go above and beyond, teaching customers to solve problems and reach goals, or through campaigns that encourage user-generated content, such as a photo contest. Asking for reviews or collecting feedback through surveys can also be an effective pathway to advocacy.

The key is to maintain communication with customers after they buy. If you’re difficult to reach and your customers never hear from you again after buying from you, they’re a lot less likely to recommend you to their friends and family.

Optimize your customer journey

Your customer journey isn’t a just a string of touchpoints. It’s a series of stages you want customers to progress through. Along the way, you want to empower your customers to get what they need while leading them closer to your main objectives.

Where to Buy is a versatile store locator that helps you close gaps in your customer journey and eliminate dead-ends by letting your customers select their preferred path to purchase. But it’s also so much more. We have enhanced our Where to Buy solution to make these digital touchpoints shoppable enabling purchase options along the journey. 

Want to see it in action?
Schedule a demo of Where to Buy.

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