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Creating a User Flow, User Flow

Getting Started With Building UX & User Flows for E-commerce

July 31, 2019 | Written by Sharon Hurley Hall

If you’re going to build a successful e-commerce site, then you need to focus on what users want. If you don’t, then even if you get plenty of traffic, you lose money because of uncompleted sales by disgruntled visitors.

If you want to avoid that scenario, then it’s important to think about user flows to help design a better overall user experience (UX). This topic can often be confusing, so we’re going to break it down. In this article, we’re going to delve into what user flows are, why you need them, and how you create them to achieve more successful e-commerce websites.

What Is a User Flow?

Basic User Flow

Let’s start by getting a clear definition of what a user flow actually is. At its simplest, user flow is about how visitors to your site complete tasks, like visiting a product page, or making a purchase. A user flow diagram maps all the steps as people move through your website and interact with different elements in order to complete a particular task.

Unlike site flows, which are often related to navigation, user flows are all about the task. And it’s important to note that there can be multiple user flows leading to the same task. Where some customers will know exactly what they want and head to the product page, others might browse first before landing on that same page.

It’s important to understand how user flows relate to user journeys. User journeys are broader, and include what customers do before reaching your site and after they leave. User flows are focused on what they accomplish while they’re there. You can map both with a flow diagram creator. We’ll discuss the importance of user journeys to user flows later in the article.

Why You Need to Build User Flow Diagrams

So, why should e-commerce businesses care about mapping user flow? The truth is that it’s important to the success of any website to understand user behavior, and to know if their site is working as well as it could.

Looking at user flow can help you work out the interactions between different parts of your website. For example, you can easily figure out whether a particular link or button on a page leads visitors to the information they need to make a purchase.

When you know how people progress through your site, it’s also easier to provide the information they need at the right time. In fact, you can use that knowledge to subtly guide visitors through product categories and your checkout.

There’s another benefit. When you diagram user flow, you can also identify trouble spots and bottlenecks which stop visitors from completing tasks. Since 20% of people abandon purchases because of website errors, eliminating those could improve e-commerce revenue by reducing cart abandonment.

Plus, the information you collect by creating a website flowchart helps you understand your customers better. You can use that information to flesh out customer personas. It also helps you with inbound and other marketing so you can attract more of the customers you want.

You can also use the information that you collect to get a better idea of who your customers are. If you know what most of your customers look for before taking a particular action then you can feed that into your customer personas and use that in your inbound and other marketing to attract more of the customers that you want.

The bottom line: mapping user flows improves UX so you get more repeat customers and make more sales.

How to Get Started with User Flows

Like most website creation or improvement projects focused on user experience, building or optimizing user flows starts with knowing your audience. As an e-commerce retailer, you’ve probably already got some idea. For example, if you’re selling diapers, you know you’re selling them to parents. But that basic information isn’t enough to build an effective user flow.

Hotjar Poll

Instead, you’ve got to focus more on what customers really want when they come to your site. What they buy may differ depending on whether they’ve got a favorite product already, whether they’re exploring options to find something better than what they use now, or whether they’re shopping in this product category for the first time, and need advice.

An easy way to get information on what customers want is to use quick surveys or polls to get quick feedback, or interview customers for more in-depth information. Both methods help you get a better picture of your audience’s basic needs and desires.

Diaper Poll and User Flow

How the User Journey Helps With User Flows

The user journey is also a part of this. You might use lots of methods of attracting visitors to your e-commerce site, including:

  • Search engine optimization (SEO) to help them find your content and products
  • Email marketing for people who’ve already been to your site
  • Search engine marketing, including pay per click ads targeted to people looking for information about specific product categories
  • Content marketing, including videos, social media posts, podcasts and blog posts that lead people back to your site
  • Social media ads
  • Offline promotions

The source may affect what people expect, and how they interact with your site once they get there.

Plus, everyone has different motivations when they shop, and that affects user flow. Three people might end up buying the same product, but one person might follow a promotion for that specific product, another might be just browsing the category generally, and a third might look for products within a price range. Each of those will have a different user flow.

The Role of Brand Marketing in E-Commerce User Flow

There’s tons of research-backed best practices when it comes to ecommerce UX. Because of that, it’s really hard to nail down one thing. For an e-commerce site – the ideal user flow is one that captures your target personas’ email address and pushes them down the sales funnel.

Darren DeMatas

Darren DeMatas, Co-founder of Ecommerce CEO

DeMatas adds:

“You can set up separate user flows based on the campaign point of entry.

The first one would be your standard home page. Having a clear value proposition and a call to action to enter into a sales funnel (landing page, primary offer, product page) is the first step. You can also get people into those sales funnels directly from Facebook ads or Instagram marketing.

Once you get them into that user flow (checkout process or landing page sales funnel) you have to keep your messaging and design congruent with the upstream messaging (home page value prop, FB ad, whatever).

Within your user flow, you want to make the process of collecting their email address and payment option as seamless as possible. Don’t try to get it all in one step.

None of this is possible without understanding your personas and your key brand messaging. Let your brand marketing be the glue that guides them through the flow.”

Using Analytics and Testing to Understand User Flows

Unless your e-commerce site is brand new, visitors are already interacting with it. Tracking this will deepen your understanding of how your website needs to work for them while achieving your business goals.

That’s why a great starting point for mapping e-commerce user flow is checking analytics data.

Ecommerce is flow. No flow, no sales! Every conversion is a visitor flowing through to the thank you page. Usually it starts from a search optimized product category page, to the product detail page, to the cart, to the checkout to the thank you page.

Although you might not use the Users Flow report for analysis, here’s what it looks like for ecommerce conversions…

Andy Crestodina

Andy Crestodina, Co-founder of Orbit Media

To find that report go to Audience > Users Flow. This shows you how people progress through your site (in green), and where they drop off (in red). You can customize the view in different ways, for example to see how people found your site. You can access similar information by going to the Behavior > Behavior Flow report.

Audience User Flow

Crestodina adds:

“Usually the Funnel Visualization report is more useful for real analysis. If people leave the cart before reaching the checkout page, it will show you where they went. Are they looking for shipping information? Promotion codes? This report will tell you.”

You can find the Funnel Visualization report in Google Analytics by going to Conversions > Goals > Funnel Visualization.

Funnel Visualization Report

Google Analytics also includes useful e-commerce reports, so you can track shopping, product, and checkout behavior.

Ecommerce Report

These reports help you identify how people find your site, where they land, what they do when they get there, and how many steps they go through before reaching the checkout. You can also see how many people abandon the process and where those key abandonment points are.

Finally, you can confirm any hunches about what’s getting in users’ way by using a user testing tool like Hotjar or Usabilla. Once you have all this information, you’re ready to start creating a user flow diagram.

How to Create a User Flow Diagram to Boost Sales

The user flow diagram is where you put all this information together, and see how to help users better achieve their goals. When you do this, you make more sales, so you can meet your business goals, too.

First, use a diagram creator to map what’s happening now. Remember, be aware of:

  • Where people enter and leave your site
  • What brought them to the site
  • What devices they’re using to browse your site
  • Whether they are new or repeat visitors
  • How many paths they can take to achieve a particular action
  • Where you are losing their attention – and why

Next, think about how to simplify the process. Is there a way to provide necessary information earlier so they don’t have to complete as many steps?

As software developer Nick Babich points out on the Shopify blog, minimalism is key to good UI:

“When designing your layouts, keep in mind the core principle of minimalism—less is more. Follow the minimalist approach and create layouts that have only the essential elements.”

So, use your Slickplan diagram maker to create an alternative user flow that guides people towards their desired objective as smoothly as possible. Repeat this as often as needed for each action people need to complete.

Here’s an example of how this could look:

Ecommerce User Flow

Next, use a UX prototyping tool to create a mockup of your updated e-commerce website. Then test your prototype with users to see if you’ve got it right. Ideally, they should be able to accomplish any action in only a few steps and all the information they need should be readily available.

Ecommerce Prototype User Flow

You don’t want visitors to have to play guessing games. Whether they’re making a purchase, adding an item to a wishlist, or seeking more product information, your aim is to make the process as intuitive as possible.

This can be as simple as:

  • Showing a range of product images on a page
  • Reminding people that they have items in the cart
  • Letting them know that they’re missing a digit on their credit card number

Note that user flow mapping and testing can be a continuous process. As you work through it, you’ll remove anything that isn’t helping customers complete their goals, and add anything they need to help them take action. In the end, your aim is to end up with a site that works well for visitors so they become customers who bring in revenue.


Written By Sharon Hurley Hall

Sharon Hurley Hall is a professional writer and blogger. Her work has been published on Jilt, OptinMonster, CrazyEgg, GrowthLab, Unbounce, OnePageCRM, Search Engine People, and Mirasee. Sharon is certified in content marketing and email marketing. In her previous life Sharon was also a journalist and university journalism, lecturer! Learn more about Sharon on SharonHH.com or connect with her on LinkedIn.

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