The Marketing Funnel: What Is It and Does It Matter to E-Commerce?

The marketing funnel is a pretty popular topic of conversation in the business world. It most often pertains to businesses that are not involved in retail. However, it is not unheard of for corporate retail giants to utilize the funnel concept as well. There is some debate as to whether it is useful in e-commerce.

Pure e-commerce – not a hybrid model that mixes online with brick-and-mortar retail – is somewhat unique. As more and more consumers shift a larger portion of their retail shopping to the online model, it’s no longer unheard of to have very large retail operations existing only online. Do these operations incorporate the marketing funnel into their total package of e-commerce marketing strategies?

Marketing Funnel Basics

Figuring out whether the marketing funnel is appropriate for e-commerce starts by understanding the funnel itself. Unfortunately, the funnel has never been clearly and conclusively defined. Marketers tend to see the marketing funnel through their own eyes. They define it somewhat differently, and they utilize it based on their own understanding.

In short, the marketing funnel is a way to envision transitioning customers from passing interest to actual purchase. The funnel shape was chosen to represent the concept due to its geometric design. The top of the funnel boasts a large diameter that gradually shrinks as you move toward the bottom. Likewise, smart marketers know that the number of potential customers passing through the funnel journey gets smaller the farther down the line they go.

Also, note that the funnel is divided into segments. How many? That is up for debate. Some marketers work with highly complex funnels consisting of up to 10 or 12 segments. Others operate on a more basic model with only three or four segments. This should tell you why there is some debate over whether the marketing funnel is appropriate for e-commerce.

Customers with Passing Interest

One of the things that makes e-commerce so unique is how it encourages people to shop. In the days before e-commerce, people would go to the mall just to walk around and socialize. Retailers did their best to create an environment that would invite customers to come in and browse. That is how they generated sales.

There is no online equivalent to the mall. People may still shop and browse, but they do so when they know they need something. Most consumers just don’t randomly visit retail sites and look around at anything and everything. Therefore, any application of the marketing funnel has to start from this premise. In other words, that first group of potential customers who might approach the funnel in passing interest doesn’t really exist in the e-commerce arena.

Getting a Customer’s Attention

In the e-commerce arena, the first layer of customers in the marketing funnel are customers who already know they need or want something. A retailer reaches those customers by getting their attention on search engines. According to Webtek Digital Marketing, a Salt Lake City SEO and digital marketing firm, that’s where e-commerce SEO comes in.

When e-commerce SEO is effective, the remainder of the funnel becomes rudimentary. The first goal is to get customers to your website. From there, you guide them through the purchase journey all the way to checking out at the end.

The case can be made in favor of the marketing funnel for e-commerce. But to the extent it is utilized, it is a much narrower funnel with a more defined journey. That is because e-commerce itself is a more defined discipline.