Uncovering Painpoints: Mapping Wayfair's Customer Journey Through Sentiment Analysis


Allene Yue

Just a decade or so ago, people used to shop for absolutely everything in person. But ever since the pandemic hit, consumers have turned even more so toward prioritizing convenience and price. Even for industries like home furnishing, which has historically drawn the majority of its sales from brick and mortar purchases, people feel more comfortable than ever picking out furniture or decor online, rather than in person.

Even before the pandemic struck, Wayfair saw this window of opportunity and took it. But running a fully online brand for furniture has proven to be harder than expected.

How E-Commerce Has Affected the Customer Journey

Over the past couple of years, the customer journey for many industries has completely evolved — and the home furnishings industry is no different.

Before e-commerce gained popularity, most furniture shoppers would begin the customer journey by visiting physical retailers so that they could visualize and physically feel every product they contemplated buying. In fact, over 90% of home furnishing products were purchased in-person less than a decade ago.

To help understand the before and after, I created a customer journey map representing the typical furniture shopper before the popularity of online shopping.

New home-owners looking for furniture would often have to visit multiple stores in person before settling on any piece of furniture. Back in 2001, consumers intending to buy furniture visited 3.2 stores on average before making a purchase.

This made comparing colors, aesthetic, quality, and prices incredibly difficult — especially as most furniture retailers only used their brick and mortar shops as showrooms that displayed select colors and models of certain products. If customers wanted to order something in a color or model that was out of stock in-store, they would have to place custom orders that would take many weeks, sometimes months, to make and deliver.

But when people began to experiment with online shopping, this industry’s customer journey changed for the better. Companies innovated to cut down on shipping times, and a much broader selection of products were made available for online viewing. Many consumer painpoints were relieved as a result, boosting the popularity of online shopping and giving companies like Wayfair room to grow.

Wayfair’s Rise to Fame and Fall to Doom

Wayfair, a digitally native brand, set out specifically to offer customers a wider assortment of furniture at their fingertips utilizing a dropship model.

They innovated to solve many existing customer painpoints in this industry. For example, because there was initially no way of telling whether or not what a customer ordered was in stock with the supplier, they created their own inventory management system and warehouse integration software. They even attempted to cut down delivery times to 1-2 weeks by creating their own warehouse networks to hold supplier inventory without actually buying anything.


In the beginning of the pandemic, Wayfair’s sales skyrocketed — which was no surprise considering how many e-commerce brands also received this same boost in revenue.

But with this boost in sales, also came a spur of competition. Amazon’s promise of free 2-day shipping to Prime members became the standard of excellence for other players in the e-commerce industry. And unfortunately, many of these players, including Wayfair, simply couldn’t compete.

Amazon’s consistent shipping times, generous return policies, and reliability of delivery hiked customer expectations more than ever.

Wayfair’s average delivery time of 1-2 weeks was no longer quick enough for consumers, and even if customers were willing to wait that long, their expectations of product quality automatically rose as well. Wayfair’s image began to plummet — as we can also see through a sentiment analysis we ran.

According to data we pulled from TrustPilot, the number of complaints concerning refunds, quality, shipping, and customer service suddenly all spiked during the pandemic and hasn’t gone down since.

Mapping Wayfair’s Customer Journey

Using this data, I was able to easily create a testimonial-centered customer journey map specific to Wayfair.

What we found is that while the actual business model works well and the site is easy to use, the real issue is Wayfair’s inability to meet rising customer expectations of quick, consistent delivery times and product quality.


But we can’t shift all the blame toward Wayfair here — it’s clear that customers simply expect much more from brands than they did before (particularly due to the pandemic). But these rapidly evolving customer expectations also mean that companies can’t stop innovating.

The best way for a brand to figure out how and what to innovate is to figure out where exactly their customers’ painpoints are. And just like we did here for Wayfair, sentiment analysis and customer journey mapping are great places to start.

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