This paper investigates the processes involved in unconsolidated cliff recession using LiDAR surveys (2005, 2010 and 2013) and aerial photographs (1964–2012) at Pointe-au-Bouleau, on the north shore of the St. Lawrence estuary, in eastern Canada. The high lithostratigraphic variability of the sediments allowed for the identification of stratigraphic and lithological variables that explain the evolution of coastal cliffs. Space-for-time substitution was also used to assess how lithostratigraphy controls the evolution of emerged glaciomarine coastal cliffs over decadal to centennial timescales. This case study presents new quantitative data that contributes to a better understanding of the role of sediment architecture, stratigraphy and geomorphology on coastal evolution. The methodological approach includes the development of a new conceptual model suitable for identifying erosion on cliff coastlines. The high spatial resolution methodology (<5 cm) used herein demonstrates the need for further research using LiDAR data in order to quantify the processes involved in the evolution of coastal cliffs. Copyright © 2015 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.