The Post-Purchase Experience Is Essential to Retaining Customers

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It’s a well-established fact that repeat customers are more valuable to businesses than new ones, but e-commerce retailers remain focused on acquiring the latter, according to a recent report from Boston Retail Partners (BRP). 

Online businesses also miss another crucial opportunity, the report finds. Specifically, after customers make online purchases, they enter a period of uncertainty, unsure of whether their products will arrive on time and in one piece. By providing regular updates on the status of the order, retailers can transform this period of doubt into a trust-affirming one. Removing that risk makes customers more likely to make repeat purchases. 

With this in mind, the report lays out a set of eight best practices for retailers: 

  1. Set customer expectations before they click “buy.”
  2. Communicate tirelessly.
  3. Set a fair and competitive return policy.
  4. Simplify the return process.
  5. Deliver products in professional packaging.
  6. Turn digital experiences into omnichannel ones.
  7. Use stores for something more.
  8. Gather customer feedback.

For setting expectations before the customer clicks the buy button, Jeffrey Neville, senior vice president and practice lead at BRP, says retailers need to ensure that shipping and return information is “clear, concise, and conveniently displayed.” 

Then companies need to provide notifications at the five major stages in the delivery process—order confirmation, item dispatched, in transit, out for delivery, and delivery, the report maintains. Doing so will keep customers engaged and informed. 

But then companies can’t overdo the notifications. Retailers can and should ask customers how frequently they would like order status updates, Neville suggests. 

And then delivering these updates via different channels is “an important way to provide transparency,” he adds, noting that text, outbound automated phone calls, and Alexa updates are options to consider.

Having a return policy that is at least as generous as competitors’ is also imperative, the report asserts. It cites Zappos as a company with a generous return policy—365 days and free shipping—that it says has earned the company tremendous loyalty.

As for simplifying the return process, Neville states that doing so “increases customer satisfaction and loyalty.” In the report, he points out that including an adhesive, preprinted, prepaid shipping label with every package is essential, though it can also be helpful to let customers generate their own shipping labels through other channels if needed. 

Packaging should be appropriately sized and reflect the style of the brand. According to Neville, “Unique branding will increase brand awareness and create a more personal connection to the brand.” He cites subscription service companies BirchBox and Kiwi Crate as examples, noting that both “create excitement with the packaging” and that “the recipient is eager to see what is inside.” 

The report adds that including additional gifts or other unexpected items in the package can also enhance the customer’s connection with the brand. Cosmetics brand Kiehl’s does this by including samples of other products as a way of cross-selling and enhancing customer loyalty. 

Companies can also enclose personalized thank-you cards, as is done by clothing store Zumies, according to the report.

To turn digital experiences into omnichannel ones, companies need to encourage customers to return items to physical stores. Doing so, according to the report, creates yet one more shopping opportunity, improves brand equity, and keeps the store top of mind. Neville also suggests rewarding these customers with coupons if they purchase another item at the store that same day. Allowing customers to order online and pick up in stores is another way to transform digital experiences into omnichannel ones. 

The report cites Kohl’s as a company that has blended the digital and the physical: In 2017, it announced a partnership with Amazon, allowing online Amazon returns to be processed at select Kohl’s locations. According to the report, the extra foot traffic leads to additional sales.

As for using stores for something more, the report notes that some retailers are retooling their brick-and-mortar locations to serve as miniature distribution centers, shipping to customers from local stores rather than central warehouses to cut shipping costs and delivery times. Additionally, making store inventory available online can minimize lost sales due to product out-of-stocks.

The report also notes that reviews are essential to the trustworthiness of a shopping experience. The key to increasing post-purchase reviews is simply making it easier to submit them through apps, voice assistants, or email. It advises retailers to include product images and to begin by asking for a simple star rating, after which a more complete review can be solicited.

And finally, retailers would do well to offer consumers coupons for a percentage off their next purchase as an incentive for reviews, Neville maintains. 

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