The holidays are a busy time for retailers around the world. All those orders coming through to fulfill, new customers to engage with, and the chance to end the year on a sales high. Your store’s customer experience is truly put to the test, to see just how many happy customers you can acquire over the season.
However, customer experience isn’t just about what happens before an order is placed. It’s often what happens after that most affects their chances of retention. This is known as the post-purchase experience - in other words, everything that happens after a customer places an order. And it can be where many merchants miss the mark. Especially when a customer is buying something as a gift, which is so often the case during the holiday season.
Let’s look at why post-purchase is so important to your customers, and some simple ways you can enhance it for those buying gifts this holiday season.
Why post-purchase matters in ecommerce
Getting a new order in the system is great, but one-off orders don’t make for a brand with longevity. Even with products which have a long lifespan and low purchase frequency like appliances, repeat custom is the best strategy for long-term success. It can cost 5 times more to acquire a new customer than to retain one, and returning customers often spend more. You therefore want to create a sort of cycle of acquisition and retention, rather than focusing solely on new customers. That cycle being:
- Acquire a new customer
- Delight them with your products and experience
- That same customer returns to make another purchase
- They become a brand advocate, recommending to friends and leaving positive reviews
- Their advocacy acts as social proof for future potential customers, convincing them to make a purchase.
One of the biggest ways brands let customers down is in the post-purchase experience. That includes how you communicate with a customer about their order, what happens when they receive it, and what you do after to continue engaging them. It’s like any good relationship - there needs to be proactive effort and communication, you can’t just wait for the customer to come to you!
So, post-purchase is important, and so is retention. However the holiday season can make this especially difficult. There are higher order volumes, and a higher number of new customers with the potential for one-off orders. The reason for this is gift buying - many orders from new customers may be from people who don’t know much about your products or brand, they’re just buying for someone else. This makes the chances of a one-off order that much higher.
However, just because it’s an added challenge doesn’t mean retention is impossible. In fact, because you won’t be delighting the customer with a product, the post-purchase experience truly is your time to shine. The more you do, the more impressed that customer will be. They’ll then be more likely to order a gift again in the future, and to recommend your store to friends and family. Especially to the recipient of the gift, who is likely your target year-round customer.
Let’s take a look at ways you can impress your customers this holiday season through your post-purchase experience.
#1 - Make use of SMS as well as email
Email is one of the best ways to engage with your customers, especially if it’s about an existing order. However, during the holiday season they’ll be receiving a lot more emails than normal. Between marketing emails to order information from other brands, it’s going to get a lot more cluttered than usual. This can make it difficult for them to notice order updates, and if they miss them they may become frustrated.
To enhance their experience, add SMS into your order communication flows. The average open rate for an SMS campaign is around 98% compared to just 20% for email. SMS messages are also typically opened within around 90 seconds, compared to 90 minutes for an email. That’s because of how they’re received by the customer. For email, they likely have to go to their chosen email app and actively check for new emails. Whereas for SMS they get a push notification on their phone, and the message is easy to open and quick to read.
The key to a successful SMS is to be concise, and have a clear purpose. With email, you get as much space as you need complete with images and links. With SMS, you have a lot less space to work with and you need to be offering something of value and purpose to reduce unsubscribe rates. Stick to messages like “Your order has been dispatched!” with a tracking link, “Your order is ready to collect” with collection instructions and so on.
#2 - Use real-time tracking (and tell customers about it)
During the holiday season, customers need to know where their orders are at all times. They likely have a few different orders on the move, and deadlines to meet before the holidays. That makes it all the more important to have a robust approach to order tracking. 69% of customers are less likely to make a future purchase if their order isn’t delivered within 2 days of the promised delivery date.
The best way to bolster your tracking ahead of the holidays is through real-time tracking, which ensures the customer knows exactly where their order is. Using apps like Order Lookup, Shopify merchants can offer real-time tracking and control the information the customer has access to including any notes your team needs to add. Rather than the customer trying to work out different courier tracking tools, they’ll have access to a clean, branded, simple-to-use interface for their order with your store.
Of course, you also need to make sure customers know about your real-time tracking option. This will improve their experience from the moment the order is dispatched, and avoid any unnecessary customer support enquiries around order status. Don’t just include a tracking number in dispatch notification emails and SMS, include the dynamic link to your own real-time tool. In fact, during the holidays it’s also worth adding in more of these notifications to ensure customers know what’s happening with their orders. If you typically only have a dispatch notification, then you might add in SMS notifications such as “your order is with your local courier” and “your order is due for delivery”.
#3 - Proactive customer support and easy returns process
Did you know that returns are 83% higher in December and January than in an average return month? It’s not the best news that customers want to return products, however making it easy for them to do so could be the key to post-holiday retention. Not only that, but 70% of customers have a more favorable view of brands which offer a proactive approach to customer support.
It makes sense - customers don’t want to have to make a return or get in touch with customer support, because it takes up their time. The harder it is for them, the more frustrated they become and their chances of retention plummet. Your customer experience up until they placed the order was focused on reducing friction, so your post-purchase experience should match that.
Offering proactive customer support can be as simple as sending an email a couple of days after an order has been placed, and again after the order has been delivered, to let customers know how to get in touch with your team. It should also include any FAQs, links to helpful resources, and any self-service options you offer for support. And most importantly, information about returns and exchanges. These emails will go a long way in both improving customer brand perception, and reducing customer support tickets. This will also allow your team to focus their time on tickets which are more complex, which will in turn bring down response times and improve customer satisfaction.
As for an easy returns process, it all starts with how easy it is to initiate. This could be as simple as a self-service option, where customers enter their order number and are presented with options for how they want to proceed. That may be printing a shipping label at home, products they want to exchange and what should be sent in their place, and how they wish to receive their refund. If you don’t offer self-service options, make it clear on your website and in any order communication how to proceed with a return.
#4 - Engage with customers who bought a gift product
The experience of buying something for yourself, versus buying something as a gift are very different. That should be reflected in how you approach post-purchase communication and remarketing. It comes down in part to personalization - 63% of customers won’t buy from a brand with poor personalization, but 70% are more likely to buy from a brand which understands how they use products and services.
If a customer places an order for the first time in December, adds a gift note, and sends it to an address different from their billing address, then all signs point to it being a gift order. That means there’s a strong chance they won’t benefit as much from your standard welcome drip and customer marketing emails. To send those messages shows the customer that you don’t understand the purpose behind their purchase, and this can make them disengage with any future communication.
Instead, create a separate email strategy to engage those gift customers. When all signs point to a new customer’s order being a gift, they should be automatically added to your “gift order” list. Those signs could include:
- The order is for a gift card or gift subscription
- The customer has selected gift wrapping or added a gift note
- The customer has sent the order to a different shipping address
- The order is for a gift bundle created specifically for the holidays
- The products were all part of a gift guide collection
From there, their welcome email should include wording that alludes to the order being a gift. For example, “Thanks for your order! We hope your gift goes down well!”. You should also send emails which include any customer support information about gifts such as returns, if this process is different and the order was shipped to a different address.
To engage this customer further, you should send an incentive in the new year. For example, a $10 gift card as a sort of “gift from us to you”, to encourage them to return to your store to spend the gift card on something for themselves. If they take you up on the offer, then you have the opportunity to show them the side of the experience they didn’t get the first time - trying and loving your products.