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Ecommerce Growth

17 retention strategies that actually work (for eCommerce)

Don't leave store visits to mere coincidence. Implement these 17 tested customer retention strategies to nurture relationships & improve repeat sales!

17 retention strategies that actually work (for eCommerce)

There’s been enough talk about how nurturing existing and old customers can be far more profitable than converting those first-time shoppers. 

In fact, statistics seem to say the same thing much louder:

A 5% increase of customer retention can send a company’s revenue soaring by anywhere between 25% and 95%. 

With that in mind, we’ve created a granular list of retention to-dos that will hold you in good stead and ramp up your repeat sales – all through 2023!

1. Incentivize first & early purchases 

This is especially true for first-time buyers. 

(And given that 59% of consumers have been found to search for promo codes online before they actually make a purchase.)

The main idea behind customer retention is to make one-time buyers become long-term buyers. 

And one way to achieve this is to incentivize first and early purchases:

- Declare 10% - 15% discounts to be applied on the next purchase 

- Announce a reduction of X amount on purchases over a certain amount (to make this even more effective, you can declare a timeframe within which the customer can leverage this advantage.)

- Offer a 10% - 15% abandoned cart discounts (this can in fact ensure that those first purchases actually happen and the buyers get a taste of engaging with your brand.)

Here’s an example from Birchbox

Birchbox offers abandoned cart discounts to wheel back customers

- Free shipping & returns offer on the first purchase

Brilliant Earth declares this offer to first-time shoppers through a pop-up. 

Brilliant Earth offers free shipping and returns to first time buyers

Pro Tip💡

Declaring too deep a % discount or even a price slash can be counter-productive. 

It has been seen that when shoppers come across very steep discounts they experience mistrust – they may wonder if your products aren’t doing well or if you’re about to close shop altogether. 

2. Reward repeat purchases

When you’re thinking of notching up repeat sales, you’ll have to consider:

- The buying behavior of repeat customers so far (products they’ve repeatedly purchased and what it says about them etc.)

- Data that has revealed their interest in products they have & haven’t bought

The above analysis will help you understand what among the following will work to incentivize repeat purchases. 

- Offer a reduced price on products they’ve been repeatedly purchasing

- Offer free samples of products they’ve been exploring but haven’t bought yet

- Free complementary product with a purchase (let’s say they’ve bought a duvet – you could offer a cover free.)

- Introduce a point-based reward system (like Sephora’s Beauty Insider program that enables shoppers to earn 1 point every time they checkout with their email address across offline and online channels.)

Sephora adds one additional point for loyalty program members when they checkout with their email

Pro Tip 💡

Develop a personal connection with repeat purchasers by leveraging special days in their lives. 

Tarte Cosmetics, for example, offers special rewards to members of their free-to-join loyalty program during their birthday month. 

Tarte Cosmetics offers special rewards to their loyalty program members during their birthday month

3. Incentivize subscriptions

Even if your products are brilliant, there’s no guarantee that shoppers will keep coming back to buy more. 

Which is why focusing on incentivizing subscriptions becomes so important if you want those repeat sales. 

Here are a few ways to do so:

- Offer a tangible benefit that’s not applicable to one-time orders 

This could be a reduced per time price or an advantage like free shipping over a certain price threshold. 

Here’s what Burt’s Bees does. 

(They offer free shipping on auto-delivery of products over $10)

Burt's Bees offers free shipping on auto-delivery of products over $10

- Make it easy to gift subscriptions 

The easier it is for buyers to buy a subscription and gift it to someone else, the more they will feel pulled to re-subscribe and suggest the idea of subscription to others. 

Rocksbox, for example, has an elaborate subscription plan for gifting. 

Rocksbox allows existing customers to choose their subscription plans for gifting

- Make it easy to edit the subscription cadence

It’s great to offer subscribers the freedom to choose their own delivery cadence initially. 

However, ensure to check in (preferably through email) to see if they might like to alter it for any reason (too much stock, unavailability because of a

vacation etc.)

PRO TIP 💡

Leverage product recommendations to promote subscriptions. 

This improves the chances of your shoppers discovering products they’d really want to subscribe to or gift subscriptions of. 

Want more shoppers to see your products? Read: 15 creative ways to display eCommerce products (w/ brilliant examples)

4. Promote members-only pricing

Most shoppers are looking for a consistent price advantage – over one-time discounts and coupon code.

This is why bringing members-only pricing into your retention strategy mix is valuable if you want those repeat sales to happen more often. 

Here are a few actions to consider:

- Highlight joining benefits

One way to retain customers is to have them become part of your loyalty program. 

But many shoppers need that extra push to show interest in your loyalty program in the first place. 

- Announce special express shipping rates. 

Your customers vying for members-only pricing might sit up and take extra notice if you take the advantage up by a notch – enable them to enjoy special shipping rates. 

PRO TIP 💡

To make members-only pricing more attractive, ensure you offer aligned benefits – such as priority access to exclusive launches, invitations to member-only events and curated news from the industry. 

5. Announce exclusive discounts for existing loyal customers

This could be your way of getting them to try your new line of products and converting at least some of them to return to buy more. 

When you offer exclusive discounts to existing loyalists, you’re sending out a strong message that in turn will impact how they interact with your brand. 

You’re basically saying “thank you for being so aligned with the brand journey – we’d love to show our appreciation in tangible ways.”

Thinking of announcing some exclusive discounts? 

Here are some ideas you could explore:

- Announce a one-day sitewide flash sale (and ensure you drive the point that this is exclusively available ONLY to loyalists)

- Unlock select coupons only upon signing in

- Personalize mystery offers for the highest paying customers

Here’s an example where Kohl’s offers an extra discount to repeatedly returning customers. 

Kohl's offers an additional discount to repeat customers

PRO TIP 💡

To communicate these exclusive discounts, meet your customers on the channels they mostly use – one way to do this is to analyze CTR of emails, SMSs and WhatsApp messages of segmented groups of repeat purchasers. 

6. Ensure your post-purchase emails pack a lot of value 

Customer retention can’t happen only when you send the right product recommendations through email. 

When it comes to the end goal of retention and repeat sales, your email personalization strategy needs to go a step forward. 

Here are some ideas you to act on:

- Refine the way you do post-purchase nurturance

Think of the content you send and the suggestions you make. 

In terms of content, sending tips on how the benefits of a product can be best maximized, is a great idea. 

For example, if you run a fashion label, it makes sense to send your customers styling ideas. 

- Send a discount for the next purchase

This way you’re establishing that if the customer continues to engage with you, they’ll be rewarded for it. 

Here’s an example from Banana Republic, where the brand takes the opportunity to wish a shopper on their birthday and also offer them a discount for their next buy. 

Banana Republic gifts special discount for the next purchase on the customer's birthday

PRO TIP 💡

Send a combined thank you and feedback email right after a purchase has been made. 

In the long run, you can even consider sending surprise thank you emails to those who have bought from you repeatedly. 

Dive in deeper with: 17 Unconventional Post-Purchase Emails (+ How to copy them)

7. Identify gaps in your email strategy and close them

With customer retention as the end goal, your email strategy will need to re-look into the following aspects:

  • What you are communicating through your emails
  • How well your emails are plugged into where the buyer is on their journey
  • Which channels you can combine with email to offer an integrated experience

To ensure the above are met and get aligned with the long-term goals your business has:

- Track how contextual your emails are.

If they’re talking about too many things at the same time, that’s a bad idea. 

Highlight one course of action in an email and that’s it – because the idea is to have your shoppers totally clear about what action to follow. 

That’s why it’s best to feature a single CTA. 

- Align more deeply with the customer’s position in the buyer’s journey

For example, if they’re just at the top of the funnel, getting used to the awareness stage, you don’t want to bombard them with promotional emails. 

Instead tell them how they will benefit from your products and how your brand USP will ensure you get the most by engaging with you. 

Replicate this approach of alignment with buyers across other stages as well. 

- Create an omnichannel experience based on buyer segmentation

Once you know your buyer segments well, it’ll get easier to send out targeted communication through other channels as well. 

Notice CTRs across channels for various segments and position your communication accordingly. 

One eCommerce brand that has gained a lot of valid attention for their email strategy over the years is Warby Parker

The first example is an email targeting a cart abandoner, while the second is clearly for buyers who’ve purchased before and are likely to engage more if they got some great offers. 

Warby Parker email example targeting cart abandonment

Warby Parker announces special savings for repeat customers

PRO TIP 💡

Engage by ConvertCart can be your one-stop email marketing platform enabling you to include even your dormant customers into your larger strategy. 

When you’re able to strategize around your email lists of both active and dormant shoppers, your chances at repeat sales improve remarkably.  

Emails on your mind? Read: Welcome emails: 16 easy changes that generate 10X revenue

8. Aim to connect with & sell to only interested customers 

While you would like all kinds of customers to keep engaging with your products, the truth is that ONLY interested buyers continue to do that. 

The most dependable source for this information is of course customer data that captures shopping behavior. 

You could use heatmaps to understand how interested shoppers are moving across your site. For example, if you find a pattern that many of them are indeed interested in specifically offer-based CTAs, you may want to look into what may be causing friction and distraction around them.

In funnel analytics, visual flow of various customer segments will tell you who is moving to the next step at every stage.

You can even zoom out to play recordings and find out differences between those who proceeded through a step and those who chose not to. 

To make it more comprehensive, you could just tap into a conversion tool like CRO360 that’s built for analyzing through a range of methods, improving site experience, enhancing search dramatically and significantly improving your rate of repeat sales. 

PRO TIP 💡

Go beyond the transactional with interested and repeat customers – beyond incentivizing purchases, see if you can also incentivize actions like social media shares, writing reviews etc. 

Something you'll love to read: 20 eCommerce sales strategies that (actually) work

9. Make delivery, returns and refunds easy 

Though online shopping has become more of a given since Covid-19, it’s true that a chunk of its popularity is because of the ease it offers over in-store purchases. 

So, if you’re not able to make your delivery, return and refund processes easy, you’ll have trouble retaining even repeat purchasers. 

Here are a few crucial areas to look into:

- Set multiple delivery windows based on shipping rates

Also, consider announcing free shipping for a minimum cart value if your scale doesn’t allow you to naturally offer free domestic shipping. 

- Offer shipment tracking transparency

Because 98% admit that the quality of shipping experience has a direct bearing on how loyal they continue to feel towards a brand. Enable the shopper to track across channels. 

- Bring your returns policy upfront

Ensure interested shoppers don’t have to run around to have FAQ answered.

Feature your returns policy in a visible location on your product pages.

Make sure your policy content elaborates on what can be returned, by when and what documentation will be required on the shopper’s part.

PRO TIP 💡

Consider offering store credit (if you do have physical stores) as an option to refunds – this can reduce the financial impact of returns on your bottom line and increase the chances of repeat sales. 

10. Utilize different channels for communication well-suited for each

When customer retention and repeat sales are your end-goals, it helps to know which channels can be optimized for which pieces of communication. 

Here’s what we’ve observed repeatedly:

- Email to raise product & brand awareness

According to McKinsey, communicating over email is 40 times more effective than over social media. 

This makes email the numero uno medium to get transactions ringing while you also drive brand and product awareness. 

All it takes is for you to segment your buyers properly and really focus on the preferences (constant & changing ones) for these segments at any given point in time. 

- SMS for personalized communication

Given that SMS marketing generated 18% more orders in the first quarter of 2022 compared to the same period in 2021, it’s clear this is a viable medium as long as you pick and choose what to communicate. 

Welcome messages, order confirmations, communication on reward points being spent or added and information on flash sales & time limited deals have all been seen to be effective. 

- Facebook & Instagram for retargeting

Promote new products and show ads for products the shopper left behind without checking out. 

Communication around limited time deals, free samplings of new products, order updates as well as feedback requests can be sent via Messenger. 

- WhatsApp for quick reminders & surveys

Quick post-purchase communication, reminders to go back to the cart with products added but not bought and requests for short feedback are all effective through WhatsApp. 

- Push notifications for real-time updates

Tell the shopper their order tracking details, draw their attention to a flash sale currently happening or drop the most recent favorable review written for a product they left behind in their cart. 

PRO TIP 💡

Consider using an omnichannel platform like Revechat to bring all your communication channels together. 

Need more inspiration? Read: 12 stories: Brands that managed channel conflict like champs

11. Introduce ongoing surveys to understand customer choices & behavior

According to a Forrester Research report, it’s clear that 69% of shoppers would rather transact with businesses that promise consistency of experience. 

And consistency is almost always impossible unless as a business you’re keenly tuned into the tastes and preferences of various customer segments. 

This is where ongoing surveys can help you track what customers are experiencing as worthwhile and what can be improved significantly. 

Here’s a quick checklist of considerations:

- Determine your business intent

To determine the nature of your surveys, you’ll have to determine your business intent.

For example, if you’re trying to track the overall satisfaction of shoppers from time to time to build consistency, your survey questions will need to revolve around the customer’s interfacing with various touch points across your brand. 

- Make certain questions non-negotiable

And by this we mean, these questions need to appear, respective the nature of your survey.

Some crucial areas include checkout, customer support and exit intent. 

-Seek information about customer satisfaction around competitor brands

This can reveal big gaps in your own strategy and also offer you some ideas about how you can fill those gaps for enhanced CX. 

PRO TIP 💡

When you’re asking a customer to take a survey, ensure you’re persuasive about it without being pushy – “if you take this survey today, it’ll help us look at gaps we haven’t closed yet” is way more honest and convincing than “take 5 minutes out to fill this survey.”

12. Create more convenience through prompt customer service

Here are some statistics that are crucial for improving customer service in eCommerce:

  • 85% companies that manage more than 5000 orders every month still don’t have round-the-clock customer support
  • Less automation leads to 2x the dissatisfaction around response time
  • 72% eCommerce businesses don’t understand the cost of a support ticket

The only antidote is to ramp up your real-time customer service if you’ve got your eyes on those repeat sales. 

Here are some key considerations to keep in mind:

- Enhance self-help resources

Whether it’s to do with placing your FAQ and policies across accessible locations in your site (beneath CTAs, on footers), or making sitewide content searchable in your chat feature, make self-help a priority. 

Feature self help resources in your live chat

- Feature a Q&A section along with reviews

This is one way to support customers in understanding how the brand (and other customers) has responded to product queries by other customers. A comprehensive Q&A section can offer more instant insights. 

Bed Bath & Beyond features a q&a section across each of their product pages – here’s an example. 

Bed Bath & Beyond features a Q&A section alongside reviews

- Establish live support across channels

If you’ve been relying solely on chat support on your eCommerce website, time to incorporate channels like WhatsApp and FB messenger into that mix.

Since these are channels used by most customers around the day, meeting them across these can make them feel valuable without extra effort from your end. 

PRO TIP 💡

Offer accessibility adjustments as part of your customer support offerings – this ensures a wider audience is able to navigate through your website and make on-the-spot purchase decisions. 

13. Position customers as brand ambassadors

Brands that put their values and vision at the center of their innovation and marketing are at a natural advantage – their customers want to associate with them. 

Here are a few things you can do to make your regular customers ongoing custodians of your brand:

- Incentivize writing reviews (increase the incentives if you find loyalists writing reviews for multiple products)

- Announce giveaways on social shares (this can prompt your customers to socially share your products more intentionally and less in a one-off way)

- Announce contests to highlight the best UGC

- Request a chosen list of customers to participate in your product photo shoots

One eCommerce brand that’s been known to use customer custodianship to grow and increase repeat sales is Lululemon

Their strategy revolves around building community pockets in which they do collabs with subject matter experts (like yoga teachers) and plug their products into the business endorsements of these experts. 

PRO TIP 💡

Take stock of the kind of messaging your repeat customers care for – and then use these as scripted messages when you collaborate with minor (or even major) influencers. 

14. Act in accordance to the brand values you project 

In a landscape where 56% of shoppers are of the opinion that many brands use a social ploy to land more sales, you’ve got to stay real and honest if you want those repeat sales to happen. 

However, an Accenture study found that 63%of global shoppers prefer to buy from brands that have a clear purpose and also communicate it. 

One way to ensure your brand values are noted and respected by customers is to act in accordance with them.  

For example, if sustainability is one of your biggest values, you ought to collect proof of your actions that align with it – get your standards checked by a higher authority and if you pass with flying colors, ensure you put that badge up for customers to see. 

PRO TIP 💡

Mine your existing customer base for the values they stand for and what they like to associate with your brand for – work out the gaps and integrate the one or two top values that appear as a pattern into your existing list of core values. 

15. Boost your content strategy to create more awareness 

In the long run, your content strategy has to do more than nudge shoppers to buy. 

The content you generate needs to give your buyers good reasons to stick around, consider your brand for repeat purchases or even refer it to those close to them. 

Here are a few considerations to think of when you’re crafting your content strategy for customer retention:

- Leverage topics of interest around the products you create. 

- Take note of the kind of content competitors are creating. 

- Focus on building awareness while you drive conversions. 

One eCommerce brand that adds awareness value through its content is Elvie

They offer subject matter expertise through their content so that shoppers can make more discerning buying decisions. 

Here’s a visual example. 

Elvie creates content that increases awareness amongst buyers and also helps them make purchase decisions

PRO TIP 💡

Identify generic forms of content that you can leverage to feature alongside channel-specific content – these typically include videos, interesting product-related content and trending hashtags. 

Here's something to mull over: Gated content: 8 do’s & don’ts that ecommerce founders must know

16. Improve the ease of use for mobile customers 

Studies are projecting that mobile commerce will come to represent 44% of the total eCommerce sales by 2025. 

This is all the reason why you need start linking how well you optimize your eCommerce CX for mobile customers to overall customer retention. 

Here are a few non-negotiable considerations to think of:

- Simplify and minify form fields

- Optimize CTAs for easy spotting and touch

- Make the hamburger menu sticky to reduce scrolling back & forth

- Add relevant labels to products you want to draw attention to

- Make brand & product related benefits super visible 

PRO TIP 💡

Since images are the way most shoppers discover information on mobile, you’ll have to pay special attention to optimization & resizing of images – tools like TinyJPG and TinyIMG can help. 

17. Pack your customer loyalty program with superior benefits

According to research, 75% of shoppers automatically prefer a brand that has an ongoing loyalty program. 

But to make retention and repeat sales a reality, you’ll have to pack your loyalty program with benefits you won’t otherwise offer. 

Here are a few considerations you might want to make:

- Make the program free & easy to join

Because your business intent is to have purchasers come back again and again for tangible benefits. Keep the sign up process short and simple. 

- Offer access to exclusive content & discounts

Set up a separate loyalty program newsletter if you will. If you have a sitewide 10% sale going on, see if you can offer 15% under your loyalty program. 

- Introduce tiers to deepen loyalty

And back every superior tier up with more benefits and features. This may seem like pure gamification at the backend, but for your customers it’s a great reason to stay connected with your brand. 

PRO TIP 💡

Create a no-fee-needed-to-join loyalty program, but highlight other conditions that shoppers have to meet – this will ensure only the most serious of them consider giving the program a shot. For example, some brands make it imperative that to join their loyalty program, shoppers should have bought something in the last 6 months. 

Bonus: Create a Fool-Proof Customer Retention Plan  

1. Match messaging with timing and intent

Customer retention is not for every type of eCommerce brand. If you are at the starting stages, it’s alright to put more effort into customer acquisition. 

The need for customer retention should increase as your eCommerce store grows. Once you start acquiring steady sales through acquisition strategies, then focus your efforts on converting those sales into repeat customers.     

Furthermore, not every industry requires customer retention. If you are selling pet food, then it makes sense to prompt your existing customers to purchase again at regular intervals. 

Some products are long-term purchases that don’t need an upgrade. However, you can keep customers engaged through services, complementary products, and promotional offers.

For example, a customer purchased a refrigerator. It’s safe to assume they won’t purchase another in a short frame of time. For such customers, you can recommend storage accessories, services, or warranty extensions to establish brand recall.

Here’s a great example of how BavSound is driving AOV by telling customers what would make the experience better:

BavSound offers recommendations to customers for making upgrades

2. Focus on these customer retention metrics

To understand the effectiveness of your customer retention strategies, you need to track certain metrics. 

a. Repeat customer rate

The repeat customer rate shows how many customers are making a second purchase—the higher the rate, the more people are showing interest in coming back to your website. 

b. Purchase frequency 

The purchase frequency rate shows you how often your customers are placing orders from the website. 

c. Average Order Value (AOV)

Calculating AOV can offer insights into your customer’s spending behavior. Build your benchmark by knowing how much your customers are willing to spend on average for an order. 

A high number of repeat sales contributes to improving a customer’s lifetime value, which is a definite win for your eCommerce business.

3. Ask for feedback, implement it & inform customers

Customers will tell you upfront what they like or don’t like about your product.

Taking feedback in the stride and working to improve your product/service will take you a long way with the customers.

Make sure you are present everywhere your customers are. Use different communication strategies such as email surveys, in-app messaging, live chats on Instagram and Facebook, and Twitter mentions, to know how customers feel about your product and what you can particularly improve.

Once you have worked on the feedback from customers, make sure to let them know.

Pop up into their inboxes, social media, and other channels to tell them what’s different and why they should pay a visit.

Improve Customer Retention to Increase Repeat Sales

It’s time to apply these customer retention strategies and make those dwindled customers come back to you, one by one, to never leave.
Retaining customers might sound like an uphill task. 

Especially, if you try to do everything. 

While we have detailed many retention strategies, pick and choose the ones that fit your business and implement them.  

And if you are still confused about which suits your eCommerce store, book some time with our team and plan your customer retention strategy. 

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