Building customer loyalty in online retailing – a primer

One of the toughest challenges that ecommerce businesses and online retailers face is earning customer loyalty. A face to face interaction at a brick and mortar store has a far higher chance of building a real connection with a customer than a fleeting online interaction does.

Smart etailers and entrepreneurs realise that their customers are central to their success, and it is important to build a lifelong relationship with them. They also understand that earning their customers’ loyalty is no cakewalk and comes only with giant doses of ecommerce wizardry (cue Amazon). Developing a user interface that exceeds expectations, offering ”performance-oriented” customer service that anticipates and prevents problems before they arise, and tackling the sticky issue of shipping and returns deftly are some of the many little building blocks that make a truly great ecommerce experience.

But obviously, there’s a lot more than just those three aspects that go into creating an ecommerce business that commands customer loyalty. Here are a few thoughts on getting there quicker.

Fulfil Your Promises

While it is easy to make tall promises, keeping them is a different ball game altogether. However, if you can keep your promises, rest assured your customers will stay true to you. In fact, they will spread a good word about you from their personal experience, thereby helping you expand your customer base and earn an army of loyal shoppers. Domino’s Pizza with its “30 minutes or free” brand promise has made sure that it’s the first name that any hungry pizza lover thinks of for instant, cheesy satisfaction.

Their brilliant online tracker for orders taken on is a testimony to how seriously they take this brand promise.

Invest in a Multi-Channel Strategy

Today’s customer is not limited by geography like their counterparts just a generation ago. Nothing stops a customer sitting in South Africa from buying a boomerang from an ecommerce site in Australia. Similarly, their sources of information about products and services are vast and varied. The only way an ecommerce business can hope to build a large and loyal customer base in today’s information saturated market is by being present where your customers are and engaging them in ways they prefer.

Read more: 7 ecommerce trends to watch out for in 2016

As we see from the image above, a multi-channel strategy is not limited to sales alone. From helping customers discover your products to helping them with product research, comparison, decision, recommendations to friends and family and more, a multi-channel strategy is sound business practice.

Don’t worry. It’s not as difficult to expand your presence across multiple channels as you might imagine. Building your own mobile optimised, online store is just a matter of hours with the array of DIY ecommerce platforms available at your disposal. Phone sales can be conveniently outsourced to professional call centres that specialise in selling telephonically. All it takes is the willingness to make your brand available where your audience is. Repeat purchases and loyalty follow eventually.

Personalize and Conquer

From Google to Facebook to Pinterest, every service that the average netizen uses today offers them content that is customised to their preferences, profile information and past behaviour. Users have come to expect it as a matter of fact that what they see online will be relevant to them, it will be tailored to want they want to see.

With the bar set so high already, you have no excuse to offer every user the same plain vanilla shopping experience. Data shows that over 79% of American shoppers expect personalised content and prefer shopping with retailers that offer them that custom experience.

Read more: The real state of ecommerce in South Africa: 9 things you need to know today

From remembering what a person shopped for last to how long they’ve been a customer with you to offering them products that complement their last purchase, there are a million ways in which you can reach out to your customers and show them how important they are to you. Use them!

Stay Connected With Your Customers

Your job is not done once a customer completes a purchase on your online store. That’s actually where the job of retaining this newly acquired customer begins. As they say, out of sight is out of mind. The way to make sure that your new customers keep coming back is to ensure that you stay in touch with them on whichever platform they prefer best.

A well-thought out customer retention program is step one towards this goal. Notifications about new launches via your mobile app, reminders about wish-list items being available via email, reminders about complementary items to their last purchase, greetings on special occasions like birthdays, anniversaries and the holidays are all simple yet extremely effective ways of maintaining top of mind recall.

Social media provides you another great channel to influence your users and shape their views about your brand on an everyday basis. Offering customer care via social media makes sure that the good work that you do does not only please your actual users, it also gets broadcast to all their friends and connections.

Go Above and Beyond with Customer Care

As discussed earlier, online retailers are at a slight disadvantage from the outset when it comes to influencing customers. The warm smile and helping hand that a sales associate can offer on a shop floor is tough to match in an online setting. This is why investing in customer care that does not just please, but delights your customers is an imperative for ecommerce success.

To begin with, offer round the clock customer service. The reason is simple. Your website is open for business round the clock. By extension, your customer service ought to be, as well. Make sure you display the contact details of your customer care team prominently on your site to assist any user promptly. Encourage your customer care teams to own up to mistakes when they’re committed and display the integrity to take measures to set things right. A simple step such as a phone call and an apology can make a huge difference. A small gift or discount coupon can also help.

Customer service-obsessed ecommerce companies like Zappos are shining examples of how profitable online businesses can be built by investing in this simplest, yet most critical of functions.

Secretly, each one of us thinks we’re special. It’s when someone else echoes that feeling about us, that we take an instant liking to them. An easy way to get your customers to like you and keep coming back to you is by making them feel as special as they secretly think they are. The idea is to be picky about whom you pamper and making sure that they realise that they’re receiving special treatment that no one else receives.

Read more: 50 of South Africa’s top ecommerce sites

This takes various forms. Some companies offer their most valuable customers free shipping, as in the case of Amazon Prime. Some offer points on each purchase that can be redeemed against future purchases, like airlines miles or credit card points. Others offers referral rewards in the form of freebies and cash incentives when their customers evangelize the brand and bring in new users to the fold.

Whichever path you may choose to take, remember to remember the customers who stick by you.

Over to You

The best ecommerce companies understand that success comes only when they put the customers’ interest before their own. They realize that loyalty is not earned through token loyalty programs, but by doing business with a true-blue customer centered philosophy. Revenues and profits will flow in only when the customer is happy and knows that he’s buying from a trustworthy brand.

Time to reorient strategies, then?

Rohan Ayyar


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