B2C Loyalty for Internet Retailers: Build It and They Will Come … Back

(This is part three of a series of blog posts on Relationship Marketing)

‘If you build it, he will come.’ On the movie Fields of Dreams (Universal Studios, 1989), this line motivated Kevin Costner’s character to build a baseball field for a team of deceased ball players. In eCommerce, if you build a reliable online store, establish yourself as a trustworthy merchant, and provide a consistently outstanding shopping experience to your buyers, they will come. And will come again, and again, and again…

As with most things, first impressions are lasting impressions. The same applies to eCommerce. To ensure customer loyalty, recurrence and retention, Internet retailers and development firms like Guidance must work to ensure shoppers have a wonderful experience every time they shop, right from the first time. If you are one of them, take into account every detail of your online retail strategy, including:

  • Product Descriptions – Don’t raise customer’s expectations, only to later disappoint them. Make sure items shown as “in stock” really are, prices don’t increase throughout the transaction, and product images are enticing but not misrepresenting of how the product really looks like. Describe the product exactly as it is, and allow shoppers to write a review for it. If the information and images are accurate, you probably won’t need to worry much about users leaving negative feedback.

  • Security – Protect your site from hackers and let your customers know it is safe to buy from your store by displaying logos from your SSL and Hacker Safe certificate issuers. According to an article in this month’s issue of Internet Retailer magazine, about 12 million Internet users do not shop online for fear of entering personal or payment information on websites.
  • Customer Reach – If you are struggling to claim leadership in the US market, consider expanding your market reach to include international customers, where market leadership can almost guarantee customer recurrence. The global Internet user population grew 265% from 2000 to 2007, for a total of 1.3 billion consumers, according to Internet market research firm Miniwatts Marketing Group. More than 1 billion of them live outside the US and Canada.
  • Shipping – By all means, ensure on-time delivery for all orders. Get products out the door as fast as possible, and provide realistic shipping date expectations. If possible, offer at least one free shipping solution and allow customers to track the delivery of their shipment online. According to a Synovate survey I commissioned this past holiday season, 18% of online shoppers considered free shipping to be the most important factor when making a purchase online. Another good tip is to include a copy of your catalog, a special offer, a coupon, and/or an unexpected free gift with your shipment.
  • Returns – Have a hassle-free return policy. Restrictive policies may discourage people from returning items, but it may also discourage them from buying. Highly visible policies can engender trust, helping to boost conversion rates for online retailers. Include return instructions with your shipments and pay for return postage costs. If your company has brick-and-mortar stores, allow customers to return the items to one of them.
  • Post-Purchase Promotions – Run permission-based email marketing campaigns to promote new products, like newsletters or special offers. According to a recent report by digital marketing firm DoubleClick, 78% of consumers said they want to receive email from their favorite online merchants. Permission-based email campaigns motivate consumers to purchase. An eMarketer survey reported that 58% of US consumers liked and opened emails from companies who – in their opinion – did a good job with permission email marketing, and 53% admits that such emails affected their personal buying decisions.

Ever since the early stages of eCommerce, Internet retailers have focused on low pricing strategies to drive sales and customer recurrence. However, low prices by themselves may not be enough to win customers. Even bargain-hunters want and value good service. If pricing is your strategy for consumer loyalty, all a competitor would have to do is lower their prices to steal your clientele away. Instead of focusing on price, build an online shopping experience that customers will want to come back to, time and time again.

On my next and final blog post of this series on Relationship Marketing, I’ll be talking about the tangible benefits of a well executed customer retention program.

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