A Typical eCommerce Customer Journey In 2021

Before we talk about loyalty and retention, we have to talk about deepening the relationship between the customer and the brand to make it more memorable and legitimate.

You’re lying in bed. The lights are off. You’re scrolling through Instagram before you drift off to sleep. Cute dog video. ASMR video. Ad. Cringey engagement shoot from someone you haven’t spoken to since high school. Ad. Meme. 

Suddenly, an ad catches your attention. A before and after photograph of a woman’s hair. You click through to learn more. You’re taken to a product page. You scroll through the photos. Read the reviews. You’ve never heard of this brand before so click to the homepage to learn more. Check the time and realize you’d better go to bed in earnest. Phone off.

The next day, on your way home from work, you’ve mostly forgotten about the ad from last night. Then you get another ad from the same brand: a video testimonial from what appears to be a real person. This time you click through and purchase.

You forget about this completely until the package shows up at your door. Momentarily, you feel like a kid on Christmas morning. Unwrapping “presents” is fun. The packaging is minimal. The product sits on your kitchen table for a few days until you remember to bring it upstairs to the bathroom to try it out.

In the time that has elapsed since you made the purchase, you’ve seen at least a dozen ads from different brands who offer similar products. You have heard little else about the brand you purchased from, digitally or IRL. Of course, you didn’t subscribe to their emails or texts. The content is always irrelevant and way too frequent.

You try the hair product for the first time that weekend (can’t risk a bad hair day during the work week). Your standard hair routine consists mostly of drugstore products that you purchase with your groceries from Target, plus one or two higher end products that you purchase at the local salon when you get your hair freshened up.

The results: good enough, but not as good as the before and after picture. You were expecting a hair revolution: the product that would finally tame your frizz and deliver Real Housewives hair at home. You use the product a few more times when you have extra energy to invest in your hair routine.

When it’s time to top up your shampoo and conditioner you head to Target again. Maybe you try a new drugstore product with similar claims as the DTC product you ordered a month ago. Or maybe you discuss the experience with your hairstylist, and they recommend something else you could try.

At this point the DTC brand has almost faded from your memory completely. You see their ads occasionally but you scroll right past them. Hair isn’t top of mind for you at the moment.

Five to six months later you’re flagged as a “churn risk” by the brand and the frequency of the advertising increases. It’s hard to ignore. You check out the brand’s Instagram grid to see if anything new or interesting has transpired. They released one new product in the interim, but it doesn’t feel relevant to your concerns. By this point you’re kind of over it.

When we talk about customer retention, this is what we have to overcome. Paid social advertising is one of the most popular forms of customer acquisition today, especially for new brands with limited resources.

Making a first purchase doesn’t mean you’ve won a customer’s trust and loyalty, and it doesn’t guarantee that you’ll cut through the noise of a competitive, crowded consumer landscape to win a second purchase.

When we talk about loyalty and retention, we have to talk about deepening the relationship between the customer and the brand to make it more memorable and legitimate. A customer can’t become loyal if they never make it to their second purchase.

Here are some things the brand in this scenario could have done to improve the odds of a second purchase:

Make Your Brand Real

Cultivate some discussion or promotion of the brand in the real world, be it paid promotion, organic enthusiasm or PR. This will increase the effectiveness of your ads and make your brand seem more real and legitimate. 

Add Value With Email & SMS

Develop a clear value proposition for opting in to your email or SMS marketing channel, and articulate that value prop to new and potential customers. “Sign up for new product launches and 10% off” is not a value prop.

Even better: promise new customers that you’ll stop emailing or texting them after 30 days, and that you’ll only use these channels to share educational content specific to their purchase. At the end of the 30 days, give them an option to stay subscribed.

Optimize The Unboxing Experience

Make the unboxing experience more memorable. Some ideas: personalized thank you notes from the team, stickers, posters, postcards or a “surprise” gift with purchase.

Follow Up In Person

Assign a member of the customer care team to follow up with new customers via a phone call one to three days after their order is delivered. This person should confirm the package arrived as expected and ask if the customer is happy with their purchase. They can also share upcoming promotions, product launches, or provide an offer specific to new customers.

Stay Top Of Mind Post-Purchase

Use paid media, especially paid social, to expose the customer to the full breadth of the brand’s product assortment in the 30 days after purchase. If there is content to promote (tutorials, education on ingredients, etc), even better.

These ideas are just the tip of the iceberg. The end goal is to make your brand memorable, so that when it’s time to purchase from the category again the customer thinks of YOU first.