An item is ordered, the details of its shipping communicated with the customer. It’s delivered. End of story. It’s a quirk of ecommerce that when it’s done well, it’s frictionless and nearly invisible.
But when complexities arise after an order has been placed, getting things right in the post-purchase customer experience can not only enhance the customer experience but contribute to the long-term profitability of the brand.
“It’s an expensive area for retailers,” delivery technology provider Metapack’s global vice-president, product, Duncan Licence says of the post-purchase customer service experience. “Failing to deliver a great post-purchase experience is expensive to get wrong, because you lose customers, and you lose the loyalty those customers had.”
For a company to succeed in this area it has to focus on customer service, adding value to the customer journey, the alignment between the digital and physical brand experiences, and returns. That makes it an expensive proposition, as Licence notes. But Metapack’s recent post-purchase experience report indicates that 59.8% of customers say free returns are important to them and 54.7% say that tracking their purchase is very important. It’s a part of the ecommerce proposition that brands should not ignore.
“It’s a false economy. If you spend all your money on acquisition and not on retention, you’ll end up going bust. It’s cheaper and more effective to retain customers and to develop a meaningful relationship with them than it is to keep spending money on acquisition,” says tails.com’s retail director Stephen Hann.
No matter the type, size or maturity of a business, cost per acquisition and retention matter. For tails.com, loyalty is built into its D2C subscription model, but loyalty is also harnessed on retail shelves when the post-purchase experience adds value. The dog food bought in store includes communications directing customers to the online portal, where they can delve into the rich brand experience offered by tails.com. At Clarks, a more traditional business, loyalty and retention are no less important, particularly when bridging the in-store and online experience gap.
Trying on shoes in person makes the purchase process simple. But when commerce is shifted online, free returns become an essential value for customers. Loyalty is built for life at Clarks, with people sticking with the brand from a young age throughout the years. Retention is thus essential to avoid losing a customer that might have been fostered since their first pair of shoes. “It’s instilling the reason to believe or the reason to buy,” says Marcus Oughton, head of ecommerce at Clarks. “Once they have bought into the brand, they should feel good about that. And then if they feel good about that they are more likely to repeat purchase.”
Delivering an excellent experience that leads to loyalty relies on a balancing act between investment in acquisition and retention. Not only do brands have to consider the costs surrounding customer service, including shipping costs, the cost of returns and running a call centre, but they must also find ways to sell more things to existing customers. Licence says: “I think post-purchase is about creating that experience that makes customers loyal but can also help reduce the costs in those areas. A great tracking experience means that people don’t email or call the contact centre. You can create a great experience while at the same time reducing the costs and making a more sustainable business.”
All agreed that pushing operational cost savings too far would ultimately damage the customer experience, so companies must also mitigate risks related to streamlined internal processes and cost-reduction.
That’s where the power of the brand can play a strong role in retaining and acquiring customers. Pet food company tails.com focuses on its brand proposition and the added value it can bring to pets and their owners. Hann says this requires looking beyond just selling products on shelves but communicating with customers about the product they’re buying.
Clarks similarly uses its heritage and quality as a point of differentiation. “There is a need for brands to create an obvious link between purpose and products,” says Oughton. “Don’t be shy about really bringing this link to the fore in all of your communications.” That’s how brands can drive customer satisfaction and commercial growth.
But getting the customer journey right is still the essential focus, no matter the digital maturity level of the business. It’s essential to continue to deliver products on time; to meet customers’ communications needs. And the current landscape around post-purchase is changing rapidly. Customers are demanding personalisation, communication, innovation, all at speed.
Hann says: “You need to be prepared to learn, to iterate. Innovation isn’t just about products, an innovative process or practice can actually generate just as much value for the business, but for the customer as well.” Oughton adds that companies have to be set up to deal with customer needs. The internal culture should be one that is nimble enough, and customer-centric enough to ensure feedback and data are analysed and deployed to build a better customer experience.
That skill will be essential as customer expectations develop over the next few years. “If you go back 20 years, what people were expecting of products and services versus now is completely different,” says Hann. Oughton adds: “I think brands and businesses need to review customer expectations more frequently than perhaps they have done in the past. You’ve got to really understand what your consumers’ expectations are and how they are changing.” And then once a company does, he adds, it is then about determining how to create an agile, technologically enabled process to improve the ecommerce proposition to meet those expectations.
Ecommerce done well may seem simple to the person on the receiving end, but getting that package to their door requires a complex array of decisions, processes and technology. Licence says, “We all want to create sustainable, profitable businesses at the end of the day. But just listening to your customers, looking at the data from their retention, and hearing what they have to say, you can get a feel for what that right experience is.”
It may be signed, sealed and delivered, but the story of the post-purchase customer experience shouldn’t end there.
To read the full post-purchase report, visit metapack.com