The Post Purchase Customer Journey and Why Ecommerce Businesses Should Optimize it
The Covid-driven growth in global ecommerce of the past 18 months is here to stay. Businesses in 2021 need to prepare for increased competition from new players entering the online marketplace.
One way to drive your business to the front of the pack is to improve its delivery of the post purchase customer experience, an oft-neglected part of ecommerce business strategy.
Ecommerce is Here to Stay—Make it Pay
Canadian ecommerce company Shopify found in a study that global ecommerce retail sales reached an all-time high at the height of the pandemic in 2020, making up 16.4% of total global retail sales, with 84% of consumers doing some or all of their shopping online. Covid restrictions and lockdowns forced otherwise reticent online shoppers and businesses to take the plunge.
Some of these new recruits to ecommerce dipped their toes in reluctantly, hoping it would be a temporary necessity until the world returned to normal. But it has become clear that the business world has changed forever and that while the growth rate is likely to slow, online shopping trends will continue to strengthen as time goes on.
In what has become a crowded ecommerce world, it is no longer enough to focus only on making sales—the post purchase customer journey has become a vital factor for long-term success in online retail.
What is the Post Purchase Experience?
Post-purchase is the term describing the period after a customer acquires a product. It includes everything that occurs after a buyer clicks the checkout button and makes payment.
- Clear communication
- Speedy delivery
- Efficient handling of order problems such as damages and returns.
Why is the Post Purchase Experience So Important to Optimize for Ecommerce Businesses?
In the past, many businesses focused predominantly on marketing and sales, creating beautiful websites, and pouring investment into advertising.
This is no longer sufficient. With more options available to them than ever before, customers can freely choose where to make their next online purchase. If you have not looked after them beyond the point of sale, they may well go to one of your competitors. You need to foster post purchase loyalty.
While your sales and marketing strategy may attract new customers, excellent post-purchase care will help keep them loyal to you. Consumer studies conducted by solution provider Narvar show that the main factors in achieving customer loyalty are based on post purchase customer support.
How to Win the Hearts and Wallets of your Customers
Let’s face it, ecommerce shoppers have become way more discerning and demanding than in the pre-Covid days. They have high expectations of their online shopping experience, including post-purchase. They want faster delivery, efficient parcel tracking, better communication, and easier free returns.
That can be a tall order for some businesses, especially those new to ecommerce technology, but to stay in the game enhancing post-purchase services is more of a necessity than an option.
Essential Elements of the Post Purchase Experience
For retailers more used to considering their responsibility done once a customer walks out the door, adapting to the new reality can be daunting. But it’s easier than it might sound. All they need to do is replicate the best-in-class post-purchase experiences that leading digital retailers have pioneered, which of course, are far from being closely-guarded secrets.
Essentially, the components of such an experience include the following:
1. Clear Communication
Effective post-purchase communication is key to making your customers feel happy and appreciated, just as a friendly smile and helpful, polite attitude would achieve in traditional in-store retail. Good communication tells your customer: ‘You are important to us’.
The more consumers spend, the better communication they expect post-purchase, so retailers of high-value luxury items need to pay particular attention to communication strategies such as:
- Order confirmation
- Payment confirmation
- Shipping and delivery updates
Wherever possible, personalize your communication. Instead of using the generic ‘Dear Customer’, use your customer’s name and adapt the message to their specific circumstances.
If there is a problem with an order, even if it is beyond your company’s control, let the customer know immediately. Transparency creates trust and bad news is perceived less negatively if customers are alerted promptly and respectfully. A negative could even be turned into a positive if the business offers the customer something to make up for the delay—perhaps free shipping or a discount on their next purchase.
Post-purchase communications are also an opportunity to let customers know of any special offers or deals that could apply to them in the future.
According to an IBM study, the following post-purchase communications have the most influence on a consumer’s future shopping behavior:
- The tracking of online or mobile orders through a combination of channels—88%
- On-time, accurately-predicted deliveries—88%
- Prompt notification of any order or delivery delays—90%
- Communication that the order has been delivered—88%
2. Keeping Track of Parcels
Customers nowadays demand to know where their parcels are at every stage in the last-mile delivery process, so leaving the tracking communication to delivery partners and the postal services is no longer good enough.
Upgraded tracking communication is important for all customers, but especially for newcomers who may not have confidence in the reliability of online shopping. This is the customer that has spent her money, and is now apprehensive about how long it will take for her parcel to arrive—or even if it will arrive.
If such a customer hears nothing from you, she will be filled with post-purchase anxiety and may not have the technological savvy to deal with the problem.
A Real-life Example of How Frustrating it Can Be
Tom wanted to buy a pair of boots for his wife for her upcoming birthday, but the lockdown was in full force in his area. Only supermarkets were open. He decided to try the online option. The first part was easier than he had anticipated. He quickly found what he wanted via an online search, placed his order, and paid for the boots and the delivery charges.
Tom waited and waited but the parcel did not arrive. His wife’s birthday was getting closer and closer. After one of those notorious, on-hold-for-ages, long-distance calls with the company, he was told to contact the international postal service the company had used.
This particular postal service had no email address or phone contact, and he was then forced to create a Twitter account to be able to communicate with them. When he finally got a reply from the postal service, he was told his parcel had left their area and they were no longer responsible. It was up to him, they said, to contact his country’s postal service.
But his country’s postal service had no record of his parcel either. Tom had to go from one post office branch to another in his area until, to his relief, he finally retrieved the parcel from a deluge of other packages—on his wife’s birthday.
Tracking your parcel should never be this nerve-wracking!
Businesses can prevent this kind of exasperating situation by doing the following:
Establishing a dedicated, branded tracking page on their websites where customers can track their orders 24/7. That may take some financial investment in up-to-date technology and tracking systems, but it will pay handsome dividends.
Communicating with customers at every stage of the fulfilment and delivery process via their choice of communication channel—be it email, Twitter, text message, Viber, or other instant messaging app.
Turning the Ecommerce Returns Curse into an Opportunity
With the explosion of online shopping orders, it’s inevitable that the same problem which beleaguers brick-and-mortar retailers will affect ecommerce businesses. We are talking, of course, about the curse of customer returns.
The new generation of online shoppers prefer to touch and see what they are paying for, so will often order an array of items, decide which ones they want to keep, and return the rest. Unfamiliarity with online shopping apps, technology, and international sizing of clothing may also lead to purchase errors.
Online returns can account for as much as 30% of purchases. That’s two to three times the ratio applicable to in-store purchases, and can be very costly for ecommerce companies, many of which have instituted strict return and refund policies.
However, with increased competition, customers are now expecting free, easy-to-manage, and liberal facilities for returning their purchases. According to design-build firm Fortna, 73% of shoppers say their returns experience affects their willingness to buy again from a particular company.
How to Make the Best of the Returns Challenge:
1) Offer free returns with a longer return window. This sends out a positive message to customers, and studies have shown that longer return windows can actually decrease the returns rate. A short window of two weeks, for example, makes customers panic that they may not get their money back, so they return quickly. Give them longer and they often think it through and keep the item.
2) Make it easy for customers to return items by including prepaid shipping labels and reusable boxes with deliveries, and using the rapid delivery services of global carriers that specialise in ecommerce logistics.
3) Make the returns policy clear on the website at the time of purchase.
4) If the business is at fault for any reason, apologize and offer customers a discount on their next purchase, or free exchange.
5) Give refunds promptly, or alternatively, offer a voucher for another purchase on your site.
6) Increase efficiency by outsourcing reverse logistics to a returns management service, which can provide a local returns address in many countries, receive returns on your behalf, inspect and grade them, then return them to you in bulk to reduce shipping costs.
7) Offer an online purchase, in-store return option wherever possible. This can lead to complicated auditing if not managed well, but customers like this option (87% according to IBM), and may even buy something when they come in-store with the return.
The Buck Doesn’t Stop at the Checkout Page
The days when retailers could turn their backs on customers after payment, are over. Covid-19 has changed the buyer-supplier relationship and the shopper has more power than ever before.
Retailers that fail to woo customers with a best-in-class post purchase experience, risk reduced traffic through their ecommerce sales funnels and mass defections to more customer-centric competitors.
Still, creating a stellar post purchase experience is not rocket science. It just needs some adjusted thinking and the willingness to see beyond the exchange of goods for money. The tips we’ve offered here should give you some food for thought—so now you can dish up some post-purchase delights for your customers.