With the pandemic-era e-commerce boom giving consumers more options than ever online, it has become especially easy for a negative experience to drive shoppers to competitors. While product will always be king, the reality is how brands interact with shoppers after they complete a purchase can make the difference between a one-and-done and a repeat customer.
Brands that want to build loyalty and repeat business must have a “proactive, transactional communication strategy,” said David Morin, vice president of customer and retail strategy at Narvar. Brands that don’t follow through in this way “are missing an incredible marketing opportunity,” he said. “Post-purchase communications offer brands an ideal environment—enriched by context and transactional data—to continue marketing to customers. Post-purchase is the perfect arena to increase conversion, drive sales and boost revenue generation because it allows brands to connect with shoppers in a way traditional marketing can’t compete with.”
Below, post-purchase experts provide their top strategies for keeping the conversation going after the initial sale is done.
1. Leverage the marketing opportunity
Morin said Narvar helps clients keep the conversation going, even while they’re awaiting their order. Rebecca Minkoff, which works with Narvar, reports that customers return to its dynamic order tracking page 4.4 times post purchase. And thanks to the product recommendations and campaigns highlighted there, the women’s wear brand achieves a 20 percent click-through rate back to its site.
Like Morin, Chuck Fuerst, chief marketing officer for ReverseLogix, noted emails or text confirmations for order acknowledgement and shipping are also sales prime opportunities.
“Within these communications you can educate the customer on additional products and services, present sale items, as well as outline your return policy and process,” Fuerst added. “Companies not providing this level of communication are missing a huge opportunity for additional sales.”
2. Take context into account
Morin noted that brands should factor transactional context into their post-purchase marketing. For instance, if a package is delayed, brands can pause or pull back on marketing. Package delivery can also serve as another chance for a follow-up. Similarly, return completion can trigger a customer win-back campaign—an “effective, but little-used strategy,” Morin said.
3. Recognize that even returns have value
Often, brands will view returns exclusively as a cost center, and will fail to dedicate the right resources and attention to this element of the customer journey, Tasha Reasor, senior vice president of marketing for Loop, added. According to a survey Loop conducted in 2022, 57 percent of consumers are willing to abandon a brand if they have a negative post-purchase experience, while 92 percent regularly check a retailer’s return policy before purchase—an increase of nine percentage points from the prior year.
“Returns are a key step in the customer journey and must be treated as importantly as any other aspect of the entire customer experience,” Reasor said. Apparel brand Aviator Nation offers Loop’s Instant Exchange feature, which allows the brand to ship a replacement item before receiving the return. The promise of no wait time on the exchange has improved the company’s refund rate by 11 percent.
4. Offer frictionless returns
Fuerst also noted shoppers’ interest in reading a store’s return policy prior to purchase and suggested brands make this information easy to find. Fuerst stressed the importance of creating a hassle-free returns experience. “Customers expect their post-purchase return experience to be just as easy and frictionless as the original purchase,” he said.
Genesco Brands, which operates more than 1,400 stores including Journey’s and Johnston & Murphy, reports ReverseLogix has made processing returns 20 percent faster.
Return methods that use QR codes, such as box-less or printer-less returns, are now “table stakes,” Morin said. “Pre-Covid, average adoption of QR code-based return methods was around 12-15 percent,” he added. “At Narvar, we now see the industry average around 25 percent, with some brands seeing over 50 percent adoption. Consumers see them as less of a ‘nice-to-have’ and more of a basic amenity for returning online purchases.”
5. Customize your messaging
Reasor cautions brands against employing a “one-size fits all approach” to customers. Some shoppers, for example, will be “serial abusers” who bracket—purchasing multiple sizes with the intent of returning those that don’t fit—while others may only return goods when needed. These two groups should not receive the same post-purchase experience, she said.
“For those who are determined to be abusers of customer-friendly policies, stricter return windows and return fees should be implemented,” Reasor said. “However, a loyal customer who returns an item once every six months or so should be afforded friendlier, more flexible policies.”
6. Share shoppers’ experiences
Product reviews are a valuable resource for understanding shoppers’ experiences with the products they purchase. Unfortunately, many brands simply do not have the staffing or technology to parse through thousands of such reviews.
Thanks to generative artificial intelligence and natural language processing, some retailers are already starting to unlock the potential of customer feedback. Companies like Amazon are using these technologies to communicate when an item runs large or small, and to provide a summary of what to expect about the product, said Mark Schwans, vice president of marketing for Newmine.
“These actions are going to become the standard expectations for all retailers,” he added. “And if Amazon shows this information to the customer, imagine what they do behind the scenes with it.”
7. Inform product development
Schwans encouraged brands to seize returns as an opportunity to learn from their mistakes—ideally quickly so that they can adjust in season or take preventive measures for the next seasons.
“By understanding the customer post-purchase, retailers improve pre-purchase decisions,” Schwans said. For instance, if a pair of jeans falls apart after washing, Schwans said the retailer can determine if the care label needs to be updated or whether there’s a quality issue at the factory. Either way, the retailer can be proactive in communicating with customers about products that are currently on the market and heading off issues with future styles.
Outdoor women’s wear retailer Title Nine saw its return rate decrease by 10 percent once it implemented Newmine’s Chief Returns Officer, which monitors customer comments to reveal the root cause of why items are being returned.
“These actions demonstrate to the customer that the retailer cares,” Schwans said. “And customers will reciprocate in kind with additional purchases, positive reviews and social posts.”