No where is the customer experience as much on the line as during the post-purchase experience — but nowhere else does an eCommerce retailer have as much opportunity to engage the customer and deepen the relationship. The post-purchase experience is rich with the opportunity for things to go really well, win repeat business, and improve lifetime value; or go really bad and lose a customer for good. So how can eCommerce businesses optimize this crucial stage of the customer journey?
The Retail Customer Journey Cycle
Let’s take a look at the customer journey itself. Retailers and marketers may categorize the stages of the journey into different names, but overall, the customer journey consists of:
- Awareness/discovery (when a customer becomes aware of your brand, product, etc.)
- Research (the customer researches the product online, reads reviews, ratings, and compares availability, pricing, shipping options, return policy, and payment methods)
- Conversion/purchase decision (the customer adds to cart and checks out)
- Post-purchase experience (the retailer confirms the order, shipping/delivery expectations, and notifies the customer of their order status along the way; the order is delivered, and the customer either uses the product or returns it)
- Post-purchase support and marketing (the customer may engage with customer care to receive support for the product they ordered; the retailer engages the customer with marketing designed to promote additional purchases with product recommendations, promotional sales, discounts, etc.)
- Repeat purchase decision (the customer buys from the retailer again and the process repeats)
At each stage, the eCommerce shopper may either advance or leave the journey. At each stage, the retailer has the opportunity to make the experience as easy, fast, convenient, secure, and supportive as possible. Notice that the post-purchase experience is where the onus for action switches to the retailer; prior to that the customer is the one taking action.
While we’re focusing on the post-purchase experience in this blog, it’s important to understand that brands have to get every touchpoint of every phase of the cycle right to create a holistic customer experience. Customers are only happy when the whole process goes well. They are unhappy when only one part of it does not. So, you must optimize across the entire spectrum.
However, let’s zoom in on the post-purchase experience. Why? Because of all the stages of the cycle, this one has the most potential to significantly create trust and loyalty (and thus repeat business from new customers and existing customers) or to break it. Customer retention is rooted in this stage.
The Post-Purchase Experience Starts Earlier Than You Think
The stages of the customer journey are interwoven and flow in a cycle that never ends (well, it may end for a customer if they jump ship due to a bad experience, but let’s stay optimistic and assume you are going to win their hearts and wallets). What this means is that you need to look at how each stage is rooted in the one before and flows into the one after it.
The post-purchase experience, for example, traditionally starts at checkout, runs through delivery, returns, and oftentimes includes the customer support stage. But it actually begins way back in the Awareness/Discovery stage when customers find your product page and then move into Research. Here, they want to know upfront about product availability, shipping/delivery costs and timelines, and your return policy. All three of these are core factors in the purchase decision-making process.
So, you are setting the stage for the post-purchase experience before the customer adds to cart or checks out. In another example of how the stages are interwoven, it’s in the post-purchase experience that you circle back to awareness and research by making additional product recommendations.
The bottom line: think holistically when you are optimizing a stage. That said, let’s zero in on the post-purchase stage.
What Makes Customers Happy During the Post-Purchase Experience
Once a customer checks out, they’ve already evaluated and made a decision based on the expectations you have set for the post-purchase customer experience. They have understood your product availability, agreed to your shipping and delivery costs and timelines, and feel confident and secure about their purchase because of your returns policy.
So what are they expecting this experience to encompass?
- An appropriate amount of communication. Customers want their order confirmed, a tracking number, a shipping notification, any delay notification, and delivery confirmation. They want to be kept informed, but they do not want to be annoyed. This means they want options for notifications, like SMS or email. For complex multi-component orders, they want daily digests or summary updates. The point is they trust you to handle their order, but want to be able to check on status whenever it’s convenient for them. Providing real-time shipping and delivery tracking options can satiate this need.
- Additional helpful information. Customers want to know who to contact for support during the delivery process, and how to initiate a return. They also want to know any pertinent information such as product set up guides, recommended uses, and other products that may enhance or support their enjoyment or usage of the product.
- On-time delivery. Customers choose to buy from retailers partially based on expected delivery times. Meeting delivery expectations is a careful dance between a retailer, fulfillment center, and the carrier. Unfortunately, most customers blame the retailer if there is a problem with shipping. Retailers that work with eCommerce order fulfillment partners, like Radial, have the advantage of having a partner that has established relationships and contract negotiation power with carriers. This can help improve delivery experiences.
- Readily available help with order issues. Should something go wrong, customers want to be able to easily reach support to understand, correct, or resolve the issue. This means being able to reach a human if an AI bot cannot resolve it. At this point, customers are starting to get unhappy, but are still hopeful for a positive resolution. Making this process fast and convenient can help ease tensions and shift the customer back to happiness. Customer care centers that use AI bots or ChatGPT conversational bots need to be aware that the failure of these to correctly understand what the customer needs lends itself to a negative experience. In complex situations, customers need to be able to connect with a human agent to explain the context of their problem — not be sent in an endless loop of chat bot responses. So be careful in designing AI support agents so they truly improve the customer experience. If you are fairly new in using AI agents, partnering with a customer care provider, like Radial, can help ensure your customers get a best-of-breed experience if the provider is using advanced AI technology.
- Hassle-free returns. A return policy is all about making the customer feel more comfortable and secure that they are not making a mistake by deciding to purchase. From a psychological standpoint, the easier a return policy is, the more assured customers will be. It alleviates any anxiety they may have about making the purchase since they know they can easily get their money back if they change their mind. At the same time, retailers have to battle returns fraud (friendly fraud) and most try to mitigate the costs of reverse logistics. Modern eCommerce retailers do well to accept that returns is a part of doing business and that rather than trying to discourage returns via policies, they should be generous in making returns easy and if possible, free. The customer should not bear the brunt of cost reductions in reverse logistics, but the brand can focus on reducing costs by being more efficient in the returns process. Again, outsourcing reverse logistics to an experienced partner can generate efficiency and cost savings without sacrificing the customer experience.
- Support whenever they need it. Building a lifetime customer relationship means being there for your customers whenever they need it — even if a lot of time has passed from the date of purchase. ECommerce brands build customer loyalty by befriending customers in a way that feels generous and kind every time customers connect with them. Creating customer care that is easy to engage with, friendly, empathetic, and offers the ability to quickly, accurately resolve issues is imperative to customer satisfaction and retention.
Boost Your Post-Purchase Experience with a Partner
Optimizing the post-purchase experience can help brands improve customer lifetime value. Many eCommerce retailers find they can enhance their post-purchase experience by outsourcing it to a proven partner that handles order fulfillment, customer communications, shipping and delivery, reverse logistics, and customer care. Radial offers support in each of these to retailers that want to improve their customer experience, streamline operations, improve efficiency, and work with a partner with long-standing experience and deep expertise and investment in the latest technology, automation, AI, and processes.
Learn how Radial can support you.