Ecommerce is simple. That’s the premise of this post, which follows on from ‘finding your best products’. The heart of ecommerce is finding your best products and your best customers, in the pursuit of most profit.

The old mail-order mantra of ‘recency, frequency and monetary value’ (RFM) is still useful here. Categorising your customers based on an RFM matrix is the start of identifying your hero customers, and those that need a little more attention.

These posts have been taken from a talk given by Mike Baxter, Econsultancy long-time friend and consultant (author of the Checkout Optimisation guide, amongst other things), at a recent breakfast briefing with Ometria.

Let’s see what Mike had to say…

Mike first cited Donald Libey’s famous book on RFM, published in the early ‘90s.

In short, customers can be defined by three metrics:

  • Recency: The freshness of the relationship between your brand and your customer; indicates when customers slip from active to inactive; the primary measure of business vitality.
  • Frequency: The measure of demand; measured in number of orders per period of time.
  • Monetary value: A measure of customer worth; measured as average order value.

RFM matrix

Here’s the RFM matrix that Mike used to find his hypothetical best customers. You’ll see he has included some numbers for each metric, as an example.

Of course, the numbers one uses here to can have a big effect on RFM analysis. Optimising how customers are categorised, finding the right values for R, F and M can be achieved using CHAID.

rfm matrix

Who are your heroes?

Once the matrix and the categories are finalised, the next step is to identify which customer sets are most important and how your efforts should be divided amongst them. 

Here you’ll notice that Mike has indicated the hierarchy of value within recency, frequency, monetary value. Recency is the most important metric as it’s seen as most indicative of an active customer. 

Of course, a recent and frequent customer is the ideal, whatever their spend. Lapsed heroes, who have spent big and regularly in the past but not for a while, may be worth spending some time on. 

rfm matrix colour coded by customer value

Different heroes, different messages

Drilling down into customer data can help to establish some further metrics, aiming to firm up our appreciation of customer value.

Two customers that look pretty similar, when examining recency, frequency and monetary value, may in fact be two very different types of heroes requiring very different marketing messages.

Let’s take a look at an example that Mike gave:

two different hero customers

You can see here that the two customers have very similar values for recency (26 VS 33 days), frequency (6.5pa VS 8.3pa) and monetary value (£806 total VS £946).

However, key differences can be seen between the two customers, through the lens of gross margin (£187.5 VS £49.7). This looks to be explained by the propensity of one shopper to buy a high number of discount items.

This means that although both should be given love as important customers, the discount shopper should perhaps be targeted with bundled offers or incentivised to refer a friend. The shopper more inclined to buy at full price should perhaps be given more exposure to branding, new products and repeat purchases, or perhaps added value offers (e.g. giftwrap).

Ecommerce teams

Mike’s thoughts on data triangulation led to some conclusions, outside of the strategy for selecting best products, best customers and generating most profits.

The main one is that marketing and merchandising cannot exist in isolation in an ecommerce team. Knowledge of product and customer is essential for merchandising, media spend, email marketing and more. If these two groups of people aren’t exchanging ideas based on regular testing, success will be harder to come by. 

Ben Davis

Published 10 March, 2014 by Ben Davis @ Econsultancy

Ben Davis is Editor at Econsultancy. He lives in Manchester, England. You can contact him at, follow at @herrhuld or connect via LinkedIn.

1231 more posts from this author

You might be interested in

Comments (2)


Melissa McClay, Marketing Manager at Evergage

Great article Ben! Marketers have come to depend too much on RFM - recency, frequency, and monetary value - as a way to create personalized engagements from customers. The problem is RFM only tells a portion of the story.

We at Evergage, we use RPI, or Relationship, Persona, and Intent. Learn about how you can experience an increase in customer acquisition by 6x, double-digit increases in web conversion rates, improvement in bounce prevention and more!

Do it all with RPI - Get your free eBook today to build relationships with customers and make your website your best consultative salesperson!

over 4 years ago

Ben Davis

Ben Davis, Editor at EconsultancyStaff


Thanks :-)

Of course, building on RFM isn't to be discouraged, but the point of these two articles (and Mike's talk) is that many haven't done enough statistical analysis, at a high enough frequency, at this level.

Before looking deeper, marketers need to look again at products and customers in the light of new and more reliable data.

From that grounding, algorithms can be finessed. It's not a case of RFM or RPI, rather adding ever more variables to a solid model that can be traced back to best customers/best products/most profit.

over 4 years ago

Save or Cancel

Enjoying this article?

Get more just like this, delivered to your inbox.

Keep up to date with the latest analysis, inspiration and learning from the Econsultancy blog with our free Digital Pulse newsletter. You will receive a hand-picked digest of the latest and greatest articles, as well as snippets of new market data, best practice guides and trends research.