They came, they bought, they went away and never came back. 

You've driven a customer to your site with an effective paid search campaign, you've kept their attention with some beautifully persuasive design and a first class user experience. 

Then by making the checkout as hassle free as possible and by offering them free shipping and a terrific returns policy you've given them an exemplary ecommerce experience... Fantastic work! Now you can go home early and watch Adventure Time. 

But wait! How do you encourage your customers to come back? How do you use the goodwill fostered during that first experience into something even more meaningful?

Alright you don't have to go off and buy a boat together, but it would be great if they popped their head round the door every so often in the future. After all retention costs far less than acquisition and achieving higher customer lifetime value makes your business a much stronger prospect for the future. 


On a fundamental level, if you wish to see repeat customers you need to engender certain values they associate with your brand…

  • Trust. 
  • Loyalty.
  • Happiness (hmm, maybe the boat is a good idea).

These are fairly nebulous emotional concepts I agree, and ones that would make your Marketing Automation Robot blow a diode. However there are simple processes you can do to foster the above.

For a start your business at its core must be…

  • Reliable.
  • Credible.
  • Relevant to the customer.

These are three of the most important things that need to be looked at if you want to strengthen your customer retention.

Achieving customer retention

There are some really helpful resources from around the blog that can help your retention effort, this is just a brief distillation of a few effective strategies.

Go above and beyond the call of duty

Zappos has a clever policy of under promising and over-delivering. As revealed in these 10 lessons Zappos teaches us about staff and customer retention Zappos promises delivery within five business days but the majority of orders are shipped overnight.

This may just seem like simple ‘covering one’s arse’ however imagine how happy that customer will be after receiving their order four days early.

Be entirely customer focused

Don’t just say you are customer focused, every company says they’re customer focused, of course they are otherwise they wouldn’t exist, actually prove that everything you do has the best possible customer experience in mind.

Continue to care after the purchase

Hyatt Hotels real-time concierge service is a fantastic example of providing after-care with social customer service.

Notice the fact that this wasn’t a direct @mention. This was a clearly loyal customer talking about the company in general. Hyatt Concierge was monitoring Twitter for mentions and engaged directly with them. It certainly puts Hyatt foremost in mind and is a neat little surprise for the follower.

Make you checkout as fast and smooth as possible

Customers hate hassle. They also hate distractions, confusing messaging and most of all lengthy forms to fill in.

Simplify checkout with as few screens as possible, only ask for the bare minimum of information, offer faster payment options and best of all offer a guest checkout option.

Be a brand with a personality

The US outdoor retailer Moosejaw has a consistently hilarious and quirky tone of voice that runs through all of its website copy, advertising and customer service channels, including live chat. It’s a pleasure to return to and follow on all of its channels. 

In fact copywriting can be a powerful tool in encouraging customer retention. Ecommerce doesn’t often offer the most glittering copy, but if you do then you’ll certainly stand out from the crowd. Why else do you think I keep wittering on about a boat? (I think it’s called onboarding? I might have to look that one up.)

Being personable or funny or a bit weird is far more appealing then offering dry technical specifications. It gives customers a reason to engage with you, love you and come back to you.

Now let's buy a boat!

Just look at this picture. That could be me and you in there.

Further reading for beginners...

During my first year at Econsultancy I’ve been making a point of writing beginner’s guides to any new terms or phrases I find particularly baffling, or that I might suspect other people may find baffling too. 

The following related articles should help clear up a few things:

Our Festival of Marketing event in November is a two day celebration of the modern marketing industry, featuring speakers from brands including LEGO, Tesco, Barclays, and more.

Christopher Ratcliff

Published 2 October, 2014 by Christopher Ratcliff

Christopher Ratcliff is the editor of Methods Unsound. He was the Deputy Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via Google+ and LinkedIn

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Comments (4)


Josh Pettovello

Thanks for posting this! I really found it informative. I'm currently a Digital Marketing student, and I'm writing a blog about it. Feel free to check it out, and any pointers would be great!

almost 4 years ago

Christopher Ratcliff

Christopher Ratcliff, Editor at Methods Unsound / Search Engine Watch

@josh - Very glad to be of help!

almost 4 years ago

Matt Clarke

Matt Clarke, Ecommerce Director at B2B

Interesting post, Christopher. Thanks.

The other interesting thing with retention is that it's poorly defined - if it gets defined at all. That means it's probably not always measured, even though we all know it's an important business metric. It also means that retention rates calculated from the definition of one business can't be compared to those of another because they're probably based on different concepts of what retention is and how it should be measured.

A decade or so ago Royal Mail commissioned a notable study in this field which surveyed businesses to determine whether they thought it was important if see if they could define it. As you would expect, most saw it as an important metric. However, only a quarter had a definition for it and of those who claimed to have a definition, only 20% knew what it was.

Retention is indeed very important, but measuring it and utilising the measurement to monitor and improve performance is impossible if you can't define it in the first place. To utilise retention as a metric it's a prerequisite that you create a definition that's appropriate for your business, from which you can create your model. See:

almost 4 years ago

Daniel Lee

Daniel Lee, Web Analytics Manager at Evans Cycles

Customer loyalty is critical, but very tough to effectively achieve in this era of mass connectivity and discount code availability.

Having said the above, Retention is often the most overlooked method, after Acquisition and 'in-journey Optimisation'.

almost 4 years ago

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