Why Customers Disappear After the First Sale -- and How to Keep Them

Standard marketing strategy leads you to believe that the #1 game in business growth is attracting new customers to discover your store. Find better and flashier ways to grab consumers' attention, and profits will keep rolling in.

That's a really expensive way to do business.

How expensive? Forbes did a great piece on this issue, and according to a study by Bain & Co. a 5% increase in your customer retention rate can lead to a 75% increase in profitability.

Combine that with bounce rates on websites hovering around 80-90% and you can see why getting customers to come back is such a easy win.

I could keep throwing stats at you, but the point is that it's much cheaper to keep current customers than keep drumming up new ones, especially when you have the current customer's email address at your fingertips from the first sale.

So why don't first-time customers automatically become repeat customers? There are probably dozens of reasons, but let's start with the 5 most obvious ones.

5 Reasons Why Customers Don't Come Back to Your Online Store

When I started researching this topic, it was clear that a few problems were universal for every type of ecommerce business. If you want the fast track to increasing repeat sales, this is a good place to start.

You forgot about follow-up emails, they forgot about your store

Connection is everything. If you don't cultivate a relationship with customers, they'll be on to the next distraction -- and there are dozens of them each day.

Every time you get a customer's email, use it -- and use it well. Set up automated messages about new merchandise, promotions, seasonal sales, new employees, or even the cute dogs in your office.

Take every opportunity to let them see you as a real part of their lives, and they'll remember you when they need something your store has to offer.

Take this connection one step further by segmenting your email list. Segmenting allows you to target specific customers by reminding them about ordering refills, suggesting accessories for a purchase they just made, or even offering a special discount for their birthday.

Ongoing contact makes a huge difference.

Post-sale marketing scares them off

On the other hand, there can be too much of a good thing.

Automated email campaigns help drive revenue, but it's easy to overdo them. Make sure you're not flooding people's inboxes with high-pressure sales.

A few years ago, I got to see the impact of promotion overload as a customer. I was on the mailing list of a hip home goods ecommerce store, and after a while, I noticed that I was getting 4-5 emails a day from them. I was annoyed, but just deleted them and went on with life.

A few weeks later, to my shock, the store sent out a huge apology email. Apparently, so many people complained about the volume of emails and unsubscribed that the store pulled back and very publicly promised to send out only one email a day.

You don't have to learn this lesson the hard way. Be familiar with your customers, but don't hog their inbox.

Checkout experience is lousy

No one is expecting you match Amazon's website performance, but when your pages load slowly and the purchase process is confusing, people aren't going to return.

If they need an item badly enough, they'll suffer through the purchase once, but the bad memory of that visit will keep them from buying from you again.

One of the best ways to see if your checkout process needs a tune-up is to sit over the shoulder of a friend or relative as they make a purchase. You'll see the experience with new eyes, and any distractions or confusion will be obvious.

When I'm reviewing a website's performance, here are some of the first issues I check:

Order fulfilment was substandard

Don't only romance a customer before they purchase. Keep them close with follow-up correspondence afterwards.

Attention to details like order status, shipping, delivery time, product packaging, and questions about the product after it's unpacked all add to the general impression of your business. Even if you make a mistake in one of these areas, many customers are understanding as long as you are responsive.

But if you act like you only cared about them during the sale, they'll drop you quickly.

Unhappy with the product

Even with a stellar website, high-quality photos and a detailed product description, you will still have customers who are still unhappy with their purchase. In those cases, do your best to be polite and provide good customer service.

If the item was inexpensive, the customer might decide to keep it and you'll never hear about the problem. That saves you the hassle of dealing with a return, but on the other hand, you might be missing out on some important feedback.

Here are some ways to provide customers with the most accurate impression of the product before they buy so you can minimize returns:

Bottom Line: Keep the Connection

Business is definitely about relationships. The moral of the story here is to take care of the ones that you worked so hard to create in the first place, even if you never see them in person.

The advice in this list applies to almost any ecommerce business, but if you want a deeper dive into the exact problems your store is having with customer retention, you'll need to do a deeper analysis of what's going on. The free course below can help teach you how to evaluate where to make changes to boost your customer retention.

Track down which customer cohorts perform the best

Different groups of people behave differently. Repeat Customer Insights creates cohort groups for you automatically to see how your customers change over time and spot new behavior trends.

Learn more

Topics: Customer analysis Customer segmenting Repeat customers

Would you like a daily tip about Shopify?

Each tip includes a way to improve your store: customer analysis, analytics, customer acquisition, CRO... plus plenty of puns and amazing alliterations.