Selling Online: The goal is repeat visits

Publish Date: 
Apr 1, 2007
By Todd Shafer

How do you keep customers coming back to your site?

The first, and best, way to get more repeat customers is to provide outstanding customer service.

If customers get what they want at a good price and every interaction they have with you is a positive one, you're not providing a lot of reasons for them to shop elsewhere. Making sure that your customer service processes (order processing, customer notifications, returns and exchanges, etc.) are bullet-proof is the cheapest way to keep customers coming back. This obviously has the dual benefit of keeping the revenue coming in, but it also reduces the necessity to do more advertising to replace customers who never come back because you screwed something up.

Rewards programs. Another way to generate repeat customers is with a loyalty or rewards program. Some e-commerce platforms have this ability built in. If yours doesn't, it's often possible to purchase third-party programs that you "plug in" to your system, or you may choose to build your own loyalty program. Most people are familiar with the concept because of airline frequent flyer miles, rewards points on their credit cards, and so on.

If you implement a rewards program, make the benefit accessible. Many companies don't see good returns because the reward levels are so high that there's little motivation for the customer to participate. (Are your customers really going to spend $10,000 to get a free pair of gloves?)

Promotions. Frequently updated sales items and promotions are outstanding tools to keep people coming back, especially if you back them up with e-mails informing them of changes. A cool example of a site that capitalizes on this is Woot.com. It sells only one product, but the gimmick is that every day it's a different product. Millions of people go there every day to see what the new offering is. A similar program may help you keep people coming back and, if you choose good products, keep them buying.

New products. Speaking of changing stuff on your site, another way to keep people buying is to offer new and unique products on your site continually. If people know that you are actively sourcing and offering items they can't find elsewhere, they will keep coming back to see what the latest-and-greatest thing is that they didn't know they needed but now can't live without.

Gift certificates. Internet-only gift certificates are another tool to keep repeat transactions coming in. While they may not start out as a repeat customer due to the nature of gift certificates (the original purchaser of the gift certificate could be a rider's wife or brother) the recipient of the gift certificate now has the chance to cash in a $50 gift certificate on a $300 purchase and then, based on the other items mentioned above, become a repeat customer.

To make this process as painless as possible, your e-commerce platform should allow for the issuance and redemption of gift certificates automatically. This keeps the amount of errors and fraud to a minimum because you eliminate the human element. The system spits out a gift certificate code when it's purchased, and accepts the code and deducts the order total when it's redeemed.

Entertainment. Blogs, forums, and other participatory elements are a great way to keep people coming back. And while this in and of itself does not guarantee repeat customers, just getting them back on your site is more than half the battle.

If you can get them to come back to your site often, and you follow the ideas above, as well as follow the merchandising suggestions from previous columns, you should see a dramatic increase in repeat customers.

Todd Shafer is online sales and operations manager at A&S BMW Motorcycles and Powersports and is also head of FoxDot Marketing and Design.