How to Turn First-Time Holiday Shoppers Into Repeat Buyers

More shoppers. Increased sales. Larger orders. This year’s five-day stretch between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday left echoing “cha-chings” ringing through the retail atmosphere. A record 190 million Americans shopped during Thanksgiving weekend, and they’re not done yet.

This will be the first year that every day in November and December will surpass US$1 billion in online sales, Adobe Digital Insights predicted.

This isn’t your mother’s booming holiday economy, however. The majority of those 190 million U.S. consumers did their shopping online — and more than half of Black Friday purchases came from first-time buyers.

The chances that you have had or are going to have a new customer complete an online purchase this holiday season without ever having visited your store (physical or digital), are… well, pretty high.

As if converting a new buyer into a repeat purchaser isn’t already complex enough, add to the mix one hypercompetitive holiday landscape, a litany of never-ending cyber discounts, and the demanding logistics of on-time holiday package deliveries.

What can you do — absent the opportunity to interact with customers face-to-face — to turn your first-time online buyers into repeat customers after the holiday season is all unwrapped and stored away? Here are a few ideas.

1. Check In on Your Digital Storefront

It’s hard to overlook the special attention retailers give their storefronts this time of year. I mean, just take a look at Saks Fifth Avenue. It went all in on its Frozen 2 theme, complete with an Idina Menzel performance, 50-person choir song and dance, and fireworks show.

While there’s likely no tasteful way to reproduce such theatrics on a Web browser or mobile app, retailers should give just as much care — if not more — to their digital storefront.

Assess your online store’s presence in less than five minutes by considering the following questions:

  • How accessible and alluring is your digital storefront?
  • Brick-and-mortar store owners don’t expect customers to put on a blindfold, walk up seven flights of stairs and tap on the door with a secret knock in order to gain access to their shop. They do everything they can to show passersby what they’re selling and how it benefits the consumer.

    A “Come on in. We’re open!” sign encourages browsers to stop by. E-commerce businesses must incorporate the digital equivalent by displaying what they’re selling effectively — most importantly, why they’re selling it.

    This language should be evident from the website’s SEO and meta descriptions to the content on the page itself, and even in the post-purchase text. Shoppers should feel comfortable and welcome on your website throughout every step of the customer journey.

  • Is your site properly optimized for a great mobile experience?
  • Mobile plays an indisputably large role in e-commerce. This Black Friday, consumers relied on their smartphones more than ever, with 61 percent of all visits to online retailers coming from smartphones.

    Content must be simple and clear enough for first-time visitors to navigate quickly from their phones. Assume they will encounter your shop first from a mobile device — because statistically, they will.

  • Do you offer services that have become the “e-commerce norm”?
  • This year, buy online pick-up in store, or BOPIS, grew by 41 percent. Customers are taking advantage of even more fulfillment options to maximize convenience and save on time.

    More and more retailers are offering faster and cheaper shipping than ever, in order to keep up with e-commerce giants like Amazon, and to make the most of a condensed holiday shopping season.

    While it’s logistically impossible for all online retailers to offer BOPIS and next-day delivery, the point is this: Consumers want the benefits of in-store shopping (i.e. immediate possession of product at no added cost) combined with the convenience of online shopping.

    Constantly evolve to make sure you’re offering shoppers maximum convenience, efficiency and value.

  • Is the checkout experience easy and painfree?
  • Shopping cart abandonment long has been an issue for online retailers, and as consumers are switching to mobile transactions, the rate continues to climb. Long, complicated checkout processes don’t convert.

    Here are a few pointers for optimizing your online checkout experience:

    • Display a “check out” option in multiple places on a page.
    • Make sure the process is secure and advertised as such.
    • Don’t require shoppers to fill out long and redundant information in order to complete their transaction (e.g., provide an option to duplicate the billing address as a shipping address with the click of a button).
    • Provide a guest checkout option.
    • Give shoppers several payment options.
    • Give shoppers access to an agent through an integrated live chat feature on your website.

    Most of all –and I cannot stress this enough– make the entire process seamless on mobile!

  • What are people saying about your products and business online?
  • New shoppers often first encounter your brand through other people, including friends, social media connections, and online reviews. Now is a good time to take a look at what’s being said about your store and products online.

    How do you look on Google and Yelp? What are people saying about your customer service and products? Don’t worry if you haven’t generated all five-star reviews, but do resolve and respond to any negative feedback on review sites and social media channels.

2. Set the Hook With a Personalized Experience

Your work isn’t done once the customer enters your shop. In many ways, it’s just begun. Think about it: How offputting (and just plain weird) would it be if you walked into a brick-and-mortar store and were ignored completely by the staff, the fitting room attendant, and the cashier?

When customers arrive in your digital shop, your job is to simplify their path to making a purchase. Consumers are interested in technologies that show whether a product is in stock (55 percent); help them compare prices or read reviews (49 percent); make it easier to find a product or its location (47 percent); or try an item before buying it (38 percent).

Some retailers have implemented a peer-to-peer shopping model, wherein their best customers or “brand advocates” virtually walk alongside online shoppers as they browse, answering questions and making recommendations along the way. These pseudo virtual assistants convert at higher rates than standard customer service reps, and their personalized approach keeps customers coming back.

Because brand advocates are actual users of the product and not hired customer service representatives, shoppers trust them more when asking for their firsthand knowledge and expertise. This model proves particularly helpful during the holiday season when many first-time shoppers are buying products as gifts for family members and friends.

3. Leave Them Wanting More

While it’s great to attract new customers, it’s even more important to turn new shoppers into repeat buyers over time. Repeat customers are easier to convert, have a higher average order value, build up your brand, and require less marketing and organizational spend. The best way to influence second-time purchases is to provide an excellent experience and engage new customers immediately.

Retailers using the peer-to-peer shopping model have found that customers who make their first purchase around the holidays and connect with a brand advocate over live chat during the shopping process are as much as 4.5 times more likely to become repeat shoppers over the next 12 months.

Other retailers have found similar success through the implementation of loyalty programs, discount codes, and redeemable-for-later currency. However, deploying a loyalty program is not a set-it-then-forget-it strategy. Of the 30 loyalty programs the average North American household enrolls in, 54 percent are inactive.

The challenge is for businesses to keep their loyalty programs top of mind for consumers. Strategic metrics around details like return visits, ad engagement, click-through data and email open rates can help you further segment your customers, define demographics, and effectively target your marketing activities.

At the end of the day, what keeps people coming back — both in-store and online — is experience. The best way to deliver that? Be a human. Yes: Be convenient, be digital, be alluring — but don’t rely solely on automation, AI and bots to provide the personalized touch only a human can provide.

Sixty-nine percent of consumers in a recent survey identifiednot being able to reach a human being as the biggest post-sale customer service mistake retailers make.

In a retail environment with little room for error, don’t fall short on the one thing we all have to offer: being a human.

Brandon Anderson

Brandon Anderson has more than a decade of e-commerce experience and is the CEO of Needle, a company that finds retailers' most passionate fans (advocates) and connects them with shoppers in real time. Brandon lives in Utah with his wife and four kids and can often be found enjoying family time with a side of games, pizza and adventures in the family camper trailer.

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