E-commerce After-Sales Service: Best Practices

Quite frankly, retailers and product-based businesses are failing customers and, in turn, doing a tremendous disservice to their businesses. 

We have been programmed to primarily focus on customer acquisition. Our collective mindset is usually focused on getting people through the doors or completing that online purchase as soon as possible.

After all, the thinking goes, if people get a taste of our goods and services, they are going to remain loyal to our business. 

By neglecting to consider e-commerce after-sales service, we are neglecting return customers at the expense of customer loyalty and increased profit margins.

Report after report has stated that customers have higher expectations in terms of customer service after the pandemic across brick-and-mortar and e-commerce operations. Life is too short, inflation too high and competition is rife. Consumers will no longer accept subpar products with even worse customer service, no matter the price point.  

To survive in today's climate, we need to think of the customer journey from the beginning, end, and repeat to succeed and create longevity for your business. Your repeat customer is your loyal friend and should be treated as such, not as someone you want in and out of your establishment as fast as possible to keep the proverbial hamster wheel of transactions spinning.

Marcin Chruszcz, Account Manager at ExpertSender, explains:

— Following the Pareto principle, 80% of your revenue comes from your 20% most engaged customers. What’s even more interesting is that just a 5% increase in retention can increase revenue by 125% and that 5% of your premium customers can generate up to 40% of your revenue!

How to keep your customers engaged? The answer is simple: Provide stellar e-commerce after-sales service. Here's how and why.

Why is after-sales service important for online retailers?

My foray into the retail world started at age 15 at the now-defunct bookstore chain, Waldenbooks. Since then I have worked in every retail setting imaginable, across two countries, spanning 26 years of work experience. 

I now own a flourishing copywriting business that caters to retail and e-commerce businesses, both small and large. I have proudly gone from shop girl to brand owner. From behind the scenes and as a customer, I have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly side of product-based businesses. 

When clients come to me, nine times out of ten they ask me to assist them with writing webpages, 'About' pages, landing pages, product descriptions, social media captions, in-store campaigns, and video scripts.

Rarely am I commissioned to write thank you emails, delivery notifications, delivery 'how to' pamphlets, and things that would be considered purchase aftercare considerations to turn your recent buyer into a repeat and hopefully lifetime customer. 

This is a missed opportunity on so many levels. 

Clearly, customer acquisition is important. You cannot have a repeat customer if they do not make the first purchase.

The issue is that most retailers devote an average of 80% of their marketing budgets to acquisition instead of equaling the playing field by also focusing on customer retention. 

High customer acquisition costs and not enough focus on retention can quickly make a business unprofitable.

“It is six-seven times more expensive to find a new customer than to keep an existing one.”
Bain & Company

This approach to budgeting is common, yet 41% of an e-commerce store’s revenue is created by only 8% of its customers. Another check for the Pareto principle.

E-commerce after-sales customer journey in a nutshell

Here's the thing. The purchase and customer experience should not end when a buyer finishes their transaction at checkout or hits the ‘Buy Now’ button on a website.

The after-sale service gives retailers ample opportunities to strategically market to first-time or infrequent buyers to become repeat customers. 

I recently went to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London to see the museum's Fashioning Masculinities: The Art of Menswear exhibition. I purchased my ticket in advance online. The day after my visit, I received the following email from the V&A:

After-visit email from Victoria and Albert Museum.

The V&A seized the perfect opportunity to market to me, while I was still buzzing from the exhibition experience.

I always hear from retailers that they do not want to come across as too salesy. Is the V&A's email too in your face? Not at all. This email is like a friend keeping me up to date on the latest happenings.

This is a great example of building rapport with a customer while taking advantage of the momentum to build upon social proof.

In marketing, we love using the analogy of the first date.

How does it feel after you've gone on a first date with someone and you felt that you hit it off with them, then not hear from them at all or only until months later when they need something?

Okay, a bit grandiose but it does happen. Same for when a customer makes a purchase. 

Now, when a customer checks out online, they generally travel through these steps:

  • Purchase 
  • On-screen order confirmation AKA "Thank you page"
  • Payment confirmation email
  • Shipping confirmation email

That's mostly it. You may at times receive an email asking for your feedback or an awkward marketing email. 

Of course, there are exceptions to this general post-purchase journey but these are the exceptions to the norm.

An in-store purchase journey usually looks like this:

  • Customer waits to checkout
  • Customer goes to the checkout clerk or automated checkout machine
  • The customer is asked if they have a loyalty or membership card
  • They make their purchase
  • It's usually bagged up and a receipt is offered

Seems a bit old-fashioned, right?

Do not allow the checkout process to become a demoralizing experience for the customer and clerk. Be clever and find digital solutions to streamline this process. Find ways to capture your buyer's information to market to them and create that circular pattern.

Your products alone will no longer sell your stock. There is just too much competition out there with similar products usually made from the same sources.

Business owners need to think of the customer’s journey as a circle rather than just a beginning, middle, and end. 

Pay attention to the after-sale logistics and shipping

It's natural to assume that your post-sale logistics, packaging, and shipments have to be flawless, sustainable, and in tune with your brand persona. 

Transparency and managing buyers' expectations from the beginning are key. Consumers are increasingly open to supporting brands if the brand provides accurate information about expected delivery times with status updates.. 

Try to make accurate delivery promises and provide relevant tracking information as soon as possible. Notify the customer if a shipment is delayed, instead of waiting before they figure out something is wrong with the delivery themselves.

Ingrid Tracking in action.
Ingrid Tracking

Apart from including transparency in your e-commerce delivery strategy, make it easy for your customer to reach a customer service representative, access a contact form, or FAQ page should any questions or issues arise.

It's just bad business to make buyers dig around for this stuff and feel like no one will answer their questions. 

E-commerce after-sales service is not just good etiquette 

My most watched Instagram reel (@copyunleashed) is about my delight in unexpectedly finding a free, full-size package of Aero chocolate melts with my Deliveroo order.

I was ill that day and thought no better way to end the day and heal my spirit than with a big steaming bowl of phở from Pho Restaurant. What I found interesting was that Deliveroo always marks their delivery slips with the words ‘repeat customer,’ which I am.

It was that little surprise gesture that made a positive impression on me. It made me feel special to be a repeat customer, especially with inflation on the rise.

I also noted that the Aero chocolate melts came with a marketing postcard that contained a QR code so I could easily find more details and make a quick purchase. Smart, Nestlé, smart.

Rethink e-commerce returns as a part of the after-sale experience

With retail, there’s a direct correlation between how much customers trust you and how much they’re willing to spend with you. The post-sale process is a way to boost trust, authority, and sales for your brand.

And what step in the purchasing process encompasses all those opportunities to shine with your customers? It's the step that most retailers fear the mostthe return process. 

Nearly 74% of consumers feel retailers’ return experiences need to improve. Focusing on your returns process can help you stand out from competitors.

In a 2021 Think With Google article, the retailer Michael's slightly shifted their automated marketing efforts to highlight its 60-day free return policy. A few weeks after adding its return policy, Michaels saw an 11% increase in average order value and a 56% increase in conversion

Remember that a generous return policy doesn’t necessarily mean a spike in returns; it may just be a source of comfort for individuals who haven’t shopped with you before and are hesitant to make a purchase without having any guarantees about product quality or customer satisfaction.

Returns are a natural part of the retail industry. You can easily leverage returns to improve customer satisfaction, inspire loyalty, establish new revenue streams, and make it work for you instead of being a hassle for everyone involved. 

The only issue here is that product returns are seen as one of the most problematic aspects of sustainable e-commerce today. Luckily, innovative companies like turnr are here to address the challenge.

How to leverage e-commerce returns to your advantage

  • Make returns as seamless as possible to save time and money in the long run. You must have a strategy in place for this. Make it work for you and the customer.
  • Outsource your efforts or develop an in-house system especially dedicated to this process. Don't let it sneak up on you as your customers will become discouraged straight away. 
  • Don't make customers hunt for your returns policy. Include your return information on all packing slips and receipt pages. Repeat — more trust, more money spent. 
  • Returns are an opportunity to show that you care and gain an understanding of why a customer is returning an item to course correct and save a mountain of money in the long run. 
  • E-commerce can drive in-store foot traffic with convenient returns. A survey found consumers preferred returning online purchases in stores. Retailers who make this process easier earn a competitive advantage. Shoppers like to return items to stores because they get immediate credit back for their return and they can shop for other items.
  • Returnless refunds can help to reduce the environmental carbon footprint a brand uses during the transport process. If environmentalism is part of your brand values, then this is one to consider. 
  • A few days after a return has been made, send the returner an email acknowledging the return, see if they need anything else, and take the opportunity to show them other items or best sellers that may motivate them to return and buy. 

Invest in after-sales email nurturing sequences

Not all customers will be ready to shop with you straight after a purchase has been completed, but a post-sale email flow sent a few days after purchase can keep you fresh in the customer's mind and develop that all-important relationship.

It also gives you an opportunity to cross-sell to them if they perhaps forgot something during their initial purchase. 

A basic post-sale email flow consists of:

  • Order confirmation email
  • Shipping confirmation email
  • Delivery check-in email
  • Care or usage instructions with video if possible
  • Review or testimonial request

Your customer will be eager to read these emails to your advantage. Take the opportunity to cross-sell, up-sell, sign them up for a loyalty program, or provide additional information to make their purchasing experience even better. 

As you can see from the Victoria and Albert Museum email example I received after my recent visit, the V&A used the opportunity to ask me to sign up for their newsletter, leave a review, join their members' program, and find out what‘s happening next to get me excited about visiting again - all in one email. 

Personalization — your bottom line will thank you

I recently attended an email seminar with the famed marketer Ann Handley, the best-selling author of Everybody Writes. Ann stated that "Being in someone's inbox was a privilege." 

With this in mind, it is pivotal to have some personalized content in your post-sale relationship-building email series. 

Personalized product recommendations are curated product suggestions that are unique to the individual buyer based on their behaviors and profile. 

You can use AI technology, algorithms, and buyer history to offer personalized suggestions to encourage sales and eventually increase average order values. 

Remember as retailers, we are problem solvers, so if we suggest great additional items to purchase for a completed transaction, then it's a win-win situation. 

Examples of personalized content for after-sale service emails

  • Post-purchase email to share personalized product recommendations based on the customer's recent purchase behavior.
  • A notification when your buyer's stock is running low (e.g., printer paper, ink, makeup, toiletries, etc.)
  • Sending a short instructional video on how the buyer can use their new product with cross-selling suggestions
  • Promotional discount codes
  • Free shipping offers

This email from supplement brand Ritual uses both a promotional code and a free shipping offer to entice their email subscribers who are most likely made up of their repeat customers.

After-sales email example from Ritual.

A fantastic way to up your email offers is to highlight one of your best-selling products to a recent buyer in an email along with testimonials for the almighty social proof. This is classic retail persuasion at play. Unfortunately, not many retailers are currently doing this.

Take your post-sales notifications to the next level

If you think including personalized product recommendations in your post-sales email is too much of a hassle, intrusive, or potential overkill — then check out these statistics:

The personalized email (or SMS) content is an effective way to improve the post-purchase experience and gain repeat customers. Remember, repeat customers will make up the bulk of your revenue.

After-sales customer retention strategy for e-commerce 

Okay, so you received your initial purchase from a customer. Now how do you get them to go into a buying circular pattern than just plain ol' flatlining?

You offer them value in the form of a customer loyalty program.  

A customer loyalty program is a proven retention strategy that helps to secure relationships, increase profit margins, increase customer lifetime value, and improve profitability. 

As many as 84% of consumers say they would keep on buying from a company that offers a loyalty program. With that, 66% of customers state earning rewards influence their buying behavior. 

Sephora is known for having a strong customer loyalty program. The program has over 17 million members who make up nearly 80% of the company’s sales.

First three steps to building a strong loyalty program

  • What your business objective is for starting a loyalty program and making more money is obvious. Make a list of finite reasons, like decreasing churn, increasing average order value, improving customer retention, etc. This reason will inform your loyalty program strategy and methods
  • Target audience - who are you aiming for? You'll want to reward ideal customer behavior
  • Then determine the structure of your loyalty program around your target customer

Once you have your loyalty program off the ground, you can then consider segmenting your members into groups, like high spenders, coupon lovers, and one-time buyers to create tailored rewards for each group. The best way to segment these different groups is by the amount they spend on average.

It's simple. Reward your loyal customers and give them a reason to keep coming back. Offering a sample product when a certain threshold is met is a low-cost retention strategy for your business when compared to the loyalty it generates, which in turn is an effective way to introduce new products to your existing customers. 

About 70% of shoppers prefer engaging with loyalty programs during their holiday shopping, and half of those customers will spend more on purchases than they otherwise would have.

Having a steadfast loyalty program means that you can cut back on acquisition costs, create social proof with word-of-mouth marketing, and encourage customers to use referrals to get money off future product purchases.

E-commerce after-sales service is no longer an option

Loyal customers don't just buy more, they also refer new customers to you. Referred customers cost little to acquire and they begin to generate profits much earlier in their life cycles.

The easiest and cheapest buyers to sell more to are your existing customer base. It is more cost-effective to advertise through retargeting, social media, and email marketing to this group of consumers. 

In apparel, repeat customers spend more than twice in months 24-30 of their relationships with a retail entity than in the first six months. Like with most things, it can be a long process but extremely worth it. 

Customer acquisition should not be the foundation of your marketing plan. Yes, the acquisition is important but should not take the focus away from customer retention. 

It just makes business sense to take the post-sale process as an opportunity to surprise and delight your customers to become repeat buyers. If you take care of them, they will take care of you. 

Book a demo to find out how Ingrid can help you improve your delivery experience and e-commerce after-sales service.

Improve your delivery experience

You’re one step away from scaling your business. Book a demo to find out more.