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4 Strategies That Bring Customers Back to Buy Again and Again

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by: Loren McDonald (@LorenMcDonald)
11 May 2016

Repeat PurchasesMost marketing advice focuses on getting that first purchase from your email subscribers, catalog recipients, mobile shoppers or in-store browsers. However, any retailer will tell you that the first purchase just clears the initial hurdle toward customer loyalty.

Bringing your first-time buyers back is a major ecommerce challenge, given how easily shoppers can browse your competitors. You must meet that challenge, however, because repeat customers are generally more profitable and generate higher lifetime value than your one-and-done shoppers.

Use all your digital channels, and even some offline approaches, to encourage customers to return, shop a wider product array and buy more each time.

Strategy #1: Capture Data from All Touch Points

Learn as much as possible about your new customers. Capture, combine and leverage the data your customers generate from their purchases, digital and offline behavior plus demographic, preference and psychographic data.

As you learn more about your customers, you can put that data to work sharpening and targeting your messages. Customers will be more likely to return if you demonstrate you know them in your messaging:

1) Capture purchase and browse data: what they bought that first time, what they added to carts but didn't buy and what they put on wish lists or checked out on social media.

2) Track your new customers by the email links they click, their activities on your website and the actions they take in your mobile app.

3) Ask for personal and family/friend birth dates and anniversaries at registration or in follow-up app and email messaging. (See No. 5 in the next section for more.)

4) Use post-purchase surveys to collect basic profile and interest data, including addresses, phone numbers and social-media contacts.

5) Build a scoring model using survey, preference and behavior data to slot them into your segments or personas.

Strategy #2: Create Specialty Programs to Drive Repeat Purchases

Now that you've captured various data points, you can leverage them in programs that help turn one-time buyers into loyal customers.

Email will be your primary messaging channel, but also create messages for mobile push notifications or direct mail. (For ideas that incorporate other channels or communication methods, see Strategy 3.)

1) Incentives: Discounts or free-shipping offers are popular tactics. Examples include:

  • Bounceback offers several days after the first purchase. 
  • Cross-sell recommendations with incentives in purchase confirmation and shipping transactional messages.

2) Post-Purchase: A great customer experience is one of the best motivators to bring first-time shoppers back:  

  • Send content-based emails with tips and videos showing how to assemble the product or use it correctly.
  • Ask customers who rate purchases highest to share photos and stories on social media. Refer poor reviews to executives for follow-up, including apologies and significant discounts.
  • Trigger standalone recommendation emails after the initial purchase.
  • Set up replenishment or repurchase emails or push messages.
  • Incorporate a separate onboarding series for new customers.
  • Invite customers to set up accounts for faster checkout.                           

3) Reward/loyalty programs: Include these in post-purchase messages:

  • Add a membership invitation to transactional messages.
  • Outline membership benefits in a standalone message in your post-purchase series.
  • Add dynamic copy blocks to promotional messages that show point status and how close they are to the next round of benefits.

4) Surprise and delight: Show your one-time purchasers some love to turn them into lifetime customers.

  • Surprise selected customers with a meaningful benefit, such as bonus loyalty points, 30-day free shipping or insider invitations to in-store events.
  • Package exclusive information into an e-book or video, such as an e-book for cyclists on the best mountain-biking trails.

5) Birthday/Purchase anniversary: Incorporate offers, rewards points and recommendations based on customers' purchase, browse and cart behavior.

  • Don't wait 12 months to send a purchase anniversary message. Try different intervals such as three, six and nine months, too.
  • Use reminder messages to encourage friend and family gift purchases.

6) Remarketing and replenishment: Use purchase behavior to shape these messages:

  • Incorporate product recommendations and incentives based on the initial purchase into browse and cart abandonment reminders. Use different copy and tone distinguish customers from non-purchasers.
  • Send purchase reminder emails when a product is likely to need replacement or replenishment.

7) Create a lapsed-customer program using email, mobile app and social media retargeting to reach inactive customers. Add one or two profile or preference questions to collect updated data in exchange for a compelling discount or free-shipping offer.

Strategy #3: Use All Media Channels to Contact Consumers

Below are tactics that incorporate other message channels – and even add the human touch that digital commerce lacks – to persuade your first-time buyers to come back again and again:

  • Send handwritten thank-yous to select first-purchase customers.
  • Send catalogs to customers after first purchase.
  • Invite customers to opt in to SMS programs via email, in-store/direct-mail reminders and social media posts.
  • Alert SMS users to advance or flash sales, in-store events or email/web actions that need their attention.
  • Remind customers to download and install your mobile app and then accept push notifications.
  • Retarget customers on social media with display ads based on their initial purchases.
  • Send offers within your mobile app based on initial purchase and browsing behavior.
  • Vary follow-up purchase offers using data from call-center interactions, customer reviews and other satisfaction measures.

Strategy 4: Take the Friction Out of Buying

Sometimes, just making the purchase experience a little easier can spur repeat purchases.

Ask customers to register and set up accounts if they used guest accounts to buy the first time. Remind them of the benefits, such as storing payment and billing/shipping information. Also, add one-click payment methods such as PayPal for your mobile customers.

The Takeaway

First-time buyers have a different relationship with your brand compared with non-buyers. Rewarding the risks they took to make that first purchase with special treatment and personalized messaging will encourage them to graduate from new customers to high-value repeat purchasers.

Learn More About Encouraging Repeat Business: 

1) Ebook: “15 Post-Purchase Emails That Build Loyalty and Drive Revenue

2) Blog: “Rethinking the Preference Center as a Customer Data Center

3) Tip Sheet: “5 Challenges to Building a Loyalty Program – and How to Overcome Them


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