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9 website best practices to increase customer retention—according to an ecommerce strategist

Note: This post was originally published on the Omniconvert Blog in September, 2021. 

Acquiring new customers can be expensive. You pay thousands of dollars in paid advertising to grow your customer base, but what are you doing after? The payoff to acquiring new customers isn’t profitable unless you’re also retaining them after they purchase.

Here’s the truth: existing customers are 31% more likely to spend more on their average order value with you. You’re also 60%-70% more likely to sell to an existing customer over acquiring a new one, according to SEMRush.

Yes, acquiring customers is important, but so is customer retention. And that requires a strategy of its own.

While a retention strategy spreads across all of your marketing channels, there are improvements you can make directly on your website to see a positive increase. That’s what we’re going to focus on in this article. 

Note: customer retention isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. What works for some brands won’t work for others. It varies by industry, product, and brand. So the key is to get creative by finding out what your customers respond to and build your strategy around that.

Keeping that in mind, I’m going to dive into a few of those best practices, the retention “must-haves,” and common considerations when building your on-site customer retention strategy.

What areas of your website provide the most opportunity for retention

A retention strategy should be entirely customized to your brand and its customers. The page you focus on will depend on where you see the best opportunity to drive these long-term relationships. 

Erin DeCesaris, the Ecommerce Growth Strategist at Fuel Made, uses data to find where these opportunities are. Here’s her advice:

“Review your site data to see what pages users are most frequently visiting, and how those pages perform, to determine where the biggest opportunities for optimization are,” she said. “Take your marketing plans into account—what pages do you send users to?  Especially for top-of-funnel channels like Facebook and Instagram, use those landing pages to capture user information for retention marketing.”

Your customer data will give you deeper insights into where you should spend time engaging with customers. But there are still a few pages on your website that you should absolutely focus on, including your

  • Homepage
  • Product pages
  • Category pages

Knowing this, let’s dive into retention marketing “must-haves” and “nice-to-haves” that you should be considering to optimize those pages well.

5 website must-haves to increase retention

By “must-haves,” we mean these are ideas you must prioritize in order to effectively grow your retention rate. 

Build trust with your customers

Building trust is the foundation of a strong relationship between a brand and its customers, which is key for increasing customer retention. 

But what does it really mean to build trust? It comes down to meeting (and exceeding) customers' expectations with product quality, shipping speed, website presentation, and customer support. 

It’s important to clearly communicate on your website who your brand is and what it stands for—and following through on that promise. 

Tactically, this translates to things like price and promotions transparency, accurately communicating your shipping costs and timeframes, and having customer-centric returns and support policies in place.

Additionally, you can share testimonials, reviews, and user-generated content on your website and in your emails to show customers that your brand is well trusted. 

Check out Cocokind’s product page, as an example of a clean design with many trust-builders included. On each product page, Cocokind shares its customer reviews directly underneath the product title. Beneath the “add to bag” call-to-action, it highlights its U.S. shipping policy, which is also shared in a banner at the top of the webpage, too. 

By adding a “frequently bought with” section underneath, Cocokind upsells relevant products that complement what the customer is currently looking at. Using these communication tactics, Cocokind is sharing valuable information with customers to build some trust before they even decide to purchase. 

Screenshot of Cocokind's product page

Use a variety of email and SMS opt-ins

It’s important to collect email and SMS opt-ins right away. This gives you the ability to continue engaging with new visitors beyond their first visit to your site.

Ask customers for their contact information as soon as they land on your site—and incentivize them to give it to you. You can stay in contact with those customers even if they don't convert on the first visit, and begin collecting information that will allow for increased personalization in the future.”

Two of the most effective tools to collect emails and phone numbers are pop-ups and quizzes. With both, you can collect more than contact information—you can collect zero-party data and ask customers for their shopping preferences, too. 

Take Tomlinson’s Feed’s pop-up, for example. It asks customers if they want a free dog treat or cat toy, and then asks if they’re a dog person, cat person, or other.

Pop-up from Tomlinson's Feed which asks customers if they'd prefer a cat toy or dog treat, and then asks what kind of pet they own

Using this information, Tomlinson’s Feed created this personalized welcome flow to recommend only products the customer would benefit from (there’s a version for dog owners, too): 

With customer data like this, you’ll nurture long-term relationships because you’ll understand what kind of products customers are most interested in, making it a valuable experience every time you communicate.

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Make your customer support readily available

Your customer service can set you apart from your competitors. In fact, for 95% of consumers, customer service is important in building loyalty (Microsoft). Additionally, 32% of consumers won’t shop with a brand they love after one bad experience (PWC).

From the moment customers land on your site, to making a purchase, receiving a product in the mail, and making a return, a solid customer service experience is what will keep those customers coming back.

So be kind, be helpful, and respond quickly. Not only do you need to support customers with their requests, but you also need to make sure they have access to your customer support at all times. Consider adding live chat to your store to automate the process.

Be transparent about how your shipping and returns work

Here’s a fun fact: unexpected shipping costs are the top reason why customers abandon their carts. And not being transparent about your shipping and return policies can harm your relationship with customers.

Let people know upfront what costs there may be with their orders, how your shipping works, when they can expect items to arrive, and how they can return them if need be. This information needs to be shared before customers get to the checkout page. 

You can add it to the following areas:

  • Product pages
  • Email flows
  • Homepage
  • FAQ page
  • Shipping and returns page (yes, create a dedicated page for it)
“Even if you're selling digital products, make it clear to the customer how they receive their product. ‘Surprise costs,’ like unanticipated shipping fees or delays, are one of the top reasons customers abandon their cart at checkout.”

- Erin DeCesaris, Ecommerce Strategist at Fuel Made

Collect and share product reviews

Plain and simple, “Product reviews are table stakes in ecommerce at this point.”

AKA, you need to have them. 

Not only are reviews important on the acquisition side (because they can give customers the confidence to purchase your products if others had a good experience), but they’re helpful for driving retention too. 

Here’s how you can use them on the retention side:

  • Add them to your email flows to continue to remind customers why people love your products.
  • Offer customers unique discounts or extra loyalty points for sharing an honest review after making a purchase.
  • Use your negative reviews to discover where you can improve the customer experience, leading to more happy customers in the future.
  • Respond to reviews to show customers you appreciate them and nurture them.

Take Paleovalley, for example; after recommending its product, they use the next content block in their email to share a customer testimonial and review to help drive the sale.

 

4 nice-to-haves to drive customer retention 

As a growing brand, you won’t be able to accomplish everything. But if you have the resources, here are four additional ways you can drive customer retention on your website.

Educate customers on how to use your products

Helping customers learn about your product’s benefits and how to properly use it is important for them to stay loyal, especially if you sell a complicated product. If customers get frustrated trying to use it, they’ll give up—and you don’t want that. 

To help them be successful, educate them by writing how-to content on your blog, sharing educational videos of people using your products on YouTube and Instagram, and create email flows that walk them through how to properly use it after they purchase.  

Here’s an example from Premama Wellness, which uses its blog for educational content all about calculating due dates, motherhood stories, sperm tests, prenatal health, and more. 

Screenshot of Premama's blog

This helps educate Premama’s customers on pregnancy health, showing that Premama is a credible thought leader in the space and can be trusted.

Offer a subscription program

Subscription programs are a great way to drive retention. The program is literally designed to make sure customers continue to purchase your products. 

But, they don’t work for every industry. 

If you sell replenishable products, like consumables or skincare, subscriptions are a no-brainer way to get predictable revenue and keep users engaged with your brand. 

If a subscription model does work for your brand, make sure customers know that you offer one. Highlight your subscription offering on your product pages, on your homepage, or on your cart checkout page. Don’t forget to give customers the option to subscribe via email too!

Pro Tip: The main idea for subscriptions is to incentivize customers to do it. This is typically done with cost savings, free shipping, or both. So don’t just offer a subscription where customers pay full price for products, but rather make it worth their while to do so.

Check out Cocokind’s subscription program as an example, which offers customers the option to save 8% and get free shipping when they subscribe. They can also choose how often their product arrives (every month, two months, or three months). 

Screenshot of Cocokind's subscribe and save option on their product pages

Other ways to make your subscription program valuable include adding benefits like free merch, a birthday discount, early access to products, free products, or access to a private community. 

Create a loyalty or referral program

For businesses that have an opportunity to increase repeat purchases (cosmetics, skincare, apparel, food and beverage), a loyalty program can help. 

Not only does it gamify the shopping experience when customers can get exclusive benefits by becoming a VIP member, but a points-based system for exciting perks is a great reason for customers to stay loyal to your brand. 

For example, customers of Cocokind can keep benefitting from the brand’s loyalty program simply by referring friends and family to make purchases, earning both the referrer and referee $5 off any order. 

Screenshot of Cocokind's homepage with their loyalty program widget

Cocokind’s loyalty program is also easy for anyone to sign up for because it’s available on every page across the website as a simple widget. 

“Implementing a strong rewards program is a great way to gain customer data for remarketing and continued engagement; it also incentivizes customers to come back and shop with you again and again!”

- Erin DeCesaris, Ecommerce Strategist at Fuel Made

Continue to engage with customers with value-add content

The key to customer retention is to keep providing value to your customers, giving them a reason to stay engaged with your brand. 

However, what a lot of brands don’t realize is there’s a lot of value in sharing content. Blog posts, videos, social media posts—all of these are considered value-add content and can be shared in your post-purchase communication with customers.

For example, if your brand has a cool backstory or inspiring mission, customers will be interested in learning about it. And it can bridge a stronger connection between your relationship with customers that believe in a common mission. 

If there are any charities your brand is involved with, share that with your audience. Customers will feel good about their purchases if they know part of the money is going towards helping a charity they care about.

And as we mentioned before, you can also educate customers on how to use your products properly. Show them in videos and blog posts why your products are beneficial and how they can get the best outcome out of using them. If customers see the benefit of your products, they’ll continue to purchase them.

All of this can be added, of course, on your website, but you can also share it on your social media channels and in your emails. 

Website retention best practices to keep in mind

Now that you’ve got tons of ideas on how to improve your retention strategy directly on your website, there are several best practices to keep in mind when it comes to customer retention. 

Here’s what our team takes into consideration before building a web retention strategy: 

  • Run A/B tests and heatmaps to figure out what works best for your customer. Remember, website features that work well for others may not work well for you. Testing is how you’ll learn your customer’s behavior and what messaging works well for them. However, don’t test everything. Anything related to pricing (promotions and shipping offers) can create a nightmare for your customer service team.
  • Dive into customer support conversations. It’s too easy for brands to mimic their competitors without giving it any real thought for how it’ll impact your customers. Remember, your customers are different. Spend time reviewing customer support conversations to really understand what your customers want, and where on your site they're experiencing friction, and focus your efforts on improving that.
  • Collect customer-first data. This information can tell you a lot about who your customers are and what their shopping preferences are. Do this with quizzes, surveys, email preference centers, and pop-ups. 
  • Don’t assume customers understand your products. Plain and simple, what may make sense to you may not be clear to your customers. It never hurts to over-communicate your product benefits and provide a path for first-time users to understand how your product works and essentially “onboard” them to your brand.
  • Continue to surprise and delight customers. Providing a valuable shopping experience at all stages of the buyer’s journey gives customers a reason to keep engaging with you. This can be done in ways as small as fun gamified website features, to offering tangible benefits like free samples or expedited shipping.

And remember, a retention strategy is not a one-size-fits-all solution. So do the work to learn about your customers first, and you’ll see a positive payoff when you nurture relationships in a way that keeps them coming back for more.

Good luck!

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Tina Donati

Tina Donati

Tina is Fuel Made's senior agency marketing manager. When she's not geeking out about ecommerce and SEO, she can be found reading a book, watching Netflix, or walking her dogs.