Every business likes to imagine that we are at the epicentre of our customer’s hearts and minds but in reality we’re not.
Customers wake up and don’t naturally get excited about going to the bank to open a fixed deposit account, buying groceries through an app or booking flights for a future holiday.
This is because before a prospective customer learns about your e-commerce business and makes that first purchase, they’re busily exploring and discovering the external universe that exists outside of your brand. And that’s where the customer discovery journey begins — outside of your brand.
It’s essential for businesses to recognise how and when customers transition from this larger ecosystem to why they specifically choose to engage with your brand amidst the many choices within the market.
1. Pre-Registration: The Path of Exploration and the Power of Pre-Research
In pre-registration, the customers-to-be are on a path of exploration and discoverability. They spend time speaking with family and friends, researching on Google, watching videos on YouTube, reading the news, following social influencers and searching for communities that share similar core values. That’s a lot of research across many different platforms. In fact, studies have shown that 62% of customers research externally before they visit an e-commerce business to make their first purchase. Additionally, 77% analyse independent product reviews, and 60% use aggregators to compare price with product characteristics for a smarter dollar.
They might not have discovered your business yet, but they will if their curiosity to learn (educate), browse (explore), search with intent (discover) and most importantly purchase (first level of trust) brings them to your products and services that are relevant to what they are looking for.
People research externally, but what e-commerce businesses truly want are customers who do the research (and buying) on their website.
2. Post-Registration: First Level of Commitment
The best e-commerce businesses are focused on delivering memorable online experiences for their customers (and visitors) to fall in love with their products. We have to remember that the act and behaviour of searching and browsing is fundamentally utilitarian, whilst favourable shopping experiences are emotional, guided and memorable.
When a customer discovers your brand and — more importantly — their first interactions are positive, there is a higher chance that they will take a leap of faith to sign up for an account. The act of registering for an account on your e-commerce platform is the first level of commitment.
They’ve chosen to share personal information with you and pro-actively consented to receiving marketing materials to learn more about your services, products and brand story. For now, the customer has decided you are a suitable adviser.
But for visitors who aren’t convinced (yet) or only want to purchase without creating an account (guest checkout), they’re choosing to not give you this commitment.
3. Pre-purchase: Exploring the Smaller Ecosystem
In this transition, the customer has learnt about you and is exploring a smaller ecosystem: your e-commerce space. Depending on the overall end-to-end experience, studies have shown that customers measure the following to decisively determine whether they will make their first purchase with you:
- Diversity of brands and categories that are carried. (You’re only as good as the company you keep)
- Quality and range of product assortment and availability (Are products available to the customer’s personal preferences: colour, type, size, quality and quantity)
- UI/UX & CX of the website (Is the overall experience of searching, browsing and buying pleasurable without too many pain points)
- The checkout experience (Will the experience be intuitive, simple and without any hidden costs)
- Optional sign-up bonus (Special promo offers to entice first time customers to sign up via discounts on selected products or free shipping)
Everything else is secondary when making the first purchase.
4. Post-purchase: First Level of Trust
When a first-time customer buys a product on your e-commerce business, they’ve transcended from giving their commitment to giving you their trust with a purchase.
This is a phenomenal first step of achievement for any e-commerce business; but, from the macro perspective of continuing customer retention, what’s more important is learning:
- was the overall experience painful, pleasant or memorable? why and if it was painful what are the strategic steps to turn around an unhappy customer to a potential returning one again?
- what gives the customer the most joy when they are interacting (not just purchasing) with your brand?
- How do we get customers to perceive brand differentiation and emotional invest in us for the long-term?
Memorable experiences are important because they are fundamentally about positive exchanges that incite an emotional resonance in people and this will be what customers remember and tap into when they choose to engage with your brand during the next visit.
Tubik Studio expanded on this with How Human Memory Works:
“Memory presents an amazing natural complex of data storage and processing. It keeps great loads of information through life and is even able to organize it for the sake of the holder. Moreover, it takes responsibility of setting priorities and keeping some details which could be remembered just off the top of our heads while erasing others which seem not necessary or haven’t been used for a long time. Human memory is one of the mechanisms determining person’s interaction with the outer world.”
Market leaders have always imbued emotional connections as part of the broader strategy that involves every department across the business from product development and marketing to business intelligence and customer service.
5. Pre-returning: Tapping into Memory
Most e-commerce businesses would celebrate after a customer’s first purchase; but what we don’t realise is that this is where we are most vulnerable in losing them too.
How many times have we personally experienced a confusing long checkout process, a late delivery of a new order (with no visibility of the delivery status), countless EDMs that are focused on product pushing only and a poor post-purchase customer experience that automatically directs you to the FAQs page? This transition of post-purchase to pre-returning is the biggest opportunity in translating a one-time consumer into a possible brand advocate.
And this is where a customer tapping into the memory of a prior purchase experience is monumental for your business. As customers spends more time with you, they become more well-advised with the environment, experience and products that you facilitate and offer. You’ve captured their data and this is where personalisation extends in welcoming back a returning customer based on previous purchases and usage analytics. Sounds easy, but it isn’t is it? The problem is that many e-commerce businesses are overwhelmed with data, and it can be hard to know how to prioritise all of it.
6. Post-returning: Building a Community
In post-returning, the e-commerce business has a great opportunity to build an ecosystem that helps their customers thrive in a multitude of ways. Beyond retention, a customer who is emotionally motivated will organically speak, share, discuss, support and shape your business by creating their own community on your platform.
A more recent example was witnessed first-hand during Sephora’s Black Friday Sale, customers flooded their social media inquiring about the status of their recent orders and other customers reached out to explained where to identify the current status and what each status’s ‘state’ represented. The exchanges were authentic, organic and self-servicing; and this small group huddled together to share their different experiences without any assistance or reward from Sephora.
These are the type of ‘fully connected’ customers that every brand would love to have. In fact, an article by HBR revealed that 53% of ‘fully connected’ customers can aid unconnected customers to become highly satisfied. And the highest returns seen have come from focusing on customers who are fully connected to the category who help maximize value and attracting more of them to your brand.
Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room. - Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos
Think of a brand advocate as an additional customer support team member who’s willing to stand up for you, even when your brand didn’t ask them too.