Welcome to the first portion of our series on the E-Commerce Customer Lifecycle (ECL)! This guide will highlight noteworthy factors and key points in online selling that Trellis has learned over the years. These unique tips will help take your business to the next level. In this guide, we will focus on strategies and tactics that any brand can implement to more effectively reach and benefit its customers. 

This primary article will introduce you to the basics of the ECL and gives a general overview of how the process should work. Keep an eye out each week hereafter for deeper-dives into each stage individually as we share our findings from a decade of web design and e-commerce expertise.

The E-Commerce Customer Lifecycle

With decades of experience of making highly functional and results driven e-commerce websites, we have learned a lot, and we have noticed that every online store shares a few mutual characteristics. We have put together this guide to the E-Commerce Customer Lifecycle, or ECL  to help brands optimize their digital strategy and it is the most important concept our clients should pay attention to.

The ECL documents every stage of an online shopper’s interaction with your brand and is an essential blueprint that we have kept exclusive to our web design clients over the years. However, it applies to every online store, in any industry vertical. It is our personal guidebook for how to quantitatively bring a store from inception to success, in a reliable, measurable and predictable manner.

As we work through this process with clients, we focus on four key metrics, though many others may be considered, depending on the requirements of the brand:

  • Traffic: How many visitors go to the website per day?
  • Conversion Rate: How many of those visitors make a purchase(s)?
  • Order Size: How much does the average customer spend on their order?
  • Margin: How much of a profit is the client making per sale?

To achieve optimal results, we like to record what these numbers are before we start working with a new client, when we first implement changes on their website, and how the numbers change each successive time we update their online presence. By setting a baseline, it is easier to gauge the impact of results and attribute the respective results to a specific action.

As you play around with different target markets, AD spends, advertising platforms or channels and other marketing metrics it is imperative that you are able to track the results and affirm which actions provide the most favorable results you are after.

Now, we have kept the ECL pretty much to ourselves all this time, and it has been a valuable addition to many of our contracts.  As we have grown, we are feeling generous and want to share our knowledge with the world so all can reap similar benefits.

Acquisition

The first step in the ECL is acquisition, when a new customer first interacts with your website. These first impressions are critical and the more first impressions the better. Having a potential customer visit your site or view a product is the primary step in converting that potential sale into profit. There are various ways a brand may attract visitors to their site, but there are some reliable strategies that will work for every online brand.

A few of these methods are widespread and available to every company: social media marketing, search engine optimization (SEO), and referral marketing.  Other strategies such as paid advertising and in-person contact methods (attendance at events and pop-up shops) require a larger investment of resources. In order to be most effective, these methods require time, money, and some industry knowledge to be implemented correctly.

All acquisition strategies have the goal to appeal to the masses. Some targeting can occur here, but it is best to be as widespread as possible and appeal to a variety of customers.

Conversion

The next step in the ECL is turning those visitors into customers. This step is conversion and usually requires some creativity or innovation to achieve ideal optimization.

Success in this stage relies heavily on the quality of your website design. How your website is judged by visitors can be broken down into two categories:

FUNCTION

The first impression that visitors get from your website is tied to how it performs; specifically, how long does it take to load, and if is it usable. If your website takes more than two or three seconds to appear, many of your visitors will leave. If the buttons do not work, more customers will leave the page. If the search feature does not work or the results are disorganized, the few remaining visitors will become frustrated and move on – bad news for you and good news for your competitors.

Your site must function properly to gain customer trust and limit the bounce rate. First impressions matter and no opportunity should be squandered. Make sure to contact a team of experts in design and development. This is no area to be frugal.

FORM

The look of your website is an important factor in the conversion equation, often times just as integral as its functionality. The website design should reflect the personality of the brand and do so in an aesthetically appealing manner. Customers want to believe in the brand and feel proud to be a part of the brand family. Your website should impart a unique feeling to visitors by expressing the values, products, and services for the brand in a relatable fashion. Doing so with a unique but effective aesthetic for your brand is critical to conversion.

Conversion begins with great web design, but also heavily relies on the marketing behind your site.  Customer expectations can be set and manipulated in advance so that they enter the conversion stage already leaning in the right direction. This includes promotions and recommendations, offering personalization when the timing is right, and effective follow-ups for those who browse but do not purchase (or have purchased and are good candidates for reactivation). Reinforcing brand loyalty creates lifelong customers.

Fulfillment

Congrats! You got customers to your store and convinced them to buy your products! This means you have a functioning store and well-thought-out marketing strategy, but you are not done yet.

Some brands make the mistake of thinking that they have completed the buying process once the customer purchases a product. Yet, in reality, you are only about halfway there. The step that is critical in ensuring positive reviews and lays the groundwork for effective retention: fulfillment, or actually delivering on your promises as a seller. Lost orders, shipping errors, and overselling inventory are just some of the issues that can impact fulfillment.

Ensuring that products get to your customers on time and in great condition is pivotal. It is a good idea to invest in fulfillment solutions that give both you and the customer insight into where the product is and how long it will take to arrive – it will keep the buyer at ease, and give you accurate signals for the next phase of the ECL: retention marketing. Brand transparency is an important thing to consider with fulfillment. It allows the customer to maintain trust during the period of limbo between placing an order and receiving it on your doorstep.

Even if an order is delayed, a customer will react more favorably if they are able to visibly track where their order is currently at, see what may be causing the delay, and understand when the new ETA for the delivery will be. Adopting strategies like this will mitigate fulfillment complaints and errors while simultaneously putting yourself in a better place to complete the final step of the ECL: retention.

Retention

Retention marketing begins as soon as fulfillment is complete (or even beforehand). This is essential for maximizing a customer’s lifetime value. One of the most popular methods for this stage in the ECL is reactivation emails, which are sent to the customer shortly after products are received. These emails usually include a few key elements: a thank you for the purchase, an offer for customer service, a request for review, and promotion for another product. Regaining a customer’s attention is the first step in gaining brand loyalty, repeat purchases, and improved awareness around the business.

Other retention marketing campaigns could include offering rewards programs, advertising philanthropical company efforts, giving evidence of social proof, discounts included within the packaging of the delivered products, send previews of the next line of products, and much more.

By bringing the customer’s attention back to your brand after purchase in a positive manner, you will make it much more likely that they will continue to buy from your brand, and be a loyal customer. These campaigns should include specific CTA’s (call-to-action) which encourages repeat purchases, writing reviews or taking another action that yields an ROI in one way or another.

Measurement

The final step in the ECL is measurement, where you collect data around how effective your strategies were throughout the previous stages, analyze that information, and create actionable insights. This introspection will help structure your strategy in the short term and long term. Understanding which metrics are being affected and in which direction is essential in order to calculate the next steps for a growing business.

Analyzing the metrics and creating an action-plan thereafter is not easy. Your digital agency will work with you to choose built-in solutions and add-on software to best complete this step. These data points will be automatically collected and presented in a dashboard. In order to get the most value out of these data points, however, your brand will need to determine the most relevant key performance indicators (KPIs) and create a schedule for testing new strategies, such as new layouts, products, and even descriptions.

The E-Commerce Customer Lifecycle details all of the stages that your online buyers travel through as they interact with your brand. Your company’s goal is to ensure that your ECL is a cycle, not just a funnel, which can best be achieved through great web design and effective retention marketing.

Reach out to Trellis today to learn more about how you can master each stage of the ECL, grow your brand, and maximize your profits today!

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