Welcome to the first article in our six part series on the E-Commerce Customer Lifecycle (ECL)! This series will document unique factors in online selling that Growth Spark has learned over the past decade. In this series, we’ll focus on strategies and tactics that any brand can make use of to more effectively appeal to their customers.
This first article will introduce you to the basics of the ECL, and offer a general overview of how the process works. Look for deep-dives into each stage in the coming weeks as we share our findings from a decade of web design and e-commerce expertise.
The E-Commerce Customer Lifecycle
A decade is a long time to focus on one topic. Here at Growth Spark, we’re coming up on ten years of making highly functional and effective e-commerce websites. We’ve learned a lot, and we’ve noticed that there are a few things that ring true for every online store. The most important constant that our clients must master is what we call the E-Commerce Customer Lifecycle, or ECL.
The ECL documents every stage of an online shopper’s interaction with your brand, and is an essential blueprint that we’ve shared with our web design clients over the years. It applies to every online store, in any industry. It’s 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 applied, depending on the brand needs:
- Traffic: How many visitors does the website get per day?
- Conversion Rate: How many of those visitors are actually making purchases?
- 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 be most effective, 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.
Now, we’ve kept the ECL pretty much to ourselves all this time, and it’s been a valuable addition to many of our contracts. However, as we’ve grown, we’ve realized that so many more companies would benefit from understanding how e-commerce customers interact with their brand, and that we can no longer keep this information under lock and key.
In celebration of our upcoming brand birthday, we’ve decided to share it with the world.
The first step in the ECL is acquisition, when a new customer first interacts with your website. Your brand’s method for attracting new people to your site may vary, but there are a few tried and true methods that work for every e-commerce brand.
Some of these methods are widespread and accessible to every company: social media marketing, search engine optimization (SEO), and referral marketing. There are many other methods that require an investment of time and money, such as paid advertising and direct contact methods (such as presence at events and pop-up shops).
The one thing that all methods of acquisition have in common? Customer outreach and appealing to a wide variety of people. While some brands may target their marketing to a very specific niche, the acquisition step of the ECL is the time to “cast your net” and appeal to a variety of consumers.
Web designers do not, generally speaking, play an active role in most acquisition techniques. However, the material we produce, including landing pages and websites with analytics and conversion trackers built in, are key to presenting a united and consistent brand experience.
Now that consumers are looking at your website, it’s time for your web designer’s work to really shine - it’s time to convert them from visitors to customers. But how can you inspire a stranger to buy your product?
Success in this stage relies heavily on your web design. How your website is judged by visitors can be broken down into two categories:
The first impression that visitors get from your website is tied to how it performs; specifically, how long does it take to load, and is it usable. If your website takes more than two or three seconds to appear, many of your visitors will leave. If the buttons don’t work, potential customers will abandon ship. If the search feature doesn’t work or the results are disorganized, the remaining visitors will become frustrated and move on - many of them navigating to your competitor’s site!
The way your website looks is a powerful part of the conversion equation, often times just as important as its functionality. When visitors come to your e-commerce site, they’re looking to see what kind of style your brand has, what it’s personality is, and whether it matches their own preferences and expectations. Do you impart the feeling they want to get when they’re shopping for your product? Whether that means trust in a banking software, or fashionable edginess while browsing your makeup line, creating a unique but effective aesthetic for your brand is critical to conversion.
Mastering the conversion stage starts with great web design, but also relies on your marketing closing the circle on customer expectations. That includes timing promotions and recommendations, offering personalization when appropriate, and effective follow ups for those who browse but do not purchase (or have purchased and are good candidates for reactivation).
Some brands make the mistake of thinking that they’ve completed their mission once the customer purchases a product, but in reality, you’re only halfway done! The step immediately following conversion is critical in ensuring positive reviews and lays the groundwork for effective retention: fulfillment, or actually delivering on your promises.
Ensuring that products get to your customers on time and in great condition is key. It’s 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 set the buyer at ease, and give you accurate triggers for the next phase of the ECL: retention marketing.
Great, your customer has bought something, and they have received it! That’s the end, right? Wrong.
To maximize your customer’s lifetime value, make sure to utilize retention marketing, which kicks in once fulfillment is completed. One of the most popular (and effective) strategies 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: gratitude for purchase, an offer for customer service, a request for review, and a promotion for another product. By bringing the customer’s attention back to your brand after purchase in a positive manner, you’ll make it much more likely that they’ll continue to buy from your brand, and be a loyal customer (and, ideally, brand advocate).
The final step in the ECL is measurement, when you collect data around how effective your strategies were throughout the previous stages, analyze that information, and creation actionable insights.
Your web designer 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 Growth Spark today to learn more about how you can master each stage of the ECL, grow your brand, and maximize your profits today!