I think it is fair to say that most businesses now have a somewhat basic understanding of what it takes to be successful online. Granted, there are still a lot of uneducated business owners out there, but I believe a great deal of them now have an understanding that there is a large amount of time, money, and effort needed in order to attract and convert website traffic.
In February of 2012, I revisited this article and have added to it. You can find an updated version here.
While search marketing providers, analysts, and organizations continue to work together in educating the world on search and Internet marketing strategies, such as website optimization, pay per click advertising, and social network leveraging, I think it is fair to say that most businesses now have a somewhat basic understanding of what it takes to be successful online. Granted, there are still a lot of uneducated business owners out there, but I believe a great deal of them, compared to a few years ago, now have an understanding that there is a large amount of time, money, and effort needed in order to attract and convert website traffic. Those early days of being successful online simply because you were one of a few in your niche industry with a website are certainly long gone.
However, one element - arguably the most important one - that I feel isn't being communicated as clear and as often as it certainly should be is the idea of repeat business - the process of marketing to a customer after the initial purchase. While I would agree that it is awfully nice to have a solid PPC campaign in motion - one capable of converting high volumes of traffic with a decent CPA - such a strategy does not even compare to the rewards offered via a repeat business campaign. In most cases, I'd have to say that very little is being done on the part of online business owners to reach out to past customers... resulting in a mass of missed sales and opportunity.
Why is repeat business so beneficial, and why should it be included in your company's overall online marketing efforts? Well, for two major reasons.
First of all, generating repeat business is without question so much easer to attain than that of a new customer. We all know how difficult it is to get a new customer - employing marketing strategies, maintaining a website, addressing customer problems and concerns, and so on. Unlike with generating new customers, repeat business strategies provide business owners with the ability to directly engage a large group of extremely targeted buyers - those who've not only shown an interest in your products and services, but have also opened up their wallets for you once already - without the use of a middle-man, such as a marketing firm, search engine listing, or a newspaper ad. Removing the middle man immediately makes marketing a hell of a lot cheaper... bringing me to my second point.
Second, attaining a repeat sale is not only going to be cheaper then when compared to the cost of generating a new sale, but it is also going to be more profitable because of it. It's not rocket science. Spend $10, $20, $100 to get that customer the first time, and spend close-to-nothing to engage with them forever.
The following are a few "repeat business" strategies that I personally feel are worthy of at least trying. Consider combining a few of these ideas, with a few of your own, to develop a long-term repeat business campaign.
Send a Business Card with Every Order
Let's face it... not every person who places an order with you will remember the name of your company or the URL of your website. While some online shoppers, when satisfied, may add your website to their favorites list, others will simply forget about you 10 minutes after receiving their order. It is for this reason you should consider giving them a little something to remember you by.
Business cards and business magnets are perfect for such an occasion. In addition to being relatively cheap to manufacture, a business card or a magnet will almost always end up on your customer's refrigerator where it will remain for all eternity. However, it will also be there for when your customer needs to remember your website in order to restock or purchase other like products or services. Don't believe me... have a look at your refrigerator and then try and call me a liar.
Send an Occasion Email Offer
Just so we're clear, I'm not talking about flooding the inboxes of unexpected random people. There is certainly a right way and a wrong way to send out promotional emails, and spamming people as such is definitely the wrong way to approach email marketing. Instead, I'm suggesting that you use email as a way to engage your past customers - those who've shared their email addresses with you - with helpful information about the products and services you provide, as well as the occasion promotional offer here and there.
In most cases, you'll be able to collect a new email address with each new order you receive. Simply add that email address to your list, and proceed to email them with monthly specials, promotions, and relevant and educational information. Doing so will not only help remind your past customers that you're still around and willing to help them, but a worthwhile promotion may also persuade them to place additional orders with your company.
Offer Gift Certificates with all Order Discrepancies
A time will inevitably come when you will make a mistake on an order. It's going to happen. The most common errors are shipping the wrong size or color of a product, or the wrong product altogether. How you proceed and correct your error will ultimately determine whether or not the customer will buy from you in the future.
In addition to correcting the problem, say refunding the buyer or shipping out the correct order, include a gift certificate that can be used with the customer's next purchase. This action proves that your company takes order discrepancies very seriously and is committed to ensuring that things are corrected. Also, by providing such an offer, you're giving your customers a reason to purchase again (hence repeat business), and yourself another chance to make a great impression by accurately completing their next order.
Include Free Samples with Every Order
The word "free" is very rarely said or meant in a world where everything now costs a pretty penny, and so offering free samples of your product is a great way to not only get people to buy from you, but to get them to continually come back and purchase again. In my opinion, it does not matter how large or small a sample is, just as long as it is somewhat relevant to the buyer.
In addition, offering a free sample often means introducing the customer to something new. If shoppers tend to only buy one variation of a product, than it is possible that they are unaware that another exists or are wary about trying something different. This is a perfect opportunity for online merchants to reach out to their customers and recommend a product by providing a free sample of it. This kind of customer/merchant interaction will most likely encourage customers to buy again, and should the products compliment each other well enough, it may even lead to the customer purchasing both options upon their next order.
Integrate a Login / Password Shopping Cart
For me personally, I hate online customer accounts simply because I hate having to remember login and password information for every website I order from. However, integrating a shopping cart with login and password functionality can easily increase the amount of repeat business your online store receives. To an online shopper, remembering and entering a login and password results in them not having to enter several lines of billing, shipping, or credit card information with each visit. This convenience ensures customers receive a head-ache free and speedy check-out process upon future visits, resulting in a great reason for any customer to come back.
Integrate an Automatic Re-Order Option
This tip only pertains to those companies that sell consumables, such as health and beauty products, tobacco products, medication-like products, and so forth, but is great for attaining repeat business.
The idea is to set up an "automatic re-order option", either manually or programmed in the back-end, to be included within the check-out process. Customers can then enroll into the program which will be set-up to automatically charge their credit card and resend them their "refill" at the time they've specified. Therefore, if a customer purchases a box of cigars every three months, rather than having to go to the website, locate the product, and place an order each time they want to refill their stock, the customer can simply have a box automatically charged and sent to them every three months.
Under this system, and in addition to bringing convenience to your customers, you are now promised repeat business that you weren't otherwise before. Also, by utilizing an automatic re-order option, you have reduced the chances of losing business on the account that your customer forgot to reorder, misplaced your company's web address, or found an alternative supplier with cheaper prices.