This is part nine in my blog post series “From 0 to 10,000 customers”, documenting everything I did to grow my first eCommerce business. If you’re new here, take a look at the whole series or start with Part 1: How I started my eCommerce business.


When I talk to anyone about the work I’ve done in the past five years, I use one spiel:

“I had a successful eCommerce business which I took from 0 to 10,000 customer, doubling the eCommerce industry average retention rate (22% -> 40%).”

So with this series drawing steadily towards a close, it was about time I spoke about I built a high-retention business and help you do the same in the process.

There are three pillars of a high retention business, in my opinion:

  • Active retention through marketing;
  • Granular retention through customer communication; and
  • Prompting customers to talk about their experience.

That’s what we’re going to cover in this post.

How to increase your retention rate with proven marketing methods

I’ve touched on it briefly in Part 4: How to launch products and Part 8: How to brand a business, but essentially it comes down to one key concept.

You need to marry tactical strategy and implementation with creative empathy for your customers.

Now, what does this really mean? Just like when you build a brand, you need to reflect who your customers are and what they want from you in everything you do. Retention is the same and uses the exact same methods.

The best way to approach this is by:

  1. Looking at the known channels which make an impact in retention:
    1. Social media
    2. Chat Bots
    3. Paid Advertising
    4. Email Marketing (particularly automated funnels)
  2. Choose the channels which you’re already using or are relatively simple to add to your business.
  3. Step out of your business shoes, step into your customer’s shoes and design the strategy and the creative based on what will most resonate with them (and achieve your business goals).

This sounds really simple and it is if you understand the medium you use to achieve your business goals and your customer’s goals. But if you’re just at the start of your journey and you haven’t ever marketed anything online before, your lack of experience will hinder your efforts.

When I started writing this, I knew that this is often the case for early-stage founders, because it was the exact same for me.

  • I didn’t know what a successful email marketing funnel looked like, so I made really crappy email funnels.
  • I didn’t know what a successful social media strategy looked like, so I made really terrible social media content.

This is nothing to be ashamed of. It’s the reality of being an early-stage founder and it’s something we all go through.

You have two options if you’re in this position.

  1. You can slog it out and figure things out on your own; or
  2. You can mimic other successful businesses and put your own “customer spin” on it.

I would recommend the second option because it’ll mean you’ll be able to create results faster. There are so many ways you can encourage your customers to repurchase from your business.

So, here are three that I’ve used with Trefiel and with other businesses as well:

  1. Giveaway campaigns (take a look at the work we did for IME Natural Perfumes and the case study on Gleam’s blog);
  2. Frequent incentives to re-purchase (discount ladders, flash sales, gifts with purchase);
  3. Launching new products.

But, remember that these are transactions between you and your customers. The deep work that you’ll do around retention will be on a far more granular, unscalable level. A lot of your customer loyalty will be created with your day-to-day interactions with your customers.

How to increase your customer retention in every customer conversation

Something I’ve been blown away with since starting Business 2iC is how many businesses have terrible customer service.

It’s not because they don’t care. It’s because they haven’t considered the language they use when they speak to their customers.

This has to be considered at every touch point, from social media to customer service to packaging copy. It’s a small detail, but it matters more than you think.

Because tone is a part of your branding, I can’t explicitly say how your business should speak in these emails. But I can share with you a few points that I think are incredibly relevant, no matter what industry you’re in or what product you sell:

  1. You should almost always assume fault in your customer service emails. It’s not your customer’s problem if the product she ordered doesn’t work/didn’t fit/arrived damaged, it’s yours (and you want to fix it).
  2. You should use the word sorry and particularly when addressing the end result for the customer. An example of this could be “I’m sorry your order was damaged”, not “I’m sorry you feel your order was damaged.”. Assume responsibility.
  3. If you’re expressing emotion in a 1:1 conversation with a customer, make sure you use “I” instead of “we”. When in doubt, speak for yourself and not on behalf of the whole company, as it is more personal.

Another fantastic resource I recommend is Wordfetti’s customer service templates.

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Nailing language was such an immense part of Trefiel’s retention success and our customer service was the reason so many of our customers stayed loyal to the brand, for as long as they did.

Customer retention is built off the back about customer feedback, positive and negative, to build a business.
Feedback can be the driver of great change and innovation within your business, helping your customers fall more in love and become more loyal with your business.

It’s not to say we never had unhappy customers. We did and we always proactively prioritised giving those customers an incredible experience, despite their initial experience with us or our product.

Here’s the amazing part –

Most of the people who had their money refunded left 5-star reviews because of the way we handled their complaint.

That’s because when you address a complaint properly, there’s a fantastic opportunity to convert that person into a die-hard fan for you and your business.

There is a really practical framework that I use when dealing with negative feedback called The 4 R’s of Successful Complaint Handling.

  • Repeat their experience
  • Reflect their language choice back to them
  • (Assume) Responsibility for the issue
  • Remedy the issue in a way that has them walk away even happier than if they’d had a great experience.

Here’s an example of an email that came in for Trefiel –

Hi,

I still haven’t received the below order and there is no tracking information and it says it will be delivered in 1-4 days….

That ‘…’ says everything, even though the customer was really kind about how she phrased her message.

Using the framework above, I wrote the following email:

Hi <CUSTOMER-NAME>,

From what I can see, everything was shipped all okay on our end on the 4 May. Now usually it would only take 2-3 business days to arrive to in New South Wales, so I have a feeling that your package has been misplaced in Auspost’s delivery network.

What I’m going to do is have another one sent first thing to you tomorrow and it should be there by the end of the week (so long as Auspost doesn’t misplace it again).

By the way, I noticed that you have purchased from us 8 times. I think you’re one of the longest returning customers we have so I’ve upgraded your replacement package to a Pamper Club box. I hope you love it.

If you have any more questions, please don’t hesitate to email me. I’m here to help.

This framework helped me deal with every situation that ever came up, bar two customers which I just couldn’t find a way to connect with them.

I hope it serves you as well as it has served me.

Beyond your handling of customer enquiries and relationships, encouraging them to speak to about their experience with your business will not only give you the opportunity to know your customers deeply (helping you market and brand your business effectively), it will help you to improve your business so those very same customers stay with you for longer.

How to increase retention by prompting for reviews

We all know product reviews are important for our business, because we think of them as an acquisition tool. And it’s true – they will help you acquire more customers. But they’re also a highly effective tool for retaining your customers too.

The act of speaking about a company is usually created by 3 feelings:

  • Pleasure;
  • Pain; and
  • Prompt.

We’ve talked about how you can turn pain into pleasure (and receive an even better review as a result) but we haven’t talked about prompting for reviews.

Creating successful review prompts

Leaving review collection up to chance is a missed opportunity. Thankfully, collecting them doesn’t mean you need to email every customer – you can use services which automate that process.

Asking your customers to review your business and product has a greater impact than you realise. Here’s why –

  • They solidify their thoughts on their experience which means they know, in their own words, why they like your business (and will be more likely to return as a result).
  • You can build incentives to re-purchase into your review request automation.

Much like adding a win-back email marketing automation to your business, your review request automation can incentivise your customers to come back and re-purchase from your business.

These are the core reasons Trefiel had an incredible customer retention rate (beyond having a great product). I hope this helps you build the foundations into your business that will help you have the same.

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Let’s Pause Here

We’ve talked a lot about the ins-and-outs of building a successful eCommerce business, but something we haven’t touched on is the most essential part of running a successful physical product business.

Shipping your customers their orders.

Fulfilment of orders is the backbone of your eCommerce business and I think it’s important we talk about how you can:

  • Make the process simple
  • Streamline your time spent; and
  • Outsource the shipping so you can focus on growing your business.

But more on that in the next post.


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There are 13 posts planned out – from starting an eCommerce business to influencer marketing, brandingwholesalehiringfiring, customer retention, shipping and the mistakes I made while growing my own eCommerce business.