The Customer Lifecycle: 5 Stages to Win Ecommerce Brand Loyalty
Did you know Apple was the first company to send customers home with an already-charged device? Before that, customers would have to delay gratification for a few hours while their new gadget charged.
By creating a standout experience at an overlooked part of the customer lifecycle, Apple changed the game for all technology companies and created loyal brand advocates who swear by Apple products.
With that in mind, can you think of stages in your customer’s lifecycle that lack a wow factor? Maybe you’ve been hyperfocused on getting new customers and you haven’t had the time to make sure they stick around.
When you focus on enhancing the whole customer journey, you can deliver a more memorable experience for your customers, which leads to more repeat customers, better reviews, and even more new customers.
Want to grow your brand by creating a better customer experience? Keep reading to learn:
- What’s the ecommerce customer lifecycle?
- The five stages in the customer lifecycle
- How to engage your customers in each stage of the lifecycle
- Delight shoppers throughout the customer lifecycle
What’s the ecommerce customer lifecycle?
The ecommerce customer lifecycle—also known as the customer journey or customer experience—is the journey someone goes through to find your brand, decide to make a purchase, and (hopefully) become a repeat customer.
This process takes time, especially for higher price point items. To become a customer, people want to know they can trust your brand to provide high-quality service and products that deliver value for their money.
It’s your responsibility as a brand builder to understand how to educate your potential customers about the value you provide. Then, translate that value to a message that’s appropriate based on where the customer is in the lifecycle.
Think about your relationship with your customers like a relationship between two people. You wouldn’t ask a total stranger to drive you to the airport, and you shouldn’t assume someone who doesn’t even know about your brand will immediately hand over cash to a business they have no reason to trust.
Instead, take ownership of your customer lifecycle by tailoring your marketing and messaging to speak to customers at each stage. Then, you can guide people from being unaware of your brand to a loyal customer.
The five stages in the ecommerce customer lifecycle
So, what stages make up the ecommerce lifecycle? There are five key points in the process.
In the awareness stage, your goal is to make new people aware of your brand and product.
Next comes the acquisition stage, when you convince a potential customer to subscribe to your brand and give you access to their email, phone number, and/or social media. To get access to a customer’s contact information, you’ll need to provide them with value—an exclusive discount or highly engaging content they need (and want) to sign up for.
The conversion stage is when you nurture your subscribers by educating them about your product value until they decide to buy. This stage often also includes extra incentives to get customers past the initial hesitation of deciding to make a purchase—like discounts, free shipping, and early access to products or offers.
After purchasing, the fulfillment stage includes getting your products or services to your customer’s doorstep.
Finally, the loyalty stage is how you engage with people who have made at least one purchase in order to drive more purchases and create brand advocates.
To create an outstanding customer experience—and continually guide people to buy from your business—consider how you engage your customers in each of these stages.
How to engage your customers in each stage of the customer lifecycle
Here are some tips and examples to help you tailor your communications based on what your customers care about most in each stage of their journey with your brand.
Customer lifecycle stage #1: Awareness
As a brand builder, your objective during the awareness stage is to get your brand in front of new customers.
Here are some key tactics to drive awareness:
- Search engine optimization (SEO) to rank your website for keywords that people search for in Google and other search engines
- Posting on social media with relevant hashtags for greater visibility
- Encouraging current customers to share your brand through refer-a-friend programs or social media contests
People at this stage of the lifecycle won’t have any awareness about your product or brand, so it’s important to quickly capture your target audience’s attention by differentiating your brand’s value and personality.
For example, Chubbies regularly posts on Instagram to increase awareness about their clothing brand. The posts aren’t typical promotional content, though—check out this meme-style post they shared:
This post taps into what people care about most while they’re on social media: entertainment.
The meme relates to Chubbies’s product—which is important to attract attention from people who are actually interested in what you’re selling—but the viewer also gets entertainment value from the content.
Authenticity strikes a chord with people and elevates customer-brand relationships. The awareness stage is your first opportunity to show people the unique personality and story behind your brand, so get creative to make a memorable impression.
Keep in mind: From their first introduction to your brand, people will develop an expectation about what each subsequent action will be, so maintain a consistent brand personality across all of your marketing channels.
As you increase your marketing efforts in the awareness stage (and all other stages), it’s important to track what’s working, what you can still improve on, and how much impact your efforts make.
To measure new and past awareness campaigns, dive into data. Based on your past performance and industry standards, create benchmarks to determine your target engagement rates.
Here are some key metrics to consider as you evaluate engagement at the awareness stage:
- Brand name Google searches
- New visitors to your website
- Blog visitors (if you have a blog on your site)
- Customer behavior on your website (time on site, number of pages viewed, etc.)
- Social media impressions, likes, comments, and shares
- Channels that drive the most traffic to your website
Customer lifecycle stage #2: Acquisition
In the acquisition stage, your goal is to give potential customers a reason to hand over their contact information.
Getting access to a customer’s email or phone number requires two key ingredients: trust and value.
Building trust starts with authentically representing your brand. In addition to sharing your brand personality, use social proof to instill trust.
Nooz Optics features customer reviews on their homepage. Plus, they clearly state that they only feature four- and five-star reviews—it’s not wrong to highlight rave reviews, but be upfront about it.
Other tactics you could consider to build trust: Show your customers along with your products in your social media posts or respond to negative reviews with how you plan to take care of a dissatisfied customer.
Once you prove your brand is trustworthy, the next step to gaining a new subscriber is to give people actual value.
One straightforward way to provide value is to give customers a discount on their first purchase. Skinnydip London features a student discount in this paid Facebook advertisement:
This advertisement directs customers to the Skinnydip London website to shop and browse products.
Don’t have the budget for a welcome offer? There are plenty of other ways to capture customer attention.
Nooz Optics has a CTA to take a fun eyesight quiz. This quiz then recommends products based on the quiz results.
Nooz Optics uses this quiz to drive customer acquisitions as well as sales—but you can also take a softer approach by using engaging quizzes to collect customer contact information.
Much like Nooz Optics, Oolution offers a quiz that’s relevant to their product offering.
But instead of directing visitors to their recommended products, Oolution directs people to a signup form after completing the questionnaire. This approach ensures that even if someone isn’t ready to make a purchase, Oolution has their contact information to follow up via email.
These examples of acquisition-focused marketing efforts show customers that these brands care about them and will continue to provide value.
To learn how your customers are engaging at the acquisition stage, here are key metrics to track:
- New email subscribers
- New social media followers
- Customer acquisition costs
- Return on advertising spend (ROAS)
Customer lifecycle stage #3: Conversion
While some acquisition tactics may result in a purchase, it’s more likely that a potential customer will sign up for your mailing list or social media before making a purchase.
“Most people are slow buyers—they take 60 to 120 days to decide to buy something. Those are often the forgotten people because businesses think you have to sell to someone within a short time or they’ll never buy. That’s not true,” says Scott Flear, founder of Rugby Warfare.
"Most people are slow buyers—they take 60 to 120 days to decide to buy something. Those are often the forgotten people because businesses think you have to sell to someone within a short time or they'll never buy. That’s not true."
Scott Flear, founder, Rugby Warfare
Fortunately, after someone passes through the acquisition stage, you have their email or other contact details. That means you can send highly personalized content to nurture them while they consider making a purchase.
Personalization and timing are both essential in the conversion stage. To inspire a sale, you must reach people with the right message at the right time.
Bombinate’s abandoned cart email features the product customers were considering alongside available credits to entice customers to complete their purchase.
Abandoned cart emails are highly effective at the conversion stage because they’re triggered by a shopper’s behavior.
With marketing automation, you can set up your abandoned cart emails so shoppers receive an email a set amount of time (say, 15 minutes) after they left your site. This automated process helps you engage with your customers while your brand and product are already on the top of their mind.
To measure how your customers convert, here are some key conversion metrics to track engagement at the conversion stage:
- New customers converted
- Time until first purchase
- Email engagement (delivery rates, open rates, click rates, revenue per recipient)
Customer lifecycle stage #4: Fulfillment
After a customer makes a purchase online, they have to wait for it. And no one enjoys waiting.
While delayed satisfaction is hardly a key selling point, you can still keep your customers happy while they eagerly await their new purchase.
The first step to creating an exceptional customer experience at the fulfillment stage is to keep your customers informed.
Pasta Evangelists have a highly engaging and informative order confirmation email that gives customers faith—and excitement—that their order is on its way. The confirmation even answers key questions like how to contact customer service and whether you can freeze the pasta.
This stage is an important test of how much customers can trust your business to deliver on promises. And, all too often, issues outside your control can affect the customer experience during fulfillment.
That’s what happened for many UK brands following Brexit, as customs became highly regulated and caused long shipping delays.
So what can you do when something goes wrong in the fulfillment stage?
To keep customers informed of the shipping issues, Sous Chef actively communicated with affected customers.
Customers might not appreciate a delay, but they’ll have more faith in your brand if you keep them informed, even if the update isn’t positive.
Is your company struggling to navigate post-Brexit ecommerce?
Once your customer receives their purchase, there’s one step left in the fulfillment stage: reviewing their new product.
The Fish Society uses their request for a review to continue building their relationships with their customers. In their request, they prominently state that they value what their customers have to say about their experience with their brand. They also streamline the process so the customer doesn’t even need to leave their inbox to provide their review.
When you measure your fulfillment stage, look at these metrics to benchmark how your customers react to new tactics:
- Return rate
- Customer service inquiries
Customer lifecycle stage #5: Loyalty
Once a customer has gone through the purchase process once, the customer lifecycle isn’t over—at least, it doesn’t have to be. If you continue to nurture the relationship you’ve started to build and you keep providing value, you can increase your chances of turning a one-time buyer into a lifetime customer.
One way to increase customer loyalty is by delivering highly relevant content that you’ve personalized based on what you know about the customer.
This doesn’t have to be a huge effort—it can be as small as capturing someone’s birthday and sharing a discount or a birthday message, like Norman Love Confections does.
Once someone has already bought from your company, you also know one key interest they have: your brand!
Lakrids by Bülow educates customers and subscribers about their brand to continue building loyalty with the people behind the business.
Much like in conversion, timing is everything for encouraging repeat purchases. UK-based coffee company, Grind, sends automated replenishment emails based on how long it takes customers to finish 30 pods.
You can also build loyalty by implementing retention programs that reward repeat customers with exclusive rewards or points to redeem on future purchases.
If you find your customers aren’t engaging with this kind of content, you may want to consider a winback campaign.
Pasta Evangelist sends a winback email after a customer has been inactive for one month in order to re-engage them. They clearly communicate the benefits of their products and use visuals to cue an instant emotional response—who wouldn’t want that delicious-looking pasta?
If a customer is still not engaging with your brand, even after getting a winback email, it’s time to accept that their customer lifecycle has come to an end.
Rather than continuing to spam inactive subscribers with emails they aren’t opening anyway, keep your email lists healthy by removing unengaged customers. That way, your metrics will reflect how truly interested customers are reacting to your emails.
In addition to making your email engagement metrics more accurate, culling out unengaged subscribers will also have a positive impact on deliverability (how often the emails you send actually reach your customers’ inboxes versus the spam folder). The higher your open and click rates, the less likely email providers are to flag your emails as spam.
The loyalty stage won’t be for all your customers, but once you get a healthy influx of customers to move through the lifecycle stages, new customers will replace unengaged people so you can keep growing your brand.
To measure how customers engage at the loyalty stage, look at these key metrics:
- Customer lifetime value (CLV)
- Repeat purchase rate
- Ongoing email engagement
Delight shoppers throughout the customer lifecycle
When you’re just getting your business up and running, your priority will probably be customer acquisition and conversion. You need to have customers to create loyal customers, after all.
But as you grow, focusing on these other stages will help you create a scalable customer experience that’s primed for high retention and CLV. As long as you’re thinking about the whole customer lifecycle and how you can best provide value at each stage, you’ll find ways to delight your customers.
Did you learn a new tactic from one of these fellow brands that will help you improve your customer lifecycle? Tweet us @klaviyo to let us know!
Want more insight into the acquisition stage of the customer lifecycle? Check out these three tips on how to find and convert your next 100 customers.
Want to use the same software these brands used to improve your customer lifecycle?