More online shopping is done over the holiday season than at any other time of the year.

Are you prepared to deliver an end-to-end experience this holiday season that engages customers even after they buy? Shoppers care about their entire journey with a brand, not just what happens up until they check out. As a retailer, you must be prepared to meet customers’ expectations beyond the purchase to build long-term loyalty.

The post-purchase experience is the new moment of truth for shopping, even during the holidays, a time best known for gift-shopping. As more holiday spending moves online, and particularly to mobile, consumer behaviors and expectations are changing. People want to shop whenever and wherever they want. They also expect personalized and proactive communication, convenient delivery and a transparent returns process.

Amit Sharma 

As you refine your holiday strategy, you need a plan to keep your customers satisfied and engaged with your brand after they buy. The following checklist can help you prepare to build relationships with your customers and foster long-term loyalty as you look forward to the holiday season.

Proactive Communication

Holiday gifts are highly anticipated orders, but gift-givers often don’t know their packages have arrived until their recipients send a thank you card. Consumers shouldn’t have to search for a tracking number and click through various pages to find out when their package might arrive.

A 2017 consumer survey conducted by my company, Narvar, found that shoppers rate order tracking as the most important message they receive from brands. Make sure you’re delivering these order updates proactively and clearly, especially in the case of delays or other issues.

It’s a good idea to capture customer sentiment at the time of delivery when problems are most likely to be discovered and reported. By asking for this feedback and taking swift action to solve problems that arise, you’ll be in a position to build goodwill and improve an otherwise frustrating situation.

Personalized Messages

Nearly three out of four shoppers prefer to buy from brands that use personal information to make shopping experiences more relevant. In its analysis of the 2017 holiday season, Salesforce found that 28 percent of revenue came from shoppers who engaged with personalized recommendations.

The post-purchase period is a prime opportunity to send personalized communications that stoke anticipation and encourage cross- and upsells. Brands like Gap and GameStop use the post-purchase channel — which includes email and a branded landing page — to provide personalized product recommendations based on a shopper’s previous purchases and preferences.

Easy Returns

When brands go out of their way to make returns convenient and transparent, shoppers are more likely to feel confident about their experience. Our survey found that 95% of customers who are satisfied with a retailer’s returns process will buy from them again. In contrast, shoppers often won’t purchase in the first place if a retailer’s policies are too restrictive or require paying for return shopping and restocking fees. Look at how your process measures up; there may be an opportunity to boost sales and long-term loyalty by revisiting how you handle returns.

Follow-Up

People want more than an efficient transaction from online shopping — they also want to feel connected to the brand. When asked what information would make them more satisfied with a purchase, 61 percent of people said “a simple thank you” matters most, more so than including personalized recommendations, information on how to use the product better, or examples of how others are using the product.

Use post-purchase communications to express your appreciation and offer services that add value to your customers’ lives. Sephora’s Beauty Insider program, for example, offers shoppers a chance to win a free makeover after they buy. Birchbox, a monthly online beauty subscription service, previews upcoming deliveries with videos of what’s in the next box.

Extra Credit: Customized Delivery

Convenience counts at all points of the shopping experience, and it’s especially impactful after the purchase. Think about how you can make your customers’ lives easier — for instance, by offering other delivery and pick-up options, so shoppers don’t have to worry about a package sitting outside or planning their schedule around the estimated delivery time. Accenture found that 65 percent of global consumers strongly consider the ability to change delivery instructions when selecting a delivery company.

Find ways to exceed customers’ expectations by partnering with carriers that offer more flexible delivery, offering in-store or curbside pickup, or experimenting with other solutions. You might, for instance, partner with a local grocery store or Starbucks so customers can pick up their packages on the way home.

Post-Purchase Excellence

Delivering an exceptional post-purchase experience requires more than a vision for an end-to-end customer journey. It also demands organizational support and internal alignment. It’s particularly important that supply chain, e-commerce, and marketing teams work hand in hand and have the appropriate resources, budget and metrics in place. The results will speak for themselves: lifelong customers who love engaging with your brand — this holiday season and beyond.

Amit Sharma is chief executive officer and founder of Narvar.

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