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Learn from History: Your Customer's Shopping History


As Roman orator Cicero said, history is life’s teacher. It’s about time we apply that lesson to ecommerce.

For your business, studying the past is more than just looking at products and budget sheets, it’s learning more about what drove your customers then and what drives them now. Return customers are the lifeblood for most businesses today, saving you time and effort while generating significant gains.

If you want to turn more first-time customers into repeat shoppers, study those past purchases and use the lessons lurking in shopping history to bring them back time and again.

Collecting the data

History is recorded by the winners, and that’s especially true in ecommerce. The history you want to record is everything possible about the purchases your customers have made. Thankfully, most of today’s ecommerce platforms include a wide range of tracking and recording features.

Here are some of the core metrics you’ll want to track within your system or consider some add-ons and modules to get so you can see:

  • Past completed orders: Pretty standard. These are all the orders that were paid, fulfilled, and didn’t come back. What’s important here are the products bought, coupons or deals used, when things were purchased, and any reasons a purchase may have happened. For reasons, look at gifts, anniversaries, etc.
  • Active orders: Any order that’s been started in your system but not finalized.
  • Pending orders: The orders in your system that have not been paid for yet. The special part about this is that some sophisticated software can capture interest and intent with shopping carts that are full or abandoned.
  • Canceled orders: An order the customer has canceled before your warehouse fills it and ships it.
  • Returned orders: Orders that you deliver to the customer and are then declined or returned. You’ll want to capture reasons for returns as well as the remedy you provide, whether that’s cash back or product replacement.

Getting information can be a big step when you’re first starting. Take time and capture what you can. If you see data that’s lacking, look at multiple options to capture it. If you can get things before the sale, that might be even better. This would include capturing emails or getting people to create accounts (likely against an offer for a discount) when they first land on your site.

Now, let’s look at what you can do with that data.

Refills, refuels, and resupplies

Whenever the holidays are coming up or just leaving us, we’re all reminded of those old commercials and horror stories where parents missed three very important words: Batteries not included.

Those missed words ruin many a holiday. However, the following month almost always comes with something just as important: the need to buy batteries again. They aren’t the main product, but they’re essential to its use. That means Duracell, Energizer, and other companies continue to rake in sales because they control the long-term use of something.

Your products might not have the same requirements to work, but you likely have a slew of things that work together well. Perhaps you’ve got perishable items that need to be replaced, containers or products that need refills, or kits that work well together.

Look for opportunities to provide a little nudge for an add-on, whether that’s from an on-site notice or by following up with an email.

You know how long a product lasts before it needs to be replaced or refilled. Time your email reminders to this. Send out a few notices ahead of time and right as things should run out to capture customers who liked what you sell and get them to re-up before things are no longer usable and they find a new solution.

If you’ve got something that makes a perfect gift once, remember that it might make a perfect gift twice. Even better if it’s something that needs a little refill now and again.

Loyalty purchases and upgrades

Perhaps the easiest way to use historical info for new sales is to find out what people tend to buy together. Create listings and groups. Now, look through your recent orders and see what’s missing.

If someone has picked up two out of three common items, why not invite them to buy the third with a coupon. This type of offer can boost loyalty – you can make it even stronger by backing it with a loyalty program that generates rewards for spending over time.

Upgrades also allow you to capitalize on loyalty by providing early access or a deal on the latest version of something the customer bought last year.

Predicting future orders

The final lesson to take from history is that it will repeat itself, in all kinds of ways. There are wars and assassinations to people winning the lottery multiple times or getting hit by lightning again and again. You can even find the conspiracy theories on Tupac and Elvis circling Alexander I of Russia in 1825.

The benefit to your ecommerce business is that, for you, repeated history often means repeated orders.

That means future orders are especially great when you can track times and reasons for past orders. If someone turns to you around a specific holiday, like Father’s or Mother’s Day, anniversary, or birthday, then you’ve got a great opening line for an ad or email to get them to come back. Feeling a little worried about that? Send them over a coupon for the holiday to help make the bait even more appealing.

If you’re unsure about how to track some of that, start giving customers the ability to mark a purchase as a gift. You get to keep this info and then send out a reminder. Plenty of apps and services make it possible.

These are just a few of the quick and straightforward ways you can use data to score big with existing customers.

Jake Rheude is the Director of Marketing for Red Stag Fulfillment, an ecommerce fulfillment warehouse that was born out of ecommerce. He has years of experience in ecommerce and business development. In his free time, Jake enjoys reading about business and sharing his own experience with others.

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Written by Jake Rheude

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