Post-purchase customer service

The importance of post-purchase customer service in online shopping

Call me a Luddite. Call me old-fashioned. But I really don’t like shopping online. In fact, I avoid buying any tangible items online wherever possible, and I always try to choose the good old physical shopping option. The reasons for me avoiding online shopping are complex and varied, being mainly centered around previous bad experiences in relation to delivery and post-purchase service problems.

I need to stress the word ‘tangible’ when describing my reluctance to shop online. Like most people, I’m happy to purchase intangible items online such as insurance and financial services. But when it comes to actual tangible goods that get delivered to your door, I’d rather endure an hour’s drive to buy an item from an actual shop, than scrolling through hundreds of web pages and price comparison sites.

But despite my reluctance to buy tangible items on the internet, last month I bought no less than three tangible items online! Yes, I know this is ‘normal’ for many people, but for me this is more online purchases than I would normally make in an entire year!

The good and the bad of online shopping

So, what prompted my recent online purchases? In the first case (a pro quality video microphone) I needed to buy it online because there were none available in any shop within several hours drive of my house. In the second case (an emissions sensor for my car) the only place I could source this specialist item was from a company in Germany where the car was manufactured – and I obviously wasn’t going to travel all the way there, when it could easily be posted to me. In the third case (a data memory device) I simply wanted to save money – and the item was a bit cheaper online.

With the first two items, delivery was very prompt and efficient (in fact I was super-impressed with the mere three days it took for my car sensor to travel from Berlin to Yorkshire).

But in the third case (the memory device) I was repeatedly messed around by the courier company who kept changing the expected delivery time, and then cancelled the delivery altogether with no reason given. But who cares? It’s only a whole day that I wasted, waiting at home for an item that never arrived!! Grrrrrrrr!!

The link between service and loyalty

And the upshot of this? Well, in future I will still buy tangible goods online, but ONLY if I’m unable to go into a fairly local shop and get the item myself. But (as in the third example above) I’m not going to waste a whole day of my life just to save a few pounds on something that I could have bought in a local shop.

So, what is the point of this story? Well, research shows that it costs a company up to 20 times more to acquire a new customer than to retain an existing customer. Therefore, customer loyalty is one of the most important factors in the success of any business. In fact, I wrote my entire Masters degree dissertation on this very subject, and I lost track of the number of business failures I discovered that were purely caused by a loss of customer loyalty.

And to ensure customer loyalty in online purchasing, the delivery experience is absolutely crucial. I recently came across a research study which examined the negative delivery experience on customer behavior.

The report, which involved 3,000 customers across the UK, Germany and France, revealed that a massive 94% of respondents have had a bad post-purchase experience within the last 12 months. In fact, 40.6% of respondents said they have regular bad experiences at the delivery and post-purchase stage of the online customer journey.

But even worse, 59% of respondents said that they talk about their bad experiences with friends and family, who are more put-off by these negative stories than by their own bad experiences of online shopping!

But the reputational damage doesn’t just stop there. Over a quarter of customers (27.2%) said they would leave a negative review online and 11.4% said they would post about it on social media.

Negative word-of-mouth publicity can be devastating to a business. And when it comes to online shopping, most of this negativity doesn’t come from the product itself, it comes from the delivery experience and bad post-purchase customer service.

How poor experiences become amplified

In the social media age, everyone’s online shopping experience is just one scroll away. This can be both good and bad for online retailers. When a customer has a good online experience (big shout out to Autodoc for my Mercedes car part) then thousands of potential customers get to hear about it within days. That’s fantastic free publicity!

But when things go wrong the company not only loses a customer’s loyalty, they also potentially lose thousands more future customers who read the bad reviews or hear negative stories through word-of-mouth.

The potential consequences to a brand’s reputation are enormous. Just think about it – 36.7% of shoppers (myself included) say they would stop shopping with an online retailer after a bad post-purchase experience, and 67.1% say they would be less likely to shop with an online retailer after hearing a friend or family member had a bad experience with them.

The conclusions from this are obvious. Good customer service is vital for business success. This is especially important in the post-purchase stage of the customer journey. But it’s even more important with online retailing, where the customer is more unforgiving. The failure of your business can be literally just a few clicks away.

About the Author

Darren Bugg

Editor, The Customer Service Blog

With over 250,000 readers, The Customer Service Blog is the UK’s leading blog on customer service, customer loyalty and customer satisfaction.

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