eCommerce & Merchandising

You Had Me At “Goodbye”: Post-Purchase Phase Is Key

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Some years ago, I blogged about the importance of the post-purchase brand experience in deepening or undermining the brand relationship that a consumer has with a retailer. I cited a U.S. consumer survey that our Institute for Business Value (IBV) conducted in 2011. The respondents to that survey made it clear that of the 3 phases of the brand experience (i.e., pre-purchase, purchase, and post-purchase), the post-purchase phase was most influential over their retail brand relationships and their willingness to promote a given retailer to other consumers.

Post-purchase#1Now, five years later, we’ve reprised that study to see how—if at all—consumer expectations have evolved. This time, however, we raised the stakes. Instead of asking how important the pre-purchase, purchase, and post-purchase phases of the brand experience are for choosing to promote a retailer, we asked how important the experience in each phase was for choosing to shop one retailer over another.

Once again, the post-purchase phase of the brand experience has shown an appreciable lead over the pre-purchase phase, but the purchase phase (checkout and payment) has increased in importance for many consumers:

  • 85% more consumers aged 40 and above say the post-purchase experience has the greater potential to strengthen the brand relationship compared to the pre-purchase experience.
  • Meanwhile, over all, 94% more consumers say that the purchase experience has the greater potential to strengthen the brand relationship compared to the pre-purchase experience.
  • Women feel more strongly about the potential of the post-purchase phase to damage the brand relationship. And, overall, a staggering 248% more consumers feel that the post-purchase phase has the greatest potential to damage the brand relationship compared to the pre-purchase phase.
  • The post-purchase phase even showed that it has the ability to recover from a poor pre-purchase experience with 63% of respondents indicating that a positive post-purchase experience is likely to very likely to overcome a poor pre-purchase experience.
  • Not surprisingly, then, when asked which of the pre- or post-purchase experiences is most important in forming the customer’s lasting impression of the retailer, respondents placed the post-purchase experience head and shoulders above the pre-purchase experience, with 67% more consumers voting for the post-purchase phase.


Of course, all of this raises the question, “Which post-purchase capabilities do consumers consider important from their retailers?”


When respondents were asked to gauge the importance of various retailer capabilities, several post-purchase capabilities received extremely high scores for influencing where consumers choose to shop:

  • In-store pickup of online/mobile purchases – 88%
  • Notification that an order is ready for in-store pickup – 87%
  • Tracking online or mobile orders via any combination of channels – 88%
  • Consistently accurate, on-time delivery of Web/Mobile purchases – 88%
  • Notification of delays with an order or its delivery – 90%
  • Notification when an order has been delivered – 88%
  • In-store return of online/mobile purchases – 87%

It should be noted that each of the above percentages is significantly higher than the percentages we saw for these same capabilities in our consumer study, five years ago.

But, beyond the fact that these are now more important than ever before, consumers have upped the ante even more. Specifically, they now expect greater omni-channel detail and precision when choosing which retailers they’ll shop. The 2016 study revealed that consumers expect the retailers that will earn their ongoing business will:

  • Provide detailed order status information via any channel – 88%
  • Guarantee when an online/mobile purchase will be available for in-store pickup – 80%
  • Ensure that the in-store pickup process for online/mobile purchases is quick, easy, and convenient – 79%
  • Ensure that the in-store return process for online/mobile purchases is quick, easy, and convenient – 83%

Post-purchase#3But, it’s important to recognize that it’s not enough to just support these capabilities. You must also be able to execute these consistently—lest you undermine trust, loyalty, and advocacy. In fact, when consumers were asked about the importance of a retailer executing consistently, 96% said that failure on the part of a retailer to “demonstrate consistency in their performance” would directly undermine the consumer’s trust in that retailer. And, since the study also revealed that trust preceded loyalty for 206% more consumers, we know that inconsistent execution will also directly undermine loyalty for the majority of consumers. So, then, in addition to seamlessly offering these services—independent of channel—during the post-purchase phase of the brand experience, retailers must also ensure that they’ve put in place the proper processes and systems to support the kind of consistent execution that will strengthen consumer trust, loyalty, and advocacy.

But, this is important for more than just the consistent omni-channel experience that consumers expect (although, that would be sufficient justification to act). It’s also important for ensuring efficient, profitable retail execution to optimally leverage constrained resources, increase accuracy, reduce cycle time, and minimize costs. As you invest significant time and attention on the shopping (i.e., pre-purchase) experience that you deliver to your customers (as you should), you must also invest serious effort to ensure that you’re consistently and efficiently delivering a positive, seamless omni-channel experience during the post-purchase phase of brand interaction.

Post-purchase#4Consumers have made it clear that brand experiences during the post-purchase phase have the greatest overall positive or negative impact on their brand relationship with retailers and their inclination to shop that retailer over competitors. And, so, it’s imperative that you remain ever cognizant of the fact that after you’ve thanked your customer for her order, you’re just beginning the most influential phase of her brand interaction with you. With this in mind, it’s essential that you elevate the attention you pay to the post-purchase brand experience you’re creating for your customers and ask, “Are we deepening or damaging the brand relationship we have with our customers with the post-purchase experience we’re delivering?”

Find out more. Read Consumer Expectations Soar: What does it mean for retailers?

Read my previous blog in this series:

IBM Consumer Expectations Study Insights: Yesterday’s “Good Enough” Is Today’s “Not Even Close”


Senior Omni-channel Strategist, IBM

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