The dirty little secret of e-commerce marketing


In the past few weeks I have chatted with startup e-commerce companies and learned something very, very interesting that actually defies the model of e-commerce as a point-and-click anonymous process where banner ads, ppc and other online marketing tools rule the day. Nope. In fact, personal interaction and high touch customer experience are the key to many online purchases, especially for higher margin/higher end products and services.

What do I mean by personal interaction? What was my (very) small sample? Oh yeah, and what goods are they actually selling?

Here's what I've sleuthed out:

It's key to nurture your first customers (250 to 1000 depending on your product).

Why? These early adopters will be your mouthpieces to others. Your best brand ambassadors. Your repeat customers. You will grow with them and they with you.

Here's the catch: All those amazing things that every brand wants (whether in the online space or in B&M) are only going to happen in direct proportion to how well you take care of those early adopting customers.

Lavish them with attention. Spoil them with high touch customer experience. Sit next to them to see how they use your product/service and then iterate. They will love you for it. And they will return. And then they will tell others about you too.

What are ways that different businesses approach the challenge of customer service? 

For some businesses this looks like Zappos' model of allowing customer service reps to spend however long on the phone they need to with each customer. Even if it means shooting the breeze for eight hours and holding while they answer the door for the pizza delivery guy.

For others (fashion startup M.M. LaFleur comes to mind) it means allowing its users to select up to four dresses to be delivered and gives them 7 days to try on said dresses and keep all or none of them with no penalty for returning them.

This approach to shopping "on approval" actually harkens back to the old days of high end shopping where a lovely lady rolled into a white glove store, had a cocktail, selected items on site/by sight, and then had them couriered to her door for try on in the comfort (and lighting) of her own boudoir. How very refined. And great for building a relationship based on trust with the customer!

For a non-clothing/footwear related e-commerce example, I turn to They manage to make buying what should be a commodity fun. How? Because they are slightly off. Their customer service peeps roam about HQ and take calls how and where they please. (I assume not in the bathroom!) I call that approach to call-centers "grass fed." Grass fed customer service reps are happy customer service reps. And happy customer service reps make for happy customers.

At Headsets they also put these little penny candies into every shipment that remind me of five and dime stores that expired in my childhood. It's inexpensive and slightly cheesy, but it's still comforting. Their CEO mails out gifts at holiday time. 2012 was a rubber oversize cube ice cube tray. Again, totally quirky, but amazing! High touch CX on all levels.

If you want to look at a service, search no further than Uber, the black car service that makes me never want to get in a cab again. With their drivers I get speedy pickups (albeit speedier in SF where there are fewer cabs than here in NYC) and no matter where I am: a courteous driver, luxurious car, magazines(!), water and candies/breath mints. For real? This from what is a tech-based startup.

How I'm making it work for me:

In my own company (a 100% service based company as of today- check back in several weeks!), I use gifts from Amazon, Paperless Post notes, tons of online and in-person events, and referrals to my network of resources as ways to love up my peeps. I am also excited that some of my upcoming products will make great touch points for letting my clients have further interactions with me and my brand.

So, my friend, what SOPS can you put into place around your own customer experience that will show some love to the people who have already spent money with you?

Hint: It's more than a branded USB drive. And it's probably gonna be a lot more effective than more Google Adwords.