Woman holding balls of yarn

The other day something amazing happened in my shop.  I rediscovered the joy of return customers.

The world is a chaotic place.  Especially online.  And even after a wonderful shopping experience, I always wonder if a customer remembers my shop.

Do they ever recall that their stationery arrived on time for their event?  That we used only the best materials to create it?  And our designs were truly original?

I have my doubts.  I mean why not.  Usually after someone purchases from our shop, they leave and are never heard from again. Occasionally they stop in to leave a review, but even that is rarer these days.

But a beautiful thing happened the other day.  A customer returned to my shop ready to buy.  I didn’t even have to market to her again or remind her of our existence.  She just came back on her own.

She had enjoyed her experience so much the last time and remembered to favorite our shop.  Hence, she returned.

It was a good reminder about how much growing an online business depends on return customers.  I hear other shop owners talk all the time about how frustrating the random dips in traffic are or unexpected algorithm changes can be.

And I agree with them.  It can be quite annoying to think that your shop is growing and have a sudden stop in sales.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.  The most important thing to remember about running an Etsy shop is not to depend on Etsy to send you traffic.  You need to develop your own marketing plan to help drive traffic independently of the Etsy search engine.

Shopping bags on a window ledge with the text overlay "The Joy of Return Customers"

Have you noticed a dip in your shop traffic lately?  It seems to be across the board.  Other shop owners are blaming this dip in everything from the new promoted listings feature (it’s atrocious, by the way) to other shop’s underselling their products.

And all of these things are true.  But when you have return customers that come back to your shop ready to buy, it doesn’t matter what Etsy (or any other creative platform) does.  All that matters is that you deliver.  Again and again.  And make your products shine.

So, how do you create an audience of return customers that want to come back over and over again?  In my case, I just delivered really good customer service.  But there are some ways that you can grow this segment of your audience.  

Provide Excellent Customer Service – Always

The Garner Chamber of Commerce recently shared some of our free marketing tips with their Instagram followers.  One person wrote back to add that creating an amazing customer service experience was high on their list to success.

And she’s right.  When I started Katarina’s Paperie, I had very little money to spend on marketing.  So instead of investing in promoted listings, I focused on my customer service.

An entire year was dedicated to focusing on our customers.  I made sure every order was delivered on time and correctly.  I answered every conversation promptly.  And lots of time was spent building relationships on our shop’s blog, social media and email list.

The best part was that these things didn’t cost me a cent.  And they worked.  Customers started recommending my shop to their friends.  I received a lot of references and my business grew two fold.

Your customers are the base of a healthy business and always will be.  Instead of worrying about throwing money at your marketing, focus on them.  They will be the thing that makes or breaks your success.

Include a Business Card

This tip might seem a bit simple, but I don’t see it very often.  When I order from other Etsy sellers, most of the packages that I receive only have a packing slip.

The thing is that if you want a customer to return, you need to encourage them to do so.  They won’t be able to buy something again from your shop if they don’t know where to go.

Make it easy for them.  Include a business card (or two – one for a friend) in your packaging when you ship their product.

Selling digitally?  I always include my business information in the follow up email with ways to follow us on social media and join our email list.  This way customers have a reference when they want to get in touch with us for their next event.

Encourage Email List Sign Ups

In order for a customer to return to your shop, they need to know where they are returning to.  Many Etsy customers make a purchase from a shop and leave without ever being heard from again.

One of the best ways to keep in touch with your customers after they make a purchase is using your email list.  Once customers have signed up for your list, they’ve granted you permission to contact them again.

This permission lets you build your relationship with them beyond that first Etsy transaction.  They can learn more about your shop’s products, sales and you can cultivate a lasting relationship with them.

The way Etsy has set up their website and due to their terms and conditions, it can be hard to encourage customers to sign up for your mailing list.  Check out some easy ways to encourage email sign ups here.

And remember that no matter how big your list, the important thing is to email them.  At least once a month.  The reason customers sign up for your mailing list is because they want to hear from you.  It doesn’t help grow your return customers if you don’t contact them.

Have a Memorable Brand

There are a lot of Etsy shops these days.  Around approximately 2.1 million Etsy shops to be exact.  And that’s a lot of handmade goods.

How do you stand out in this sea of creativity?

I think I ask myself that question every day.  Although you should explore that one, the important thing to think about is how your shop can stand out in that sea.   

The most important thing to do is create a memorable brand.  Choose an untouched niche, unexpected colors, consistent shop feel, original logo and offering products that your customers can only find through your shop.  There are lots of ways that your shop can be really unique when you brand it correctly.

One of the best ways to create a memorable brand is to make sure that everything works together.  Your Etsy shop branding should match your social media and website branding. 

And you need to be consistent with that branding.  Your logo, colors and other graphic elements need to be everywhere your customers are.  

Potential customers need to see your brand 7 times to have any hope in remembering it.  Make it easy for them by keeping things that same.  Over time, your customers will start to recognize your logo, product photos and other shop elements.  They will seek out your store above the rest.

It’s with this consistency that you will turn a customer in a return customer.  

Close up of kraft shopping bag with the text overlay "The Joy of Return Customers"

Offer Something for Free

If you’re just starting out and trying to build your customer base, you might want to try this time tested trick.  Everyone loves to get something for free.

Offer your customers something for free.  It might be an extra matching design, craft supply or little trinket.

You don’t have to choose something that’s expensive or ruins your bottom line.  Free shipping on their first order might even work.

Giving a little something extra will make your shop stand out and be memorable.

Flat lay of tools on workbench

Fix All Problems Promptly

I recently had an issue with an order.  The design that was used for a person’s order wasn’t the same design that she had approved.  It happens.  There was a mix up in the printing.

Anyway, the customer contacted me and I recreated that part of her order and sent it along in one business day.

My efforts were rewarded with a shop favorite and 5 star review.

So if any problems arise in an order, no matter what, fix them.  And quickly.

Customers will return to your shop if they know you will help them when their order isn’t correct.

If you can’t correct the problem, then consider a partial or total refund.  Many disappointed customers will be happy to receive at least some of their money back.

And if you choose to give refunds to unhappy customers, don’t feel that you have to announce this policy.  You can still have a no refunds policy set up for your shop.  When an issue does arise, figure out how to handle it on a on a case by case basis.  If in doubt, give a refund.  Your customer is more likely to return.

Add New Products Regularly

Adding new products is just a good idea in general.  It helps keep your shop fresh and on trend.

But, customers are always looking for a reason to return to your shop.  Creating new product listings regularly gives them one.

Add products often and let your customers know about them.  In Etsy, you can announce them in your shop updates section.  Anyone who has favorited your shop – and many return customers do this – will see your updates.

Another place to announce new product lines and updates (especially around the holidays) is in your email newsletter.  If your most enthusiastic customers have signed up for your email list, then they are sure to see these additions.

Accommodating their Needs

One of the reasons that customers shop on Etsy is because of the added attention they receive when they purchase.  A lot of customers want something made that is unique to them.  They are looking for a specific font style, graphic option or color choice.

Whenever possible wow your customers by accommodating their needs.  Offer to make a change in your design or add an extra flourish. This shows that you will go above and beyond to make your customers happy.

And who wouldn’t want to return to a shop that does that?

Remembering their Names

What’s in a name?  To a new customer, potentially a lot. 

Although addressing a customer by name might seem like a small gesture to you, it shows that you really care.  Customers notice when an email is addressed specifically to them.  Or you include their name on a hand written note in their order.

One of the top reasons that customers return to a shop – any shop – is because they feel special. 

And knowing a customer’s name makes them feel really special.  Especially when they’re doing business online.

Creating a Marketing Strategy that includes Customer Retention

So, these tips probably look fantastic and you’re excited to get started.  The thing is that return customers don’t just happen.  You can’t wish them into your shop.

There is an art to getting customers to come back again and again.  Part of the challenge is keeping them excited about your shop and products.  The other side is providing amazing customer service they want to experience again.

When you create your shop’s marketing strategy, include a focus on customer retention.  Create a marketing plan that includes a focus on how you can get more customers to return.

And follow through.  Creating an audience that returns consistently takes time.  Think about the saying “There’s no such thing as a free lunch”.

You need to put the work into building trust with your customers and making your shop unforgettable.  This trust comes over time.  And if you have any doubt.  Remember, even the tiniest gestures don’t go unnoticed.  They might not be recognized publicly, but customers know where they feel comfortable and want to spend their hard earned dollars.

Final Thoughts…

Creating a shop that has a consistent return customer base isn’t easy.  It takes thoughtfulness, strategy and time.

If you don’t have a strategy yet for retaining your current customers, it’s time to develop one.  Think about which strategies you can implement and start working on them.  The sooner you start, the quicker you will see the benefits of return customers.

Not sure where to begin?  Check out our free course to create a marketing plan for your creative business today.  

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