An assortment of books on a bed
If a customer's first purchase is her only purchase, you're missing opportunities. However, if you focus on patterns and analytics, you can increase your number of repeat buyers. PHOTO: Giulia Bertelli on Unsplash

After analyzing data for many businesses, one statistic has always struck me: the number of customers who’ve only purchased once. 

Whether it’s for a retail product, travel, charity or financial services, it’s remarkable how many customers never got around to ordering a second time. What if even 10 percent of those customers bought again? 

Just imagine the impact that could have on the bottom line. While marketers aren’t in control of all those reasons why consumers buy again, they can use data, analysis and communications to make a difference.

Despite this common challenge, I’m surprised how few marketers know what percentage of their customer base are single-purchasers. For too many, it escapes their focus, which is hard to understand considering all the evidence that shows it is much easier to retain and develop an existing customer than it is to recruit a new one. 

A 6 Step Process to Cross the One-Time Purchase Hurdle

Clearly, there are many reasons why a customer might buy only once, including service, customer experience, product quality, personal circumstances and more. But, if we think about the areas that marketing might be able to control, then adaptive marketers can break down the single-purchase problem into manageable steps to get one-time buyers buying again.

1. What’s Your Problem?

First, it’s all about being able to see your current situation. If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it. That means having the right data and reporting available, so you can clearly see how many of your customers have bought once. Keep it simple with a report that clearly shows customer status.

Just seeing your single purchasers bought to life will help quantify the scale of the problem. Even better, as you record how these numbers change over time, you can see the impact as you tackle the issue.

2. What’s the Difference?

Let’s assume your single purchasers figure is too high. For most businesses, it will be. What can you do to address it? A great starting point is to look at the differences between your single-purchasers and your regular customers. Does profiling both groups show differences between them? Do they come via certain channels? Do they respond to particular messages? Do they live in different locations? Do they have more disposable income? Using your best available customer, behavioral and potentially external data, you can try and create a picture of those who buy once, and those who go onto repeat.

3. Recruiting the Right Customers

With this newfound insight, one area you might want to address is where you are recruiting customers. If you are simply recruiting a stack of customers who are likely to just buy from you once, that’s going to knock down the average lifetime value of your customers. You’ll just end up constantly spending heavily on recruitment. Profiling the types of individuals who will buy multiple times enables you to refine your target recruitment audiences to find more like those.

4. Unlock the ‘Golden Window’

It’s not just about attributes, it’s also about timing — like understanding when people make second and subsequent purchases. A simple trick is to look at the days between a first and second purchase for each customer who’s gone on to make more than one purchase. Often you might discover there’s a “golden window” when you’ve got the best chance of getting that next buy. If you miss this window, then you may as well treat that single purchaser as a prospect. Having an early, pro-active multi-phase program of communications is the best way to build repeat customers.

5. Automate for Efficiency

With new customers coming on board all the time, it makes sense to automate your activity. That way you can make sure you start the second purchase-process from the moment of the first purchase. Automating eliminates the need for the marketing team to remember to get back in touch with those customers. It really is the only way to ensure you can deliver the timely coverage that will maximize those repeat purchases.

6. Test, Tweak and Try It Out

Even with your insight, new programs and automation, you aren’t guaranteed success. That’s why you want to constantly monitor results and look for areas to improve. Even better, you can set up new tests to try out new ideas, then as you prove success, you can implement the ones that work. It’s a continual cycle of testing, evaluating and refining.

Don't Leave Money on the Table

If you’re ready to take a fresh look at your customer behavior and then run the programs to take remedial action, you can solve the one-time purchase quandary. And it’s worth it. Again, just think what would happen to your bottom line if just 10 percent of your single-purchasers bought again.