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Locking in Loyalty

One criterion for determining the success of a web site is evaluating its traffic numbers. It's no secret that the more targeted the traffic you attract to your site, the better. But if customer acquisition is good, customer retention is much better. As the old marketing adage goes, it's cheaper to retain an existing customer than to attract a new one. That's why loyalty is one of the most coveted of online goals by a marketing department.

Buying Loyalty

One way for your organization to gain a visitor's loyalty is to buy it. This can be done by offering discounts, rebates, free shipping, or special deals for repeat customers—or a points program to "purchase" merchandise or services. If your marketing department wants IT to build and track a points program, buying an existing program may be preferred to building one from scratch. You can create a points program yourself (which could be a big drain on IT resources), or you can use the services of companies on the Net that offer a "packaged" points program. Two well-known companies are ClickRewards, which offers frequent flier miles for shopping at a web site; and MyPoints, which offers shoppers reward points in a similar fashion, along with completely customizable private-label rewards program for e-businesses.

Earning Loyalty

But the best way to gain a customer's loyalty is to earn it. Your organization doesn't have to give something away to earn the loyalty of your customers. Retaining customers has less to do with bribing them than with keeping their attention.

Here are some suggestions to propose to your marketing department. The next time you add a new major feature to your site—a new navigation structure, a site search engine, a customer community element such as a discussion board—invite a select group of repeat customers to "test run" the new site element and ask for their feedback. Or send current customers a short questionnaire asking which repeat customer spiff they would choose—free shipping, special discounts, even a points program—before you offer it.

Of course, you'll give them a discount coupon on their next visit for taking the time to answer the questionnaire.

Speaking of coupons, providing email coupons is another good way to show repeat customers that you care about their loyalty. And here's a tip. When you send out that email coupon, make it easy to use. Include a simple number in the email. The end user need only copy the number on the coupon and plug it into the proper (and easy to find) box at the end of your checkout process.

Finally, that leads us to leveraging partners.

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