Monday, June 18, 2012

Getting buyers to buy more often

Getting your buyers to buy more often by helping them know they need to is something every business should be doing.  Relying on your customers to design their own re-purchase cycle is leaving yourself open to forgetfulness, delay or worst still, substitution.

Here are three things you should consider implementing.

1. Build in cues of product redundancy
If you have a perishable product, most of your work will be taken care of by nature and health standards.  "Use By" and "Best Before" dates are examples of cues that are designed to protect the health of the consumer.

But what if your product's life cycle is not so obvious?

Take your pillow for example.  Every night you rest your head on a pillow you purchased maybe years ago, never thinking that it too has a useful life.  Not a great re-purchase model for pillow manufacturers.  Enter Tontine and their ingenious date-stamped pillow that reminds the customer that the pillow should be changed every two years, and serves as a cue every time the pillow case is removed.  Suddenly after the pillow's "expiry" you are not sleeping so well, worried about what pillow gremlins have been unleashed in the depths of the night.  For Tontine, whether people buy a new pillow immediately or just sooner than never, they have created a sense of product redundancy and improved their chances of repeat purchase.

So the question for you is whether your product has a life cycle, real or perceived, that you can highlight to your customers?

2. Activate re-purchase by providing a cue
Smart manufacturers give their consumers advanced warning of the need to take action. Examples include;
  • Tissues that change grade and colour as you near the bottom. You know when your white tissue turns pink and scratchy that the good times are over.
  • Rolls of cling wrap that include a reminder sticker to buy more when you near the end of the reel
  • Car dashboards that signal when your service is due
And here is an interesting idea for food.  A recent study into self-control saw chips coloured red with food dye inserted at intervals in the Pringles-like packet. Whilst the objective of the study was to interrupt over-eating patterns, it shows that there are ways to include cues without interfering with the quality of the food.  

The lesson here is that you can help your customer avoid running out of your product by providing them explicit cues.

3. Make the cue transportable
It's great that you have created a need to re-purchase through redundancy and triggered the need to re-purchase, but there's still a long way to go between home and the cash register.  You need to help your buyer be reminded to buy your product in the context of purchase.

For example, ever had the experience of being out and enjoying a bottle of wine so much that you sometime later look for it in the bottle shop?  If only you can remember what it was called! Clever wine makers have closed this gap by providing a transportable cue in the form of a perforated, take-away tag on the wine label so that the customer can rip it off and keep it handy for their bottle shop hunt.

QR codes can likewise be used to close the gap between product use and repurchase...if only anyone used them.   But code scanning technology aside, mobile phones are definitely the key linkage between home and the retailer because they are with your customer in most contexts and used as a source of information and reminder.

The question you should be asking yourself here is how are you physically helping to remind your buyer to buy your product?

Repeat purchase is something that businesses hope for but often don't invest enough time and thought into.  Challenge yourself to look at how you can cue the need for re-purchase and you might be pleasantly surprised at the influence you can have over your buyer's cycle.

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Best before image:
Tontine pillow:
Wine label:


  1. Fantastic article! Thank you for sharing. Do you hypothesise that a cue such as expiry date then works into peoples' mental value calculation of the item? I wonder whether introducing expiry date into something like a pillow that didn't have this cue before would make people think pricing should be staggered according to how long it then lasts. Something lasting longer implies it is well built and quality so should cost more- even though it could cost less to achieve this- I imagine you get this with certain clothes for example.

    Also I suppose temporal discounting works into this. Stating an item will expire in one year and a month as opposed to one year won't make people want to spend any more on it, but it would make a big difference between stating it expires tomorrow as opposed to next month..

  2. Love your thinking Monkeyread! I think once expiry dates on things like pillows become common it could well become a value/pricing cue used to differentiate between product. Smart manufacturers will introduce tiered options to up sell. Adds an interesting dimension to what was a price vs quality decision because now it is price vs quality vs longevity.

  3. Great article.
    I've also seen this type of "signalling system" in tobacco rolling paper: it tells you that you only have 5 rolling papers left, so that you it's time to buy some more pretty soon.


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