“Night of the Living Dead.” “Resident Evil.” “28 Days Later.” If you think zombies are only scary in movies, consider what they’ll do to your online sales.

We’re not talking about zombies of the brain-eating variety. (Those zombies rarely shop online.)

Zombie customers are another class of nightmare for brands entirely. Explore the basics of zombie customers, and learn five tips for bringing these shoppers back.

What Are Zombie Customers?

Zombie customers are shoppers who signed up for a service, bought a product, or engaged with another shopping touch point and then suddenly stopped interacting with the brand in question. A zombie customer is typically considered a user who remains unengaged with a brand for six months to a year or more.

The customer was engaged and then went dark: No customer engagement. No feedback. No purchases.

You might be thinking: What’s the big deal? Zombie customers aren’t doing any active harm to my business — and I can’t make a superuser out of everyone who buys a product.

While zombie customers won’t wreak havoc in the same way their Hollywood counterparts do, their damaging touch is more subtle, stemming from lost opportunity costs.

The good news: Managed correctly, these lurkers can provide a significant boon to your online sales — and at a much lower cost than converting a completely new customer.

Customer Engagement Is Your Best Line of Defense

It’s easy for brands to fall into the trap of assuming their inactive customers are gone forever, but nothing could be further from the truth. In contrast to entirely new customers, these users have already demonstrated their interest and willingness to buy your product.

Zombie customers are familiar with your story, values, and products. The solution to bring them back is to reignite their interest by providing personalized value.

The Product-Led Growth Collective, founded by user engagement platform Appcues, reports that it’s two times cheaper to upsell to an existing customer than to acquire a new one. Additionally, it’s about eight times cheaper to retain an existing customer than to land a new one.

Remember: Increasing customer retention by only 5% can produce more than a 25% increase in profit, according to research from management consulting firm Bain & Company.

It’s clear how an engaging campaign to retain zombie customers could have a remarkable effect on your online sales. Retained customers are not only cheaper to attract but tend to buy more often and spend more than newer customers. What’s not to love?

5 Tips for Converting Zombie Customers

Luckily, it won’t take any heavy-handed, “The Walking Dead”-style tactics to deal with this particular foe. Here are five tips for bringing your inactive shoppers back into the fold.

1. Identify and Segment Your Inactive Shoppers

Review your user data and create a specific segment — or even multiple segments — of inactive users based on whatever criteria works for your brand.

Example parameters might include shoppers who haven’t completed a purchase within a certain time frame, haven’t opened a marketing email, have bought certain kinds of products, etc.

Once you can classify these users in a way that makes sense for your needs, conceptualizing personalized, relevant brand and product content to get their attention will become a much easier process.

2. Send Personalized Emails

Nobody likes to get junk mail — but everybody likes to feel special. Based on the segments you developed in our last step, develop a personalizable email template aimed at addressing specific obstacles to purchase that may be facing the shopper.

For example, could you let them know that a previously purchased product is back in stock or on sale? Perhaps a newer version of a product or related product is now available?

These sorts of messages not only let your customer know you’re thinking about them but doing so in a helpful way that provides value to their online shopping experience.

3. Develop Loyalty Programs and Coupons

Brand loyalty should go both ways, so why not give shoppers some recognition for their commitment? Discounts and other perks are great strategies for both inactive and active customers, rewarding repeat buyers and attracting those who have lost interest.

One note of caution when offering discounts to zombie customers: It’s OK to be generous, but make sure you aren’t so generous that the customer reverts back to inactivity after the promotional pricing ends. They might come back for a 50% off deal and then simply never return — again.

4. Send Engagement Surveys

Engagement surveys are more of a way to prevent shoppers from turning into zombie customers. It never hurts to ask: How are we doing?

These customer engagement surveys can be long, detailed, and specific — or you can simply ask a single question. For example, a Net Promoter Score (NPS) email.

Keep the surveys brief enough that customers won’t balk at filling them out but long enough to provide you with actionable insights for your brand.

5. Conduct Exit Interviews

As a method of last resort, you can also perform an exit interview of sorts with your zombie customer. Ask them why they left, make a final pitch to retain them, and use their experience to inform your retention efforts in the future.

While it may feel like you’re giving up on a customer, if they’re going to leave no matter what, this approach will at least allow you to learn from and correct your mistakes in the future.

Customer Engagement Saves the Day

Scary as they sound, zombie customers aren’t anything to hide from — in fact, they can be a tremendous opportunity for your brand. Listen to what your customers have to say, do your best to meet their expectations, and keep their shopping experience as personalized and engaging as possible.

Interested in learning more about navigating changing buying behaviors and other commerce challenges? Explore our report, “Breaking Down the Barriers to Winning Commerce.”


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