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December 01, 2018

As an ecommerce business owner, it doesn’t take huge amounts of money or massive acts of grandeur (we’re looking at you, Taco Bell!) to surprise and delight your audience, a technique that’s been shown to be an incredibly powerful tool for building customer loyalty.

According to Harvard Business Review, surprise not only changes behavior — it turbocharges emotions and fuels passionate relationships between customers and brands. Loyal customers are 5x as likely to repurchase, 4x as likely to refer, and 7x as likely to try a new offering.

Whether you are a rapidly growing ecommerce start-up with hundreds of thousands of dollars in sales or just sold your first product on Etsy last week, try incorporating the following tips into your daily business routine.

You’ll deliver a surprise and delight experience that will keep your customers coming back for more.

Take it Offline

Nothing kills authenticity faster than receiving an email addressed to Hey there! or Dear Sir/Madam. When it comes to creating a successful surprise and delight experience for the customer, the first step is to make it personal (we don’t know who “sir” and “madam” are but we like to think they would agree).

Taking the time to learn about who your customer is and reaching out to them in an unexpected way can be the first step in forming a loyal brand relationship, particularly in a world where people are constantly flooded with digital communication.

Almost every company will automatically send a generic thank you for your order! email after a transaction is complete, but online pet retailer Chewy.com takes customer appreciation to an entirely new level. They send out handwritten notes of appreciation to first-time customers.

Chewy thank you note

It’s a simple gesture, but one that packs an incredibly thoughtful punch. If you are an ecommerce store that has had a single transaction, then you already have everything you need to start implementing this surprise and delight example for your own business. Buy a roll of stamps, start practicing your cursive handwriting, and put your customer data to good use! There are plenty of ways to say thank you via a handwritten note or by email.

Make it Personal

If you’ve ever been a regular at a coffee shop or restaurant, then you know the delight that can come from walking up to a counter and having the staff member say Good morning! Will you be having your usual today? There is comfort in knowing that someone has taken the time to get to remember our preferences. This idea applies to ecommerce businesses as well.

For example, consider the beauty brand Birchbox. Every month, their customers get a box of sample-size beauty products to test and try with the option to go online and purchase the full-size version if it’s something they truly can’t live without.

It’s a concept that Birchbox has turned into a subscription box empire. They drive customer loyalty with personalized discounts on brands and products a customer has loved and purchased repeatedly.

Birchbox personalization example

This technique not only shows customers you are paying attention, but also that you are taking the time to understand their likes, preferences, and ultimately anticipate their wants and needs. Surprising, and delightful.

Timing = Opportunity

Birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays are opportunities to surprise and delight your customers with extra rewards and perks. Do you have a customer who has purchased the same item multiple times? Or perhaps a customer who has commented on a social channel expressing interest in a new product offering? Sending a free product to a repeat customer, or wrapping up that T-shirt a customer commented on is a fantastic way to create surprise and delight throughout the year.

Lord and Taylor tweet example

In 2014, Lord & Taylor took this advice to heart by posting the #OBSESSED hashtag promotion to their (at the time) 65,000 Twitter followers. Customers were instructed to post an item carried at the store using hashtag #OBSESSED as shown.

As the weeks started to pass and the holidays drew closer, customers were delighted when they started to receive free of charge, the very items they had admired online. Create a similar surprise and delight experience for your own customers by offering a personalized birthday or holiday gift as a way of saying We appreciate everything you have done for US, now here is something special just for YOU!

Don’t Attach Strings

It’s the same as giving a present to a friend or family member. Gifting is about how you want that person to feel, and not about what you expect to get in return.

Social shares, hashtags, and user-generated content can be a fantastic benefit of surprise and delight, but should never be the foundation on which the experience is built. The best surprise and delight examples are always going to be the ones that feel authentic, and the customer isn’t left with a sense of expectation or feel that there are strings attached to the generosity.

Make it easy for customers to enjoy the kind gesture and remove any potential roadblocks, such as expiration dates on birthday coupons or free shipping codes that only work at a certain price threshold.

Be Human

The world of ecommerce can feel like you are constantly interacting with a team of highly trained robots, particularly when it comes to customer service. As a business owner, taking the time to actually engage and speak with your customers one-on-one is a simple yet impactful opportunity to make a customer (or a potential customer!) feel like their voice matters.

For Karissa Bodnar, the CEO and founder of cosmetics start-up Thrive Causemetics, daily interaction with customers has become a personal mission. In addition to a fully-staffed customer service team, you can find Bodnar online and interact daily with the brand’s more than 440,000 Facebook followers, and via her own personal Facebook account.

Social interactions from Thrive Causemetics CEO

Surprise and delight the people who are taking the time out of their day to interact with your brand and business by showing them the same amount of respect. That means — reach out promptly, engage in a dialogue, and always provide solutions to questions or concerns in actual human (not robot!) language.

Surprise and Delight is for Businesses of All Sizes

A one-of-a-kind customer experience can benefit your business in a variety of different ways, and the effort it takes is well worth the reward. Keep in mind, you don’t have to be a huge company with a million dollars in sales to benefit from incorporating a surprise and delight strategy into your business methodology.

Surprise and delight isn’t about sending the biggest gifts or getting the most media coverage — it’s about creating special and unexpected moments with customers. That’s how you build brand love and brand loyalty — and brand retention — for years to come.

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