Trained Customers

Gideon and I still use paper planners, and this is the time of year that I order them. I went online over the weekend and placed the order, and I typed in my code to get 20% off for the reorder. I clicked on “Apply the promotion.” Up popped the message, “Trained Customer Discount Applied.”

Okay, maybe they could have phrased it more tactfully.

They’re right, though. I have become trained to order planner refills consistently at this time of year. I don’t wait for discounts, I don’t fool around with Black Friday or Cyber Monday, I don’t cause this retailer any trouble by holding out till the end of the year in case something better comes along. I place my order at full price while they have plenty of stock and more than enough time to ship the refills at no rush so the free shipping isn’t ruinous for them.

So I’m a trained customer. They send me a catalog, maybe a discount code,  and I order. I get planner refills on time without fail, and they get the benefits of having a trained customer.

How can you train your customers?

  • Make the experience as friction-free as possible. The company in the example greets me with, “Do you want to reorder your planner?” so I don’t have to remember which of the dozens of possible combinations of size, start month, and design I usually buy. They have my address and payment information on file. They recommend items I might want. I can get in and out of their website in minutes and be confident about my order. Make it that easy for your customers.
  • Be consistent. I get a paper catalog from this company every October. They know I buy a paper planner, so I like paper enough to be a good candidate for that catalog. They have new products, but I can feel sure that there will be a refill for the leather binder they sold me, and I can be confident that it will be in stock. They update their website, too, but it doesn’t require an effort to find my way around. I get an annual reminder that it’s time to reorder and a consistent experience at their website. Provide that consistent experience for your customers.
  • Keep in touch. I typically order just once a year from this company, but they send me the occasional email during the year, let me know if they have a sale, and alert me if something I might be interested in arrives in stock or goes on clearance. I’m not ignored and given a reason to look elsewhere — and sometimes I’m tempted to make additional orders.

Now this is all positive training, but that’s not the only possibility. Here are some of the ways retailers train their customers — and probably shouldn’t.

  • Make sure everything is half off every now and then, and have discounts on something all the time. By discounting regularly, you train your customers never to shop at full price. The half-off price becomes the real price in their minds, and they wait for it.
  • Reduce prices steadily throughout the season. This trains your customers to wait as late as possible to make a purchase, which can play havoc with your forecasting and inventory management as well as creating cash flow issues.
  • Keep changing what’s available and make sure you’re often out of stock. I’ve been told, “We’re out of that” enough times at a popular local coffee shop that I just quit going. While some customers may be willing to visit your website with an open mind to see what you have on hand, most will go elsewhere.

The principle is the same if you have a service to sell rather than a product. It’s good to train your customers — but only in ways that are good for you and for them.

And maybe don’t let them know that you think of them as trained customers.


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