E-Commerce: Which Customer Acquisition Channels Perform Best?

Custora-E-Commerce-Customer-Acquisition-Channel-Comparison-June2013Custora has released a new study [download page] examining e-commerce customer acquisition trends, based on data from 72 million customers of 86 US retailers across 14 industries. The study looks at which channels produce the most customers, but also which offer the greatest customer lifetime value (CLV). Highlights first: organic search has not only accounted for the greatest percentage of acquired customers over the past 4 years, but it also boasts the highest CLV relative to the average. And don’t sleep on email: it’s a fast-growing channel.

Looking at the data for 2013, the results show that the top customer acquisition channels (by percentage of customers acquired) are:

  • Organic search (15.81%);
  • Cost-per-click (CPC; 9.82%);
  • Email (6.84%);
  • Referral (6.39%); and
  • Google (1.72%).

(Most retailers split up their Google traffic into organic search and PPC, however some lumped them together as “Google,” which explains Google’s appearance on the list.)

No other channel (the remainders were: banner; Facebook; PPC; affiliate; Twitter; and CPM) was responsible for more than 1% of customers acquired. (It’s worth noting that these figures are presumably based on last-touch attribution, which tends to undervalue social’s contribution. An analysis of where different channels tend to crop up along the online customer journey can be found here.)

Comparing the Custora data from this year against 2009 figures brings into focus some of the key emerging channels. On that list is email, which has grown from 0.88% of customers acquired in 2009 to 6.84% this year. The organic search (15.81% vs. 10.35%) and referral (6.39% vs. 3.63%) channels are also on the rise, and while some of the others can point to relative increases, their totals remain fractional in comparison.

Organic Search Brings The Highest Value Customers

As quarterly studies from Monetate have pointed out for some time, not only does search bring in the most traffic, it also drives higher order values than email or social.

The Custora study offers another perspective on search’s dominance. Analyzing customer lifetime value by channel (described as “the future profit a company expects to earn from a customer throughout his or her relationship with the business”), Custora reveals that organic search delivers the highest-value customers, at 54% above the average. Next on the list is CPC (36.9%), followed by Google (13.35%) and email (11.81%).

Which channel brings the lowest-value customers? Twitter, at 23.4% below the average, which the researchers say could be due to the “frequency of discounts offered within tweets.”

Other Findings:

  • The highest-value shoppers seem to come from rural states, with customers from Wyoming sporting a CLV a whopping 27.5% above-average.
  • Limiting the analysis to fashion-focused brands changes the picture, with the most valuable customers being found more on the coasts, in states such as New York (+15%) and California (+11%). New Mexico (+6%) and Wyoming (+5%) still managed to rank in the top 5 in CLV for fashion brands, though.

About the Data: Acquisition channels were obtained via the “utm_medium” tag in Google Analytics. Customer Lifetime Value numbers refer to the amount customers spent in the two years after their initial purchase (initial purchase inclusive). When customers made their first purchase less than two years prior to data collection, their expected purchases for the remaining time were calculated using Custora‚Äôs statistical models and used in the overall calculations. Fashion-related numbers were derived from seven clothing/apparel retailers.

A total of $158 billion in customer lifetime value was analyzed for the report.