How to Start a Referral Program for Your Online Store

Richard Sutherland
April 19, 2019
Traffic acquisition
Adquisición de tráfico

Realize this — your company’s most important asset is its existing customer base. They’re not only exponentially more likely to purchase from you again compared to random visitors, but they offer you the most powerful form of marketing around — referral marketing.

Referral marketing can take on a number of guises, including influencer marketing and customer review sites like Yelp. Any marketing efforts that encourage existing customers to discuss their positive experiences with your company with their friends and followers is referral marketing.

Word of mouth is highly valued when making a purchase or choosing a service online. 83% of consumers trust recommendations from friends and family more than standard marketing.

Introduce a more formal referral program for your e-commerce store to maximize the benefits you’ll get from pleasing your customers. Make their positive customer experiences work for you by helping them share them with others.

Adding a Referral Program to the Mix

What you need to start any referral program is a way to share referrals and a way to track them. Your e-commerce platform will almost certainly have the ability to create and track referral programs, whether built-in or as a plug-in. You can also choose a standalone referral program system or an off-site system like Genius Referrals or Referral Rock.

The two main options for tracking are:

  • Coupon codes
  • Unique sharing URLs

Unique sharing URLs are taking over, as they are generally easier to create, track, and share.

Here are some ideas on how to ramp up your word of mouth marketing with a referral program.

A Referral Post-Conversion Page

Getting a customer to give up his email address is a challenge in itself. Getting him or her to give up the email addresses of friends is even tougher. One way to start is to ask them to share an offer for which they have just signed up.

For example, you’ve just enticed an existing customer to sign up for your newsletter by offering a stiff discount on their next purchase. They’re dutifully impressed and enter their email address to sign up. Ride this good feeling by showing them a thank you page that makes it incredibly easy for them to invite their friends by email or share the details on social media.

This works well because the initial customer has already performed an action that shows they are interested in the product or have had a positive experience with your company. Some trials have shown that up to 50% of people who sign up for the newsletter will refer their friends.

Ask Your Best Customers to Refer Others

The emails you send to your customers should always be packed full of useful information. Make them too sales-y, and you’ll turn people off. Send them too many promotions and you’ll lose some goodwill you’ve built up.

With this in mind, if you’re going to send an email asking for referrals it pays to only send it to a subset of your subscribers.

Begin by monitoring the email campaigns you are running to evaluate your open rate and your click rate. Once you have a good benchmark, you can make a segment from your subscribers who are high energy. It is to these subscribers you should send a referral program email with a juicy enticement and call to action.

Offer a Flat Discount on Orders Made through Referrals

A common referral tactic is to offer a flat store credit for every friend that is referred.

You can double down on this by offering a discount for both the referrer and the person they’re referring.

You can also consider a discount system such as offering the subscriber a $10 store credit for every order over $50 that their friends make. You need to set these rates to be enticing enough to get the customer to act but not too juicy to cut heavily into your profits. Make sure that you’ve worked out the average order value of your store and set the values accordingly.

Offer Free Products for Referrals

An alternative referral scheme is to track how many successful referrals a customer has created for you and offer them free products. As the number of referrals increases, the product that they can cash out for will be better.

For example, at 10 referrals, they could cash out for a product worth around $20, and at 50 referrals they can cash out for a product worth around $100.

This way, users are encouraged to keep making more referrals for your business, almost like a game.

A Facebook Messenger Referral Campaign

Facebook Messenger is currently still an underutilized tool in marketing. Messages have an 88% open rate and a 56% click-through rate. Send a referral Messenger message to customers who have engaged highly with your content in the past.

Keep it short and simple. The message you send should show clearly and succinctly what you’re asking people to do, and what they’ll get out of it.


When getting serious about referral marketing, it’s smart to use these methods concurrently to maximize your results. Once your referral marketing system is in place, you can use multiple channels to get the word out, maximizing engagement.

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About the author

Richard Sutherland has worked in online marketing and search engine optimization for over 15 years. Excited about how we can offer the customer a streamlined, personalized online experience, Richard looks for every way to increase conversion percentages with a high return on investment.

Sobre el autor

Richard Sutherland tiene más de 15 años de experiencia en marketing online y optimización de motores de búsqueda. Apasionado por ofrecer una experiencia inteligente y personalizada a cada consumidor, Richard está constantemente buscando nuevas maneras de incrementar la conversión y, con ella, los retornos a la inversión.

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