How the element of surprise is changing ecommerce

Casey Hill

Updated: Oct 08, 2022 · 5 min read

How the element of surprise is changing ecommerce

A few years back, Harvard Business Review released a paper that delved deep into the psychology of why “surprise” was so effective in business. They looked at MRIs and could see how the brain's reward centers lit up when they received something positive that was unexpected.

For the majority of us, we love to be surprised. We love the anticipation at the holidays or a birthday at the prospect of something unknown. When someone goes out of their way to surprise us with an act of kindness, like an anonymous person paying for your meal or a Good Samaritan returning your lost car keys, you are ecstatic.

So, how does surprise fit in with ecommerce? We have seen a number of brands that are revolutionizing the landscape of online selling through surprising and delighting customers. Let’s take a look at a few:


Imagine you call up a shoe company and are looking for a certain shoe in a certain color. The representative tells you they don’t have it but hang on the line and he will find a pair for you. You pause for a moment, not sure exactly what he means as you listen to the elevator music on hold. Then he comes back on three minutes later and tells you the exact address (or URL if online) of a competitor who is selling what you are looking for.

Craziness! What an awesome, customer centric move!

Zappos has built a multi-billion dollar empire on the pack of not just being a commodity, but being an experience. Zappos sells shoes online. Plain and simple. But it’s their drive and desire to surprise and over deliver that has led to their success.

Zappos seeks to deliver shoes faster than anyone else in the industry. You order and think they are coming in three days (already pretty good) but they arrive the next day! Again, a pleasant surprise.

You order from them and it’s the wrong size, they reship you a new pair immediately (even before they get your old pair back) AND include some extra cool colored laces for the trouble.

Again and again, Zappos seeks to create a share-worthy experience and that internal customer vitality has been the best marketing and PR they could ask for.


Each month, Birchbox delivers a custom beauty box to their subscribers. Their 2.5 million customers eagerly await something unique... something unexpected. It’s this anticipation and then always over delivering with personal notes, extras and high-quality products that has led Birchbox to be one of the most successful beauty products on the market (alongside giants like Ulta and Sephora).

The model is simple. People like to be surprised. People like experiences that are always fresh and new. When companies do this, they stave off growing stale and they keep loyal customers for longer and longer.

It doesn’t matter if you sell a one-time product via ecommerce or if you run a membership or subscription. The name of the game for all ecommerce companies is CLTV (Customer Life Time Value).

Shopify puts it perfectly: “Not all customers are created equal. In fact, the top 1% of ecommerce customers are worth up to 18 times more than average customers.”

Imagine if you could shift your top 10% to spend as much as your top 1%? It would be a game changer. So look into investing in surprises and delighting your customers.


Keap delights and surprises its customers with its intuitive CRM where you can integrate any number of applications to the software that will help you complete all your tasks in one place, including email automation.

The software lets you automatically sort, read, send and build email campaigns within your messaging feature that will shave hours off your already full schedule.

You can also automate alerts to respond to certain emails so you always remember when to follow up on active leads.

Keap knows that having the ability to automate email campaigns is another essential feature that should be included in CRM software. Sending emails out on a regular basis to your clientele is a surefire way to maintain engagement and stay top of mind.


Imagine you bought a pair of luxury jeans from a specialty store that worked with some world-class designers. After you purchased it, you received a personal video email from one of the company's designers! The designer addressed you by name and then talked about the meticulous process of putting together these specialty jeans and why each pair, like a Rolls Royce, is unique in its stitching. He pulled out the exact pair of jeans he was about to ship to you to sing its praises. Wow.

Bonjoro is not an ecommerce company like Zappos or Birchbox, but instead, is a software business that works closely with ecommerce brands to help them turn their businesses from commodities into experiences through personal video.

In today’s day and age, so many businesses have turned to automation and machine learning to run their “scalable” businesses. Who loses? The customer. Customers are craving real, authentic connections with the brands they support. They want to buy from brands and companies that sell products reflective of their values, desires and aspirations. And they want to be pleasantly surprised.

Personal video emails are a way brands can thank customers, showcase new product lines or ask for reviews, all while making it a concierge and delightful experience. Always put yourself in your customer’s shoes and ask, how would I receive this if it was sent to me?

The Future

With production prices plummeting as more global manufacturers become available to the masses, the battle over goods intensifies. Companies that seek to “win” through discount codes, better ad spend and cutting costs are going to be set for a tragic race to the bottom.

The companies that rise up in this new online economy are going to be those brands that get personalized, invest in their customers and surprise them time and time again. Remember that the extra gift might seem like a frivolous investment, or recording a personal video for new customers might seem too time intensive, but if you can turn those customers into fans, what Shopify called the 1% that spends 18x as much with your brand, that will always be the right choice.

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