How to calculate customer lifetime value?

How to calculate customer lifetime value?

Did you know that it’s 5 times more expensive to acquire a new customer than to retain an existing one?

That’s not it. 

Research shows that repeat customers spend significantly more than new customers, with some studies indicating they spend 67% more. 

This underscores the fact that your current customers are one of your most valuable assets. 

So, wouldn’t it be worth knowing the exact value each customer brings to your business? This is where Customer Lifetime Value, or CLV, comes in. 

Instead of just looking at one purchase, CLV zooms out to see the big picture – how much each customer is really worth to you over time.

It tells you everything you need to know about how well your product or service resonates with your customers, what you’re doing well, and where you can improve.

What’s more, it helps you make smarter decisions in marketing, sales, and product development. 

With CLV, you can focus your efforts where they matter most, whether it’s targeting the right customers with your marketing campaigns, nurturing relationships with high-value customers in sales, or creating products that your customers will love.

So, if you want to take your business to the next level, deeply understanding CLV and how to calculate it is key. 

What is Customer Lifetime Value?

Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) is a metric that estimates the total revenue a business can expect from a single customer account throughout its relationship with the company. It's a crucial measure that helps businesses understand the long-term value of their customer base, guiding strategic decisions about marketing, sales, product development, and customer service.

Why is Customer Lifetime Value Important?

Customer Lifetime Value remains an underutilized yet pivotal metric for any modern business. A notable 2019 report from Criteo revealed that two-thirds of respondents struggled to utilize CLV to its full potential. 

Understanding the growth and revenue value of each customer over time is critical for any business. Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) serves as a vital metric in achieving this understanding. 

Whether you are an eCommerce startup or a B2B SaaS company, CLV can help boost customer loyalty and reduce churn.  

Here are some other reasons why CLV is essential:

Strategic Decision Making

Understanding the long-term value of your customers allows you to make strategic decisions that maximize profitability. By knowing how much revenue each customer is likely to generate over their lifetime, you can allocate resources more effectively and prioritize efforts where they will have the greatest impact.

Customer Retention

Knowing the value of your customers over their lifetime encourages a focus on customer retention. Since it's more cost-effective to retain existing customers than to acquire new ones, businesses can implement strategies to enhance customer satisfaction, loyalty, and engagement, ultimately leading to increased CLV.

Product and Service Development

CLV provides insights into customer preferences, behaviors, and purchasing patterns over time. This information is invaluable for product and service development, as it helps businesses tailor their offerings to better meet the needs and expectations of their most valuable customers.

Customer Experience Optimization

By understanding the value of each customer, businesses can personalize the customer experience to enhance satisfaction and loyalty. This may include providing personalized recommendations, offering exclusive promotions or discounts, or delivering exceptional customer service tailored to individual preferences.

Forecasting and Planning

CLV serves as a valuable forecasting tool, enabling businesses to predict future revenue streams and plan accordingly. By projecting the lifetime value of their customer base, businesses can set realistic growth targets, establish budgets, and make informed investment decisions.

Customer Lifetime Value Models

Generally, there are two models used to measure Customer Lifetime Value. 

Historical Customer Lifetime Value

This model calculates Customer Lifetime Value based on past customer behavior and transaction history over a specific period. It involves analyzing actual customer data to determine the total revenue generated by each customer during their relationship with the business.

Historical CLV provides insights into the actual value that customers have contributed to the business over time. By analyzing past purchase behavior, transaction frequency, and order value, businesses can estimate the total revenue generated by each customer up to the present moment.


  • Tangible Data: Historical CLV relies on concrete, observable customer behavior, providing a clear picture of past performance.
  • Accuracy: Since it's based on real customer data, historical CLV can offer a precise estimate of a customer's value up to a certain point in time.
  • Benchmarking: It allows businesses to establish benchmarks and track changes in customer value over time, enabling performance evaluation and comparison.


  • Limited Future Insight: Historical CLV may not account for changes in customer behavior or market dynamics, limiting its ability to predict future revenue accurately.
  • Time Lag: It requires a sufficient historical data set to generate meaningful insights, making it less suitable for newly established businesses or rapidly evolving markets.
  • Inflexibility: Historical CLV calculations may not adapt well to changes in business strategy or market conditions, potentially leading to outdated insights.

Historical CLV is best suited for businesses with a stable customer base and well-established historical transaction data. It's useful for evaluating past performance, setting benchmarks, and monitoring trends over time.

Predictive Customer Lifetime Value

This model forecasts Customer Lifetime Value using statistical techniques and predictive analytics to anticipate future customer behavior and revenue potential. It involves developing mathematical models based on historical data to predict the future value of customers over their lifetime with the business.

Predictive CLV utilizes advanced statistical methods, machine learning algorithms, and predictive analytics to forecast the future revenue that customers are expected to generate. By analyzing historical customer data and identifying patterns, trends, and correlations, businesses can develop predictive models that estimate the potential lifetime value of customers.


  • Future Forecasting: Predictive CLV offers insights into future revenue potential, helping businesses anticipate customer behavior and plan accordingly.
  • Adaptability: It can adjust to changes in customer behavior, market trends, and business strategies, providing more flexible and dynamic insights.
  • Early Intervention: Predictive CLV allows businesses to identify at-risk customers early and implement proactive retention strategies to mitigate churn.


  • Data Complexity: Predictive CLV relies heavily on data quality and may require sophisticated analytics tools and expertise to extract meaningful insights.
  • Model Accuracy: The accuracy of predictive CLV depends on the quality of historical data and the complexity of the statistical models used, introducing potential sources of error.
  • Resource Intensive: Developing and maintaining predictive CLV models can be resource-intensive, requiring ongoing data collection, model refinement, and validation efforts.

Predictive CLV is ideal for businesses seeking to forecast future revenue, identify growth opportunities, and implement proactive customer retention strategies. It's particularly valuable in dynamic or rapidly changing markets where historical trends may not accurately predict future outcomes.

What are Customer Lifetime Value Metrics?

Before we begin to calculate Customer Lifetime Value, there are some essential metrics that we need to understand. 

Customer Value Lifetime metrics provide insights into various aspects of customer behavior, purchasing patterns, and profitability. 

Here are some of the main metrics used in customer lifetime value calculation:

Average Purchase Value

This metric signifies the average amount spent by a customer per transaction. Understanding APV aids businesses in recognizing the usual expenditure habits of their customers, which is essential for tailoring marketing and sales strategies to boost spending per transaction.

Purchase Frequency

Purchase frequency reveals how often customers engage in transactions with a business over a designated period. This metric is vital as it shows the engagement depth and brand loyalty of the customer base. Businesses can use this data to devise strategies aimed at increasing customer interactions with the brand.

Customer Lifespan

Customer lifespan measures the period a customer continues to interact and transact with a business. This duration is pivotal for companies as it helps project the total possible revenue a customer can generate throughout their relationship with the business. Strategies to extend this lifespan can significantly enhance the lifetime value of the customers.

Gross Margin per Customer Lifespan

This metric calculates the total gross margin that a customer contributes over their entire relationship with the company. By accounting for all revenues and subtracting associated costs, businesses can determine the profitability contributed by each customer, guiding financial and operational planning.

Retention Rate

Retention rate measures the percentage of customers retained by the business over a certain period. It indicates the effectiveness of customer retention efforts and the loyalty of the customer base. A high retention rate often correlates with strong customer satisfaction and loyalty, which are critical for sustained business success. This metric is essential for evaluating the effectiveness of retention strategies and customer satisfaction initiatives.

Discount Rate (for present value calculations)

In present value calculations, the discount rate adjusts future cash flows to their present value, reflecting the potential returns of alternative investments. This rate is crucial for evaluating the actual value of future cash flows from customers today, helping businesses make informed investment decisions.

Customer Acquisition Cost

Customer acquisition cost (CAC) represents the total cost incurred by the business to acquire a new customer. This includes all expenses from marketing and advertising to sales and promotions. Understanding CAC is fundamental for evaluating the efficiency of acquisition strategies and ensuring sustainable customer growth.

Average Revenue per User (ARPU)

ARPU measures the average revenue generated by each customer within a specific period. It's a critical metric for assessing the revenue potential of the customer base and is often used to gauge overall business performance and customer value.

Churn Rate

The churn rate indicates the percentage of customers who end their relationship with the business within a given period. It serves as a key indicator of customer satisfaction and the effectiveness of retention strategies. Lowering the churn rate is imperative for maintaining a healthy customer base and enhancing the overall customer lifetime value.

How to Calculate Customer Lifetime Value

The most common formula for calculating Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) is:



  • APV = Average Purchase Value
  • PF = Purchase Frequency
  • ACL = Average Customer Lifespan

Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you: 

1 - Determine the Time Period: Decide on the time period over which you want to calculate CLV. This could be monthly, quarterly, annually, or the entire customer lifespan.

2 - Gather Necessary Data: Collect data related to customer transactions, such as purchase history, average order value, purchase frequency, customer acquisition cost, and customer retention rate.

3 - Calculate Average Purchase Value (APV): The APV represents the average amount of money spent by a customer in each transaction.

Formula: APV =Total Revenue/Total Number of Transactions

4 -Calculate Purchase Frequency (PF): PF indicates how often, on average, customers make purchases within the selected time period.

Formula: PF = Total Number of Transactions/Total Number of Customers

5 - Estimate Average Customer Lifespan (ACL): ACL refers to the average number of years a customer stays active.

Formula: ACL = Total Number of Years Customers Stay Active/Total Number of Customers

6 - Calculate CLV: Multiply APV by PF and ACL to calculate Customer Lifetime Value.

Formula: CLV = APV×PF×ACL


Let's consider an eCommerce business. In the past year:

  • Total revenue generated: $500,000
  • Total number of transactions: 10,000
  • Total number of customers: 1,000
  • Total number of years customers stay active: 3,000


  1. Calculate APV:

APV = $500,000/10,000 = $50

  1. Calculate PF:

PF = 10,000/1,000 =10

  1. Calculate ACL:

ACL= 3,000/1,000 = 3

  1. Calculate CLV:

CLV = $50×10×3 = $1,500

Therefore, the Customer Lifetime Value for this eCommerce business is $1,500.

This is a simplified example and the actual CLV calculation can be more complex depending on the business and the customer data available.

Common Pitfalls in Calculating Customer Lifetime Value

Here are some common pitfalls in calculating Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) along with best practices to avoid them:

Overestimating Customer Lifespan (ACL)

Overestimating ACL involves assuming that customers will remain active and engaged with the business for an unrealistic duration. This can occur due to optimistic projections or insufficient consideration of factors that may impact customer retention, such as changing market trends, competitor actions, or shifts in consumer preferences. 

Overestimating ACL leads to inflated CLV calculations, potentially resulting in misallocation of resources and inaccurate strategic decision-making.

How to Fix It: 

Use historical data to accurately estimate ACL. Consider factors such as industry norms, customer churn rates, and changing market dynamics.

Neglecting Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC)

Neglecting CAC involves focusing solely on revenue generation without considering the expenses incurred to acquire new customers. Businesses may overlook costs associated with marketing campaigns, advertising, sales efforts, and promotional activities aimed at acquiring customers. 

Ignoring CAC results in incomplete profitability assessments, as it fails to account for the investment required to acquire customers, leading to overestimation of CLV and potentially unsustainable business practices.

How to Fix It: 

Calculate CAC by dividing total acquisition expenses (marketing, sales, etc.) by the number of new customers acquired within a specific period. Deduct CAC from CLV to determine net CLV and ensure profitability.

Ignoring Customer Segmentation

Ignoring customer segmentation entails treating all customers uniformly without recognizing variations in behavior, preferences, and profitability across different segments. Businesses may fail to differentiate between high-value and low-value customers or overlook the distinct needs and characteristics of various customer segments. 

Ignoring customer segmentation limits the effectiveness of CLV calculations and strategies, as it fails to tailor approaches to the unique requirements of each segment.

How to Fix It: 

Segment customers based on demographics, purchasing habits, or lifetime value tiers. Tailor CLV calculations and strategies to address the unique needs of each segment, maximizing overall CLV.

Misinterpreting Retention Rate

Misinterpreting retention rate involves misunderstanding or misapplying the concept of customer retention over time. Businesses may assume a constant retention rate without considering fluctuations or trends in customer churn and loyalty. 

Misinterpreting retention rate leads to inaccurate CLV projections, as it fails to account for changes in customer behavior and retention patterns over time. This can result in misguided strategies and investments aimed at improving customer retention and maximizing CLV.

How to Fix It: 

Monitor retention rate trends regularly and adjust CLV calculations accordingly. Implement strategies to improve customer retention through personalized experiences, loyalty programs, and excellent customer service.

Failing to Account for Discount Rate

Failing to account for the discount rate involves neglecting to apply an appropriate discount rate when discounting future cash flows to present value in CLV calculations. Businesses may overlook the time value of money or use an incorrect discount rate, leading to inaccurate present value estimates of future revenue streams. 

Failing to account for the discount rate distorts CLV calculations, as it fails to adjust future cash flows for their present value, resulting in flawed assessments of customer profitability and business performance.

How to Fix It: 

Determine a suitable discount rate based on factors such as the business's cost of capital, risk profile, and inflation rate. Apply the discount rate consistently to future revenue projections to obtain accurate CLV figures.

Excluding Variable Costs

Excluding variable costs entails considering only direct revenue from customer transactions while disregarding variable costs associated with serving customers. Businesses may focus solely on revenue generation without accounting for expenses such as product manufacturing, shipping, and customer support. 

Excluding variable costs results in incomplete CLV calculations, as it fails to capture the full cost of serving customers and generating revenue, leading to inaccuracies in profitability assessments and strategic decision-making.

How to Fix It: 

Include variable costs such as product manufacturing, shipping, and customer support in CLV calculations to obtain a more comprehensive picture of customer profitability.

Disregarding External Factors

Disregarding external factors involves overlooking external influences such as market competition, economic conditions, or technological advancements that may impact customer behavior and CLV. 

Businesses may operate in isolation without considering the broader business environment or external trends that could affect customer acquisition, retention, and revenue generation. Disregarding external factors limits the accuracy and relevance of CLV calculations, as it fails to incorporate external insights and adapt strategies to changing market dynamics.

How to Fix It: 

Conduct thorough environmental scans and market analyses to identify external factors impacting CLV. Continuously monitor market dynamics and adapt CLV calculations and strategies accordingly.


Calculating Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) is crucial for making informed business decisions and driving sustainable growth. By understanding the long-term value of each customer to the business, you can allocate resources effectively, prioritize efforts, and tailor strategies to maximize profitability and customer satisfaction.

Regularly updating CLV calculations is essential to ensure their accuracy and relevance in dynamic business environments. 

As customer behavior evolves and market conditions change, businesses must adapt their CLV models to reflect these shifts accurately. By staying proactive and responsive to changes, companies can maintain a competitive edge and optimize their performance over time.


Team Storyly

Group of experts from Storyly's team who writes about their proficiency.

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