By Anastasia Lloyd-Wallis
Chief Operating Officer and Head of Consumer Insights, Retail Doctor Group

In our previous blog article we covered off how to use your brand to build true customer loyalty (ie. not just building a rewards program based on points alone). In this second part of the series, we look at how customers have changed (especially since the pandemic) and how you keep these customers brand loyal.

Retailers’ Plans to Keep Customers

Customers are smarter now. They’re looking for a lot more, a deeper connection, and they expect a lot more than before. This is definitely one of the most positive outcomes of the pandemic, though many people don’t realise it yet. The fact is, lockdown made us realise our standards, our barest minimum acceptable levels.

Customers came to accept the fact that it is possible to:

  • Find your product online
  • Customise it with all the bells and whistles
  • Pay for it in a much more convenient way than swiping your card at a till point, and;
  • Then have it all delivered to their door within 15 minutes.

In turn, retailers did whatever they could to make customers keep shopping with them. And because customers have come to expect a lot more, the challenge now is to keep on top of the structures they built to survive lockdown. The evolution of that is to build your brand, build a connection, and expand the community of loyal customers you built in pandemic times.

Smarter Customers and Shifting Values

Customers are not just smarter now; their values are shifting, too. And what they now value is largely being driven by the newer generations, but those values now are very different to the values of the generations that have gone before them.

If you’re not moving with that shift in values and perspectives then you’re running a very dangerous race. Considering the amount of change we’ve had, consistency, stability, and empathy are three hugely important factors to be mindful of. What’s more, none of these three factors are driven by the price of your product. It’s driven by the connection your customers have to your brand.

Catering to New Generations

Five years ago, everyone was talking about millennials, and how those millennials were the next biggest thing, how they were going to change the way we spend and what we spend on because they were seen as the biggest spenders with the most buying influence. Thanks to the pandemic, that window has expanded to include previous generations, such as Gen Zs and even the generations before.

We as retailers really need to start considering how we’re going to interact with all of these different generations and persona types. With this in mind, they must consider all the ways they can effectively connect with their customers, while still supporting those who want to be brand advocates and influence the generation they see as an audience.

Brand advocates are an asset for your business because there’s a level of genuine connection there that’s missing in a standard transaction. Brand advocates have a voice unlike any other influencers, and that genuine connection is telling retailers “I don’t want to just buy something from you. I want to advocate for you. Help me advocate for you.”

I think that over the last 24 months, 12 months, or even 6 months things changed quite a bit.

Looking forward, when it comes to hard and fast retail, there’s a few core areas we’ll need to focus on across all touchpoints from research, review, purchase, last mile, and so on. If you’re not focussed on making the buying decision easier and quicker for your customer, someone else will be.

Lack of Spare Time

The newer generations are impatient and time is a currency to them. The number one thing we need to do is remove friction from the customer journey.

Life is getting harder. Both parents are working. Countless research tells us that the number one thing that’s decreasing is spare time. People feel like they have less-and-less spare time. If you’re a brand that takes up more time than ever to interact with, customers simply won’t want to connect with you.

Instead, your customers will be interacting and connecting with brands that reduce time wastage. So, in terms of retail we now know that immediateness and ease of purchase are important. From a stores perspective, brands that have that experience across both online and physical have a huge advantage, looking forward, in the sense that they’re able to deliver an in-life experience to their customers.

So the shift for stores will have to be towards a more experiential connection, as opposed to “Look at all the products we’ve got on display. Jam as much as you can into your basket and buy, buy, buy.”

That experience will become really important. In the case of Barbeques Galore, this means a shift towards talking about cooking, presenting classes, having unique stalls available for sampling, and having barbeques going in and around the store. Things like that will make a big difference on an experience level.

Technology and Marketing in a Millennial World

There’s an increased focus on privacy and that’s only going to get stronger. Couple that with the rising cost in media and the continued fragmentation in that space and you see that this is a good thing.

It’s going to drive a major shift towards how important our own channels are. If you’re not considering how you grow your first-party data you need to get moving, and how you grow it isn’t simple anymore. It’s not just sign up and get a discount anymore. It links back to the points made around loyalty in my previous blog post.

There needs to be a sincere value exchange. In other words, not just a value exchange, but an exchange that clearly indicates there is sincerity of intentions involved. Customers are more than happy to give out their details if they feel they’re getting value in exchange.

Value is no longer judged on the dollar scale, but rather on the “What do I get out of it? What relationship do I have with that brand?” scale.

It’s the total value proposition your brand brings to the table. As retailers, we’ve always done an excellent job of understanding products and brands and their value propositions. To bring home the customers (so to speak), we need to start thinking about those value propositions more explicitly.

Customers need to connect with brands that represent them. It’s a desire to advocate for the brands they feel they’ve partnered with, so brands have to be worth advocating for. Otherwise, someone else will be.

We’re going to see a lot more of that sentiment, moving forward. In fact, the last two, three, or even five years have seen how brands have expressed that through sustainability or ethical policies. It’s been very much of a singular thing to try and connect with customers to gain their advocacy.

From here on out it is going to be a multi-faceted thing that focuses on the personality of the brand and how that moves with the needs of the customer. This effectively means that a brand will have to become friends with their customers.

You can tell a lot about the personality of a person when you meet them at a barbeque. Do you like them immediately? That’s the personality speaking. You’ll find that rings true about brand personality, too. Will the customer see you and be able to say in just 3 seconds, “Yes, that’s who I’m going to be friends with.”?

Unless you’ve chosen to play in that transactional area where the race to the bottom is based on price, it’s going to take understanding to create a humanised, emotional brand. Many retailers do not yet understand this and are therefore not taking it into account.

What do the customers see when they think about your brand? What are the things that motivate your customers? What feelings drive that motivation, not why should they buy your product or why should they engage with your brand?

More importantly, it’s about how they feel when they engage with your brand, when they experience your products. These are basic brand principles and retailers need to understand them.

As a brand owner, you must understand what your brand is to the customer or, potentially, how to represent your brand more accurately for the customer. Once you get clarity on that, the rest of your experience really should fall into place.

If you’re going to build highly functional attitudes towards the customer journey, and don’t think about brands around every single touchpoint, you’re never going to deliver on what customers are expecting today and what they’ll expect in the future.

If you’re looking to understand “Why” your customers interacts with you and how to use this to drive foot traffic, increase conversions and improve frequency of visitation reach out to me for a complimentary discussion

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