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Consumers turned to online shopping in their droves when the pandemic hit, but unsurprisingly, many began to miss the experience of shopping in bricks and mortar establishments after months confined to their homes. Fine food retailers, which are known for their customer service and for offering a personal touch for their customers, are in a strong position to capitalise on this going forward.
As we approach a ‘new normal’ post-lockdown, how can retailers improve their online and offline services to boost customer loyalty? We discover four avenues for retailers to explore…
The e-commerce boom is showing no signs of slowing down, so independents will benefit from providing excellent online shopping experiences. But Tim Edwards, founder of supercharged commerce, explained that offering a top-class online experience alone won’t keep customers loyal in the long term.
“Particularly when you consider the fact that now shops are opening back up, a surprising number of people actually want to get back to them,” he told Speciality Food. “In our latest research, 63% of customers think it’s still important post-pandemic for brands to have a physical as well as an online presence, with this figure rising higher when it comes to the younger demographics. With this in mind, the route to success for ambitious retailers post-pandemic is getting customer experiences consistent across every channel.”
A fluid, or integrated, experience is key going forwards. “In the wake of the pandemic, customers will expect not only personalised in-store experiences, but also the same level of service online as they do in store. Customers’ expectations are such that the norm is now for 360-degree views of their products, instant customer service, and omni-channel purchasing across devices,” Tim said.
“We already see omnichannel work really well in areas such as fashion, automotive and beauty, but if retailers really want to get ahead, they should be considering this strategy regardless of the sector they operate in – fine food is no exception,” he added.
As well as offering a seamless shopping experience both online and in-store, customers will be looking for retailers that take their services up a notch. “With many people unable to take a holiday abroad for a second year in a row, customers are increasingly wanting more when it comes to experiences on UK soil,” Tim said. “In many cases, people are spending the money they would have spent on a trip abroad on experiences back home. This is great news for fine food retailers as they can often offer some of the culinary experiences customers would traditionally expect on holiday.”
From cookery courses, cheese tastings and meal kits all the way to pick-your-own events and on-site yoga offerings, there are a wide variety of ways that retailers can go above and beyond with experiential retail. “It’s a chance for fine food retailers to really create a point of difference from the big supermarkets and get customers spending again, as well as fostering a more loyal customer base,” Tim explained.
“Here, you could increase loyalty and customer spend by packaging up a series of themed offerings – a monthly ‘evening with’ night perhaps – and offering these to customers for a slightly discounted rate if multiple are purchased over the course of the year.”
Local, artisan food products have seen an exciting boost during the Covid-19 pandemic as consumer demand for food and drink with provenance rose. This is backed up by supercharged commerce’s data, too: “Our recent research found that shopping at independent retailers is on the rise, demonstrating the shift to consumers wanting to support smaller brands in the past year,” Tim told Speciality Food. “Of those surveyed, 28% said it was more important for them to shop at independent retailers than it was 12 months ago. Almost a third also believe it is now more important to shop locally.”
Retailers with a strong local angle should shout loud and proud about the provenance of their products in their marketing and brand story. “Keep this consistent across all channels – whether that’s in store, online, on social media and even in how employees are trained to talk about the business to customers,” Tim advised.
While building up new physical experiences and online channels, retailers must not forget the values of their brand. “Fine food retailers should be really careful to ensure that, regardless of the experience or channel, it properly reflects the quality of the brand,” Tim said. “For example, if you’ve always offered a luxury in store experience but your online food box turns up on a customer’s doorstep plain and slightly battered, it’ll reflect badly on your brand. Instead, think about tying everything you’re doing into one central brand, with a centralised look, feel and tone of voice.”
Fine food retailers have proven their adaptability and grit over the past 18 months, and with demand for local food and drink and experiential retail rising, it seems exciting times are ahead for the industry.
To learn more about boosting your e-commerce arm, download our Ultimate Guide to Online Retail here.