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It’s perhaps one of the biggest questions on retailers’ minds. You may be tempting in new customers and encouraging decent basket spends, but how do you ensure that those customers stay loyal and that your business is always at the front of their mind?
Throughout lockdown, with many businesses facing challenges and retailers having to adapt overnight to a new way of shopping, the ‘support local, independent businesses’ campaign that took over no doubt helped many independent retailers. Just when they needed each other most, customers became loyal to their local businesses in an effort to support them through the crisis. But as restrictions ease, life begins to find some semblance of normality, and the festive season approaches, how can you maintain this audience you’ve built up during lockdown over the Christmas period?
Lockdown’s big winners
It’s easy for companies to become obsessed with enticing new customers in, particularly at a time when retailers may be relying on an increased basket spend to help make up for the chaotic year we’ve had. And while it’s always great to reach a new audience, statistics regularly tell us that it’s more costly and time consuming to attract new customers than it is to retain existing ones.
Returning customers will be coming back for a reason: they’ll be convinced by your business and products, satisfied with their experience, and happy to continue supporting you. As a business owner, it’s worth capitalising on this to ensure they continue to have a positive experience time and time again, particularly as various reports have shown that businesses rely on repeat customers for more than half of their sales.
“I think the ‘big winners’ during lockdown were probably farm shops, because when the shelves were empty in supermarkets, there was no shortage of supplies as they didn’t have the logjam through the supply chain,” Edward Berry of The Flying Fork tells us. “I think even the supermarkets were caught out, because people did, by necessity, look to see what else was out there.
“I guess the reading is that over a month to six weeks, a host of new customers discovered farm shops. They’re not necessarily places they would have shopped in before, perhaps because they thought they were too expensive, it’s not their ‘world’, or it’s not convenient enough. But what they discovered (we hope!) was a hugely positive experience: a combination of quality, flexibility, provenance, seasonality, information and education, and definitely service – and those are all things we need to think about to make sure they stay.”
Consider the customer experience
Customer experience and satisfaction have always been important, but it’s perhaps even more vital in 2020. This includes the customer journey in-store – from the parking lot, to the checkout counter – as well as the UX (user experience) of your online shop.
For retailers, providing a memorable and unique customer experience could mean going beyond simply tapping into the ‘retail need’ of a customer by offering an in-store experience. During the Christmas period, there are various ways to get creative in that respect!
Keep in touch
The beauty of building up a customer base is that you can use them to help improve your business in an effort to increase brand loyalty, boost sales and even acquire a new audience. Talk to your customers, listen to them, and reward them.
Edward says: “One of the main things is to remember that we do have methods of communication, and although GDPR restricts what we can do, engaging with people, sending offers, taking email addresses, and having an opportunity to communicate with people is allowed, and providing you have your processes in place, you can do that. As a consumer, we know that we’ll receive offers from people. It’s about forming a type of engagement with your new customers. The obvious one is saying hello and telling them what you’ve got.
“You almost ‘guilt’ them into staying with you – the guilt is a very gentle one, but it’s one that says, ‘Let us remind you that when you needed us, we were there; we gave you what you wanted. You liked us, you met us, we gave you very good products and services; you may be going back to convenience, but we were there for you’. The guilt bit is doable, but it’s got to be done very subtly.
“It’s also about the supply chain, and telling that story to customers: What we sold to you was grown within five or ten miles of here; take heart in being a cog in that really important wheel where you have local growers, local suppliers – it’s a sort of micro-economy. You can replicate this in your local veg shop in the city, local butcher or baker as well, so it’s not just about the countryside or farm shops. It’s shortening supply chains and engaging people to understand that.
Edward continues: “We all know that most people shop in supermarkets. If it’s about price, then the conversation will come to a swift end, because they rely much more on smaller producers. But then we can talk about taste, seasonality, and good-quality products instead of just functional ones.
“It’s all about talking to customers, because if they’re gone, they’re gone, and you won’t see them again. The messages are about supporting ‘local’ and in having pride – feeling a sense of engagement.”
Aside from communicating with your customers about your brand values and products, make the most of your customer database by sending out email or physical questionnaires and website surveys, or utilise your social media channels to ask customers questions such as what products they’d like to see more of at Christmas; what carries more weight between value for money, provenance or quality; what services would make their Christmas shopping easier; or any additional gifting options they may be interested in.
During the festive season, it will also be particularly important to drive your brand’s USPs in line with the values of Christmas, also keeping in mind that many customers post-lockdown may still be more trusting of independent retailers, which will no doubt work in your favour. Showcase the provenance of items, highlight local products, and tell the story behind brands and suppliers to show that you’re genuine and trustworthy.
It’s also worth requesting customers to review specific products online, or your business as a whole. Feedback will help you improve, but can also be a way of sharing positive customer experiences with others.
Give back to your customers
Customers need to feel valued, as well as feel that they are receiving value for money. When it comes to giving back to your customers, consider launching data-backed loyalty programmes such as a simple tier or point system, or monthly draws. Incentives like these, as well as discounts, free gifts and exclusive access to new products – or at least details of upcoming launches – are a great way of keeping customers hooked and coming back for more.
Make it personal, too. Customers will enjoy receiving tailored emails for their anniversary or birthday – and you could even throw in a coupon for them.
Overall, the goal is to build trust, respect and loyalty. Through communicating with your customers, constantly improving the customer experience, and offering incentives to thank them for their repeat business, you can build up an engaged and loyal audience from Christmas and beyond.