25 September 2020, 12:39 PM
  • In her second exclusive column for Speciality Food, Kate Hardcastle MBE explains how to turn one-off customers into loyal returning ones
How independents can retain the customers they gained during lockdown

When supermarkets were out of bounds for some shoppers or low on stock, many shoppers visited independent retailers, but as life resumes post-lockdown, many independents are reporting lower customers numbers. This may be due to multiple factors such as time and budgetary constraints, and the ability to shop a larger range in supermarkets.

Value and range
Independent retailers should therefore take the opportunity to offer shoppers the reassurance of good value, via a few, great-value products showcased each week, along with some new and interesting additions to the range. 

This can be tied into a promotion and may take the form of a special recipe or fresh produce package, designed to help shoppers plan certain meals. Having this as a regular event will also generate talkability and may be well received if complemented by added convenience – it could prove really helpful in re-engaging customers and re-educating them on your proposition.

Alternatively, this could take the form of a special offer on a loss leader each week, (perhaps available with a minimum spend), enabling the delivery of value for the customer, without eroding your brand and core proposition.

Many local retailers stepped up to serve their customers during lockdown, offering doorstep deliveries and services such as online product previews and consultations to ensure they could maintain trade and continue to serve and welcome existing and new customers.

As things return to normal, customers still expect that same level of service and convenience and it’s important to maintain the momentum. Many small business owners simply don’t have the time and resource to dedicate to such a bespoke level of service, so it’s important to continually review, streamline and automate your business processes wherever possible.

We’re seeing more small businesses use chatbots, this can help reduce costs and resources, enabling 24/7 service and sales. As long as your conversations and language are genuine, human and properly considered, they can help manage greater volumes of enquiries and deliver a consistent service.

Deliver on what you promise
Good customer service can set you apart from the market, driving trust and sales. Customers are increasingly demanding when it comes to service - they’re looking for speed, efficiency and personality. More importantly – this must all be delivered consistently, so that customers know your brand and trust that you’ll always deliver what you say you will, when you say you will. This trust can be a key differentiator for independent businesses and can really help to deliver added value and maintain that all-important USP. 

As many customers shop and manage purchases across channels, this means that retailers need a consistent, cross-channel presence, ensuring that excellent service is delivered across the website, social channels and even Whatsapp. Retailers must constantly review each customer touchpoint to ensure that all deliver what they say they do and more importantly, what the customer wants.

Build lasting customer relationships based on genuine communication
It’s also really important to maintain and grow the customer relationships built during lockdown. One way of doing this is through regular and consistent communication that is customer-focused and delivers what customer wants.

In order to deliver what the customer wants, retailers must take every opportunity to get to know and understand them. This will help to facilitate targeted and properly-planned communications which showcase your brand story whilst giving each customer a reason to return. The focus should be on building lasting relationships which go beyond just transactions, so developing a powerful content mix is key and the messaging should not just be solely about selling. 
Online content is key here, and again with careful planning and a focus on sharing messaging which goes way beyond sales, retailers can build customer relationships and use their channels to share and celebrate their customers. We’ve seen a big shift in the content strategies of many brands in 2020, rather than simply acting as purveyors of products and services, many b2c brands are supporting their customers in multiple ways, providing expertise, lifestyle inspiration and support, whilst forging new strategic partnerships with other brands and organisations and using these to reach and build new online communities.