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For many fine food and drink independents, lockdown was a boom time for new customers. Locals recently reunited with their home turf, while the explosive home cooking trend and a drive to support independents encouraged more supermarket regulars to visit speciality food retailers.
As lockdown ends and Covid-19 restrictions disappear, the key question for retailers to ask is how to turn their new customers into regulars in post-pandemic life.
Catherine Erdly, founder of the Resilient Retail Club, told Speciality Food that one key point to remember is that “no one is more likely to buy from you than someone who has already bought from you”.
“Keeping in close communication with the customers that have come to you during the pandemic will be really crucial in developing that relationship and keeping it going as things start to return to normal,” Catherine said.
One way to do this is by creating a loyalty scheme where customers earn points or get discounts depending on how much they spend. Alternatively, retailers can use tools like emails to stay in regular contact, keep potential customers updated and build up relationships as people start going back to their daily post-Covid lives.
“The key thing here is continuing to use all of the digital tools that are at your disposal – from your email list to your social media to your website.”
“Customer retention is about continuing to delight the customer with things that will be interesting and useful for them,” Catherine said. Now that they’ve become familiar with your selection, Catherine suggests coming up with a schedule of regular themes to keep them coming back for more.
This could include themes around on-trend diets, such as a vegan week, or around food types or geographical areas. “It’s all about coming up with new ways of presenting products or introducing new products so that the customers regularly have a reason to come back and shop with you,” Catherine said.
“It doesn’t have to be about changing a huge amount about the products that you are offering, but keep introducing new things so that you can keep that conversation going with that customer. And don’t be afraid to be really specific as well.” For instance, why not create a vegan mailing list if you have a large number of plant-based customers? “If you can reach out to them individually and tell them you have new products that may interest them, that will be a real perk for customers and encourage them to come back again and again.”
Stuart Gates of The Seasoned Grocer said that the last year has seen many opportunities for the independent trade. “If [new customers] have been well looked after and enjoyed the foods, usually happy consumers, in my experience, will return.” This means there is more reason than ever to take a fresh look at your in-store and online shopping experiences, ensuring that customers are satisfied at every turn.
Stuart added that the establishments that picked up new customers when they remarketed their foodservice offering as delivery or takeaway services would see their efforts “pay dividends when the delights of sitting down to eat again returns”.
While incentives can – and often do – take the form of discounts, Catherine says independents can go down a different route. “Perhaps it could be more about offering customers something they have not seen before, or that they can’t get anywhere else in the local area.”
And with more consumers shopping with their values on their sleeves, it’s increasingly important for retailers to communicate their shop’s ethics. “This will help attract the customers that are a natural fit for shopping with you,” Catherine says. “Topics such as sustainability are top of customers’ minds, but also encourage them to think about the impact that shopping locally has on the local economy. Why not team up with other local businesses as well to show how supporting your local high street or shopping area can make a real difference in people’s lives?” Turning passing customers into regulars is no mean feat, but for small food and drink businesses, it could be a game changer.