No doubt about it—retail customers love to click and collect. Cleaner stores and more crowd control? Great! Same-day delivery or free expedited shipping? Bring it on!
In all seriousness, a quick ramp up to new ecommerce services and pandemic-friendly fulfillment options helped retailers survive the last 18+ months. But going forward, these same tactics will inspire enough customer loyalty gains to become a standard part of any customer experience—especially for the buyers that didn’t (or couldn’t) make it to your stores in 2021.
No matter how much customers value these added services, however, they can be expensive to run. They also require extra attention and more personnel in order to give customers the immediacy and convenience they expect. This is a major challenge given ongoing staff shortages, especially going into the holiday shopping season.
So, where will the money come from to meet these higher customer expectations? Many retailers, whether they’re exclusively brick-and-mortar, ecommerce-only, or a hybrid operation, are hoping higher retention will cover these added expenses.
While many have refocused attention on personalization and email marketing to help them reach out to their most devoted customers, other, more savvy retail marketing teams are looking at new ways to capitalize on customer loyalty instead.
Customer loyalty, whether measured informally or through a tiered or VIP program engagement level, has always been a key driver for retention. However, retail customer loyalty strategies have shifted markedly since the COVID-19 pandemic started.
According to Clarus Commerce, nearly 70% of consumers say their loyalty is more difficult to maintain today. And while product quality and price still impact customer loyalty in some cases, the picture has become undeniably more complex.
A new kind of customer emerged during the pandemic, which Accenture christened the “Reimagined” shopper based on its 2021 consumer survey. These shoppers are less tied to price and product quality and more concerned that brands understand and respond to their needs, especially during economic or social disruptions.
In fact, Accenture’s study revealed that 57% of consumers would switch retailers if their regular brands don’t meet their expectations for health and safety, protect their data privacy, or align with their personal beliefs.
Customer loyalty programs are a good jumping-off point for building retention because they pay off.
“Top-performing loyalty programs can boost revenue from customers who redeem points by 15% to 25% annually, by increasing either their purchase frequency or basket size or both,” McKinsey reports.
Restructuring your customer loyalty strategy can help you incorporate these new customer expectations in more effective retention programs that don’t prioritize purchases, points, or prizes like the loyalty programs of yesterday.
But you don’t have to turn a loyalty program into a cost center instead of a revenue generator. Anything from a little fine-tuning to a reimagination of rewards, along with a healthy dose of employee empowerment, can turn a minor producer into a customer-retaining powerhouse.
So, don’t wait—take advantage of these 3 customer loyalty strategies now!
1. Go omnichannel
Call on all of your marketing channels to promote offers, notify members about rewards, and collect data you can use later to go deeper into personalized messages. This fits with another customer expectation—a seamless experience no matter which channel they choose to connect with your brand.
Email can remain your loyalty flagship because of its wide reach, personalization potential, and economical distribution. If you need proof, look no further than this noteworthy example from women’s apparel retailer Torrid.
Torrid sends each loyalty program member a detailed monthly statement that shows how much she earned in the last month, how close she is to the next highest rewards tier, and what rewards she can spend now. Giving this brand’s triggered loyalty emails a chance to supplement regular monthly reminders that encourage customers to spend rewards, move into a higher loyalty tier, or take advantage of a limited-time offer it expires.
Cheetah Digital’s Digital Consumer Trend Index 2021 found email outperforms SMS by 92%. But that doesn’t mean SMS can’t (or shouldn’t) still play a key role in your customer loyalty strategy. SMS or push notifications through a branded app can be just as effective as email for alerting VIPs to reward or tier expirations, short-term offers only for VIPs, or even reactivation pings for program members who haven’t purchased lately.
2. Enlist your employees in the loyalty cause
Nobody knows your customers better than your front-line store personnel or customer service specialists. Do they know your loyalty program as well?
Retail workers know how fast a casual mention of an unexpected loyalty perk, VIP discount, or other reward can turn a “just browsing” customer into a first-time buyer. Or appease an unhappy one enough to re-engage with your brand.
But if your employees don’t understand your customer loyalty strategy or can’t access it to suggest purchases that result in rewards, they can’t leverage your efforts to encourage more customers to buy or to redeem their rewards.
Lucky for you, three marketing tactics can turn your employees into loyalty program ambassadors:
3. Think beyond points and discounts
Shoppers certainly are, anyway.
“The heart of loyalty is not merely the cheapest price-point, but a brand that can foster community, recognizes the customer as an individual, and delivers content and product recommendations that reflect this,” according to Cheetah Digital’s Digital Consumer Trend Index 2021 report.
Most loyalty programs reward on purchases, but if customers aren’t in the market for products all the time, this strategy causes your loyalty program to lose value and meaning over time. So, use email to offer incentives or tier points for completing preference profiles, taking short quizzes, submitting personal data like birthday or postal address, or making friends-and-family referrals. That way, you can give your customers something no competitor can deliver or compete with: a highly personalized, engaging email experience.
The ripple effects of the pandemic—staffing shortages, supply disruption, channel-shifting for purchases, and continued economic uncertainty for many consumers—will continue to challenge retailers into 2022 and even beyond.
Building up an effective customer loyalty strategy is a key first step in retention. And not just to persuade them to buy, to buy more, and to buy more often—but also to give you many more ways to show them how much you value them as customers and people. That might be the ultimate tie that binds someone to your brand long-term.