Retailers today recognise that if customers have a meaningful (and positive) relationship with your brand, they are more likely to make recommendations to their friends and shop frequently. The majority of retailers, however, have yet to realise their full potential when it comes to building these relationships. Fortunately, models of relationships between people can be used to analyse and improve relationships that customers have with retailers, as was demonstrated recently by Professor Rogge of the University of Rochester, one of the world’s foremost voices on human relationships.

In many ways, the overlap between the way that we develop relationships with retailers and the way we develop relationships with our friends and partners is striking. As part of his research, Professor Rogge applied the Sternberg Triangular Model of Love to customer-retailer bonds. It has traditionally been applied to interpersonal relationships to categorise their depth and nature, measuring three key areas: passion, intimacy and commitment. What, then, are the parallels to customer-retailer relationships?

When looking at intimacy, retailers should gauge the willingness of their customers to share information and their interest in learning more about the brand. Passion should be seen in terms of the enthusiasm that customers have for your brand, your values and your products. Finally, commitment to a retailer should be measured in terms of the loyalty that your customers have to your brand and their likelihood of making repeat purchases.

Looking at both interpersonal and customer-retailer relationships, we can combine these three components to examine different types of connections. For example, a relationship with intimacy and passion but no commitment is classified as a Romantic Relationship, while one with intimacy and commitment but no passion is classified as a Compassionate Relationship. In total, there are six different classifications of relationship, with true love, or a Devoted Relationship, only occurring where there is intimacy, passion, and commitment.

Naturally, retailers should be aiming to create deeply devoted relationships with their customers, but recent research carried out into more than 1,000 UK consumers found that only 8% have a relationship with their favourite retailer that would be classed as a Devoted Relationship. Given that 91% of those Devoted shoppers would advocate for their favourite brands by recommending them to friends, it is in retailers’ best interest to foster intimacy, passion and commitment where they can.

The question is how can brands progress those in Casual, Compassionate, Empty, Liking or Romantic Relationships into Devoted ones? The first step, of course, is to diagnose the problem. What sort of relationships do your customers currently have, and can you use your data to individually diagnose different customers?

The next step is to encourage growth in intimacy, passion and commitment with customers as necessary. Professor Rogge's research also looked at what would make customers more likely to spend more with their favourite retailer. 75% of Brits would buy more if they were rewarded better, particularly if those rewards are a surprise, which creates more passion. 63% would buy more if their favourite retailer used their data to understand their individual needs and requirements better, enhancing intimacy. Other factors that drive devotion are communication (51% would spend more if the brand communicated better), respect (54% would spend more if the brand treated them with more respect), and trust (51% would spend more if they had greater trust in their favourite brand).

Perhaps retailers shouldn’t be too surprised by this analysis. Anyone who has had a long-term relationship will know that communication, trust, and respect are core components, vital for success. By taking our real-world knowledge of the emotional factors, retailers can enhance loyalty programmes through better use of data, customer touchpoints, technology and enticing benefits to create true brand advocates who are deeply devoted.


By Jason De Winne, general manager at ICLP

GDPR Summit Series is a global series of GDPR events which will help marketers to prepare to meet the requirements of the GDPR ahead of May 2018 and beyond. Further information and conference details are available at

comments powered by Disqus