The relationship between a retailer and its customers has gone through a powershift, and it’s the latter who now have the upper hand. Gone are the days when brands could tell customers what to think or how to buy. In a world where customer experience is king, it is imperative for retailers to understand how customers buy in order to better match and fulfil their needs. Those who rise to the challenge will not be disappointed by the valuable relationship which results on both sides of the equation.

The question on every retail marketer’s mind is, therefore, just what do modern customers want? Zeta set out to answer this by asking 3,000 UK consumers how they felt about their relationship with brands, in the study Content, context and trust: identifying the golden customer opportunities for retail marketing to help identify key areas where retailers can develop their CRM strategies. The research found that 60% of UK shoppers think that their favourite retailers provide an average or poor experience. Only one in five people think that retailers accurately anticipate their needs. This could come as a shock to the system: it is clear that whatever it is that customers want, retailers aren’t currently giving it to them.

A finding that emerged strongly from the research was that the nation’s shoppers want to be remembered, to be acknowledged as returning and valued customers, with 81% saying they would be more likely to buy from a store again if it did this. Almost two-fifths of these people would be less likely to shop at other stores if they received this recognition for their previous custom. In return for sharing their personal information, and continuing to purchase from a store, shoppers want a personalised experience that is tailored to their individual needs: if retailers succeed in delivering this tailored shopping experience, their customers’ repeat purchase likelihood could be transformed. This demand for personalised communication comes both from pressures on the modern customer’s time, and the overwhelming number of product options and suppliers at their fingertips. The customer, therefore, doesn’t just want to be remembered, they want the retailer to go several steps further and become a trusted ‘personal shopper’ who will understand them and can help pinpoint and recommend their desired products.

Fortunately for retailers, the ability to know and understand their customers is more within their grasp than ever before. As the digital economy grows and expands, the expectation and ability of brands to recognise and respond to customer behaviours have also increased, driven by heightened shopper demands. Whether this is down to an increased understanding of the benefits a tailored experience can offer, or growing reassurance that details are held securely and respectfully, it suggests a desire among customers to seek experiences that efficiently anticipate their needs, which could be transformative for retailers in deepening their customer bonds.

Retailers of all sizes and scales can set their feet on this path. For stores just starting out on the journey, simply getting a grasp on their customer data and beginning to analyse it for trends in customer demographics, or frequency of visit – to a physical store or a website – can quickly lead to insights which can be fed into customer lifecycle nurturing programmes and make marketing more effective.

For the larger established retailers with several multi-channel marketing campaigns running in parallel, a greater focus on optimising seamless messages across channels should be the goal. Understanding a customer’s lifecycle with the brand, considering a Next Best Action approach geared to that customer’s needs, and optimising channel selection to specific individual preferences should all form part of their customer marketing strategies and analysis. All of this turns the traditional brand-out method of marketing on its head, but the benefits that typically result from a customer-first strategy are worth the effort. This also needn’t be time-consuming; machine learning has made most of this possible in real-time, allowing brands to react to in-the-moment customer behaviours with triggered responses, meaning that automated communications can be sent in a highly time-sensitive and context-rich setting. These techniques enable marketers to maintain a coherent, timely communication stream that nudges the right behaviour at an individual level and is enabled by a Single Customer View (SCV) solution.

Whilst the modern retail marketer must manage and gain insight from all touchpoints, at all times, in order to factor up-to-the-minute information on their customers, the real deciding factor —and what will set some retailers apart from others—is how they act on this information. All of these insights must be made actionable through a smart, centralised SCV database, ensuring that the optimal message is being communicated to each customer, always adding value and relevance to their lives. Test and learn strategies are also critical – the open-minded retail marketer can learn a lot from their customer base in terms of which messages and approaches resonate and which don’t.

Ultimately, the successful modern retailer-shopper relationship is fuelled by a balance of understanding, personalisation, recommendation and response to needs. Stores and brands that go further to streamline their customer journey will have a head-start, alongside the potential to significantly improve ROI. Becoming customer-centric is no longer an option for any retailer that wants to retain and gain customers, it is fundamental; the shopper has to be at the forefront and the core of all that retail brands do. Demonstrating that their relationship is acknowledged, respected and valued with your brand may take a shift in mindset. However, this shift is one that customers are clearly asking for, and marketing investment can and will pay dividends.


By Jill Brittlebank, senior director of strategy & analytics at Zeta Global

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