A lot has changed in the retail industry over the past decade. Where we shop (and why) has been transformed by online shopping and digital innovation. But this has had a huge impact on the high street. As I saw BHS’ troubles splashed across the headlines recently, it begs the question: how can retailers keep hold of their consumers?

When you consider the rocky years of the recession, and survey the shaky state of today’s economy, it’s not surprising that we are careful about how we spend our money. The number of products, brands and services now available can be overwhelming. But is extra choice making consumers happy? Our research suggests that’s not the case.

A third of consumers find shopping more frustrating than five years ago. Consumers have become jaded and, as a result, less loyal. As consumers, we seek excitement, inspiration and experience from our shopping destinations, and aren’t afraid to jump ship from one retailer to another to find it.

These factors have led to what our research defines as the age of the Unfaithful Consumer. This consumer mindset could have serious flow-on effects; we estimate that brands that don’t maintain loyalty risk losing more than £120bn of purchases as shoppers favour other retailers.

So, what can retailers do to address this and encourage loyalty to their products and services?

Include digital intelligence into the in-store customer experience

The age of anonymity is over. Retailers know that in order to understand their consumers, they need to invest in digital innovation.

I’ve watched the development of Bluetooth ‘beacon’ technology with interest. This geolocation technology lets retailers track their consumers’ GPS movements and push marketing notifications at the right times. Regent Street is a great example; the hub of London’s shopping district launched a beacon programme for over 100 stores in summer 2014. This was a significant milestone in the European shopping landscape.

The marketing potential offered by this kind of technology will no doubt continue to be a key focus for retailers as they try to predict their consumers’ behaviour.

Competition for customer loyalty is most aggressive in the grocery sector. Customers will always need food, so the challenge for supermarkets is finding a point of difference from one another. Amazon’s plans to expand into the grocery market are gathering momentum. It’s becoming even more critical for grocers to find new ways to win customer loyalty.

Supermarkets know that consumers want convenience and recognise that investing in technology is a crucial way to deliver this. Tesco has responded to this with its PayQwiq app, which allows consumers to pay for baskets up to £400 and collect Clubcard points using their mobile phones. Sainsbury’s is also currently trialling its own mobile payment app, SmartShop.

With all this investment in digital innovation, I can only hope that, one day, I will never hear the words “unexpected item in bagging area” again…

Empower and educate your employees on the shop floor

Online shopping has been nothing short of a phenomenon over the past decade. It has put us in charge of our own shopping experience. We can browse, order and return products 24/7 without even so much as a polite ‘hello’ to a retail assistant. But physical destinations are not dead. In fact, they are where retailers can really win customers over.

I find it astounding that customer service is still such a big problem in retail. Rudeness isn’t just a minor inconvenience; our report found that over half of consumers would choose an alternative retailer if they experienced it.

The ease of ecommerce means that customers can quite easily live their lives without stepping foot in a shop. Retailers need to give customers a reason to visit their stores. I’d argue the most important way to do this is by paying attention to the experience they offer consumers.

There is a reason why Apple stores are used as the benchmark for great customer experience. They train highly engaged customer service experts and empower them with technology to enhance the customer’s experience. When you step into an Apple store, you are immediately immersed in the brand, and have confidence in the employees you speak to.

The future of traditional retail jobs looks decidedly bleak. With the British Retail Consortium predicting up to 900,000 retail jobs will be lost in the next 10 years, retailers will need to ensure they are investing in skilled employees who can enhance the customer experience and encourage loyalty.

Use social media to influence and inspire your consumers

As consumers, we are bombarded with marketing messages all day long. Whether it’s a sponsored Instagram post, or a red ‘sale’ sign in a shop window, retailers are constantly vying for our attention. But traditional marketing is losing its influence. Our research shows that 58% customers prefer to look to their friends for advice, or check a review website, before making a purchase.

Retailers know how crucial social media is in reaching their consumers. I strongly believe that, rather than pushing sales messages, they need to view social media as an area where they can inspire and influence their consumers through engaging content.

Great content which appeals to the consumers’ whole lifestyle is how retailers can find a place in their consumers’ lives and achieve loyalty. E-tailers such as Asos have naturally built scale and success this way. Traditional bricks-and-mortar retailers face more of a challenge as they incorporate digital marketing alongside everything else they need to think about.

The level of choice available means that it isn’t enough for retailers to ‘just’ sell great products at attractive prices anymore. As consumers, we want a positive overall experience with a retailer and a reason to return. If retailers can focus on delivering this, and use digital innovation to better understand our needs, then we might just do this.


Guy Chiswick, MD at Webloyalty 

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