Retailers and their customers are no longer strangers to each other. Today, social tools allow brands to participate in the buying experience with customers. Mobile puts them where those buyers are, while cloud computing gives them the flexibility and speed to do both at the new pace the industry demands.
As digital technologies break down the boundaries between brands and consumers, forward-thinking retailers are using them to forge strong bonds of loyalty and trust with their customers. They’re doing it in a variety of ways, but all with the same ultimate aim: to develop long-lasting relationships that both parties find meaningful and valuable.
Just as a friend knows what the other person likes and doesn’t like, so retailers are using data to understand their customers in detail and build meaningful relationships with them.
Data about individual customers is coming in from far more sources than ever before. In a previous post about in-store experiences, we looked at smart mirrors that capture shoppers’ thoughts about different clothing colours and sizes, tablets that keep a record of products a customer is interested in, and beacons that capture their activity in-store.
And those are just new, in-store channels - most customer data still pours in from the online world; from customers’ activity on the website, email, social platforms and mobile apps.
“Over 90% of UK consumers surveyed this year said they had shopped across more than one channel with at least one retailer. In fact, over 60% have developed what is in effect, a ‘portfolio’ of between two and five favoured retailers.”
- PwC Pick ‘n’ Mix Report, 2015
Knowing so much about a customer is a big responsibility, and the smartest retailers are using that data to communicate with customers in the way they know the customer appreciates, rather than the way the retailer would (perhaps) like to.
Done right, personalisation can create a strong bond of loyalty and affinity to the retail brand, as the customer feels the brand really “understands” them.
Fashion footwear and accessory brand ALDO uses Salesforce to gain better insight into its customers’ preferences. This increase in knowledge helps ALDO better anticipate customers’ needs and expectations and select the best channels to engage with them more effectively.
As part of its cross-channel strategy, ALDO is also building a suite of mobile apps with the Salesforce App Cloud. Not only are the apps fun to use, but they also help ALDO increase its customer insight, which will, ultimately, allow the company to provide a better service.
ALDO plans to use its customer data to create synergies between its physical and digital channels, allowing it to interact in a fluid and personalised manner with customers anywhere in the world.
The online world has long been a place where people with a common interest can form into a community. Retailers are now encouraging communities to form around their brand on their websites, on social media, and in their physical stores, in the knowledge that being a member of a community provides a meaningful experience and fosters brand loyalty.
In fact, in 2012 the University of Michigan found that customers in communities spend 19 percent more than customers who are not engaged.
Community initiatives include enabling on-site reviews and comments; encouraging customers to help each other out with enquiries; creating VIP clubs with discounts and invitations to exclusive in-store events; and encouraging customers to contribute user-generated content.
Online furniture retailer MADE.com features customers’ photos of its products in their homes on a dedicated “social showroom”, for example, with fashion retailer ASOS taking a similar approach with its “As Seen on Me” channel. Initiatives like these have the effect of turning existing customers into visible brand advocates, while some brands are making these uploaded images “shoppable”, with clickable buttons to buy the items featured.
Today’s customers expect a business to solve their issues quickly and give them the ability to find solutions easily on their own, 24/7, anywhere, and on every device. The goalposts for delivering exceptional customer service have been moved significantly. That’s leading to a step change in the way retailers think about things like social media, forums, mobile apps, and live chat.
Retailers like Zappos, for example, are showing how digital customer service can be used as a major differentiator. Its AskZappos service lets consumers send a photo of a product they’ve seen out in the world, and promises to track down the item for them.
And, as we saw above, many retailers are now enlisting the help of the savviest customers in their community to answer other customers’ questions, turning their customer experts into stars, and getting customers’ questions answered faster.
Digital technology is enabling retailers to engage with their customers like never before. For more insights into how new technology approaches are disrupting traditional retail business models, read our e-book: Engage With Today’s Customers: 4 Ways Retail Can Reimagine Business.