As online shoppers become increasingly discerning, retailers are facing tougher competition for orders. As a result, looking after existing customers is fast becoming top priority. The knee-jerk is to deploy a loyalty programme, to reward loyal customers, and keep them coming back. For most ecommerce companies, this takes the form of points, codes, and discounts. However, retail existed long before the internet, therefore to analyse customer loyalty, it’s often useful to position ourselves in the ‘real’ world, of bricks and mortar. How would you want to be treated in a store? What experiences make you want to return? And what do you value when spending your money?

 

Here are five real world examples...

 

1. Make me feel special…

I like to shop in independent stores, to support local business and try to engage in a closer relationship with the staff. This was exemplified when I was buying a guitar from a local retailer. Once I had completed the purchase of the ‘big ticket’ item, I was just about to leave the store, when the manager encouraged me to grab some accessories on the way out, which he wouldn’t charge for. This was a pretty simple gesture, they were low value items, and wouldn’t be missed, but leaving the shop with some freebies and useful additions to my purchase, I was determined that I would be a long-term customer, and pledged my custom to them for the foreseeable.

 

2. Don’t trap me, convince me to stay…

Many retailers feel that every offer must have a caveat. I recently received a phone call, advising me that my mobile provider would like to offer me an early upgrade. Brilliant! However, there was a cost. By upgrading early, I was basically triggering a contract extension. This offer had the potential to have me singing their praises, however it was less of an offer, more of a cloak and dagger style upsell. If retailers were prepared to make gestures that make us feel valued, without expecting anything in return, this holds more value in the long-term.

 

3. Give me extra…

The most recent fad in our office is cycling. It’s the main topic of conversation, and therefore a new front runner in terms on online orders. Several parcels arrive each day, with the staff constantly shopping online for their accessories and apparel to keep up to speed. Leading online retailer Wiggle tends to win over the crowds by throwing some sweets into the box. Simple. The impact of a ten pence bag of sweets being added to an order worth hundreds of pounds is astounding. The guys actually root through the box, looking past the product they have ordered, to grab the sweets, which must taste better as a result of not being paid for.

 

4. Can some deals always be on?

My personal frustration here is perfectly exemplified by Boots. If you try to buy a sandwich in Boots, you will be advised at the checkout that this product is actually cheaper, when you buy a drink and a snack. Therefore, to get that particular product at the best price, you have to take two products you may not want. After that, you will receive a receipt, which contains a further discount for your next meal deal, as well as a random promotion for 3 for 2 aftershaves, or 10% off perfume. These are attempts by the retailer to entice me, to show willing to work with me, however as a customer, I just want what I want at the best possible price. I would be increasingly inclined to repeat my purchases, if I simply knew that Boots were offering me the best products, and their best possible price, and I didn’t have to carry scraps of paper round with me each day, or stockpile unwanted extra products.

 

5. Sharing is caring…

One hurdle that we face when considering loyalty schemes, is that there are some shrewd people out there, who are waiting to exploit the system. This often makes retailers over-protective, and defensive. However, there is value in opening up our products and services. A great example of this is Netflix, which offers users 5 profiles per paid account. This would cause outrage in many businesses, as 5 people are using the service for the price of one. However, Netflix has effectively created five times the amount of brand advocated, therefore word of mouth and reputation is greatly enhanced. Moreover, if circumstances change and people move on, once they’re addicted to their favourite show, they will be looking to create an account of their own, and possibly inviting four more new viewers into the fold, giving it a viral quality.

 

To wrap it up…

In trying to ensure loyalty, we end up with numerous cards, vouchers, receipts, and coupons. These make our wallets bulge, but become increasingly cumbersome and useless, and we begin to drown in them.

We are bombarded by the loyalty offensive every day, however sometimes there are easier ways to ensure customer satisfaction, by using tried and tested techniques, that we have all appreciated for decades, and which are no less effective in the ecommerce arena.

Loyalty should not be a trick or a gimmick. It should be worked for, hard earnt, and maintained by retailers through a care for the customer. Loyalty has to have selfless roots, and be unrelated to sales targets and objectives. It must also be remembered that a truly happy customer, is invaluable, as brand allegiance and repeat custom forms the cornerstone of any successful retail operation.

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