The big question every retailer wants answered is: What do customers want? Knowing the answer is essential for creating a successful retail business, according to conventional wisdom.
But it might not be the right question to ask, because most shoppers don’t know what they want until they want it. Who knew the Instant Pot would be the hot gift for Christmas 2017? Instead of attempting to use neuroscience or behavioral analytics to discover future consumer needs and wants, retailers should use tools that enable them to form a mutually beneficial relationship with shoppers.
In other words, retailers should communicate with shoppers in a strategic flow of information that strikes the right balance between promotional and emotional, selling and fun, useful information and spam.
In the just published RIS Targeted Research report, “Discovering What Customers Want,” five essential tools are identified that savvy retailers are using to ingratiate themselves into their shoppers’ lives and develop strong bonds of customer engagement and loyalty. These tools are:
- In-Store Personalization. Online personalization is important, but it is easier to achieve than in-store personalization through such methods as tracking clicks, deploying recommendation engines, and remarketing. In-store personalization is more complex and requires identifying customers while they shop (either through self-identification methods or using tracking/sensing technologies). Then retailers must match them to a rich database of shopper profiles and engage them with digital marketing messages or interactions with sales associates. Few retailers are capable of taking all of these steps without upgrading or implementing new technology, training, and creating new processes. The importance of in-store personalization is underscored by its placement as the number one strategy in the study chosen by retailers to improve customer engagement and loyalty.
- Pre-Sales Engagement. The single biggest a-ha moment in modern retailing is that the shopper journey is 24/7 and has no beginning or end. Shoppers are always shopping, which elevates the importance of engaging shoppers during the research and discovery phase, i.e. before making a purchase. In the past, this phase was mostly the responsibility of the marketing and sales departments, but it increasingly involves a complex mix of online and offline branding, social media influence, blogging, viral content, personal messages through e-mail and texts, and, essentially, a strategic flow of communication that ingratiates the retailer into the consumer’s stream of life. Pre-sales engagement was selected as the second highest ranked strategy in the report to improve customer engagement and loyalty. Interestingly, post sales engagement also made the list.
- Loyalty and Rewards Program. Although many retailers have loyalty and rewards programs, a strong argument can be made that using them as-is or out-of-the-box can lead to inconclusive results and, ultimately, under utilization. However, if combined with robust CRM capabilities and a holistic engagement plan (social sharing, mobile apps, social listening, e-messages, post-sale information, etc.) loyalty and rewards programs can be one of the most effective tools in a retailer's arsenal, which is why they were chosen as the top technology for improving customer engagement in the report.
- Blending Online and Digital Capabilities. You can call it omnichannel or unified commerce or just plain old retailing, but whatever term you use it is important to note that retailers believe they must integrate all sales, marketing and communication tools under a single, holistic umbrella. This conclusion shows up in several places in the study and especially in the list of challenges retailers must overcome to improve customer engagement and loyalty: Enhanced customer omnichannel engagement (selected by 26% of retailers), consolidating channel and organizational silos (23%), and consolidating applications and data silos (19%).
- Track Metrics That Matter. Most retailers already track campaign sales (65%), market basket size (55%), sales per associate (55%), and frequency of return shopper visits (52%). However, these legacy metrics do not actually track customer engagement and loyalty. If customer engagement and loyalty is important to you, then you need to track lifetime customer value (only 40% track it now), recency of return shopper visits (just 43%), and customer satisfaction (only 48%).
To see the complete study results with in-depth analysis and a full set of charts, including a list of the top-10 retailers that effectively drive customer engagement and loyalty today, click here.