For decades, commerce was uniform. People shopped in stores and marketplaces. Sure, catalogue shopping had a loyal following, but it was dwarfed by the number of people electing to shop in stores. The in-store shopping experience was social in the fact that individuals would shop with friends and family, often making a day of it. It was also social in the fact that face-to-face interaction with store associates was intimate. People might even recognize the same store associates when visiting favorite stores time and time again.
Enter the digital age of shopping. Many individuals still prefer to do their shopping in brick-and-mortar stores, but the number of consumers shopping online and on the go is steadily increasing. One of the most influential effects of online and mobile shopping is that retailers are now competing against more retailers than ever. Shops that used to have to contend with a handful of similar stores in a mall or on a popular street are now seeing their number of competitors skyrocket, compliments of the fact that shoppers now had access to nearly any store online. Tiny, specialized shops were suddenly competing with the big wigs. One thing was clear for retailers thrust into a new, uncharted arena: something would have to change.
Creating lasting relationships is key to long-term success for retailers because each day more and more retailers are adding inventory or offering items for sale online for the first time. Retailers looking to not only survive, but thrive in the omni-channel world need to bring back that social aspect to shopping and foster relationships with brand ambassadors that extend beyond just one channel. These ambassadors will spread the word about positive shopping experiences and help businesses grow.
Conversations > Conversions
Conversions are the end goal, but retailers will need to engage shoppers in a new way in order to build a loyal following. Clienteling, the act of fostering a relationship to create a positive experience and building brand loyalty, as opposed to simply pushing for a sale, is one way to foster relationships. Conversations with customers through any channel should be more relevant than ever. Unless it’s a customer’s first interaction with a brand, retailers should have valuable information about their customers’ actions, no matter the channel in which they occurred.
What brands does this person like? What sizes and styles were purchased or browsed previously? This information is now available in real-time thanks to advanced point of sale (POS) technology that empowers in-store associates to recommend products that are truly relevant to a shopper. Delivery options and alternate sizes and styles from other stores can also easily be accessed. The technology should be customer-centric as opposed to just transaction-centric. Without that knowledge of a customer’s specific tastes, associates are left to blindly suggest items that may not be relevant. Suggesting the latest stiletto style for someone who is a loyal wearer of flats is just one example. That failed communication tells a shopper that a brand doesn’t get who they are and what they are wanting.
Personalization Acts as a Differentiator
Meaningful conversations should extend beyond the store. Retailers can have a website that is responsive to a customer’s past browsing history. For example, if a sporting goods retailer recognizes that the last time a particular shopper was on its website, she searched for women’s running shoes, the homepage could feature the latest products in women’s running. In addition, promotions including coupons and email marketing campaigns can be as targeted as possible, reiterating to the shoppers that the brand understands their unique priorities and tastes. The more relevant a shopping experience is – no matter the channel – the more likely a customer is to purchase something he or she will rave about to friends, family and their social networks.
Create a Community
Creating a community around a brand is another way to build a following of brand ambassadors. What do shoppers enjoy doing with a retailer’s product? Answer that question and find a way to utilize it to promote community. For example, some athletic brand retailers host fitness classes for free or at a discounted rate inside of their stores, and retailer Sur la Table hosts cooking classes in their stores where participants use their products. Have an active audience on social media? A giveaway hosted exclusively on Twitter or Instagram, for example, offers a feeling of exclusivity and is a way to thank shoppers who follow your brand outside of the four walls.
In conclusion, obtaining valuable customer information and putting that data to work offers retailers of any size a competitive advantage. Using that data to enhance a customer’s experience before, during and after they’ve shopped with a company will promote customer longevity. When a customer who has countless stores – both online and brick-and-mortar—to choose from selects a retailer to shop with time and time again, a brand ambassador has been born. If that customer is continually offered a highly-personalized and helpful shopping experience, that single ambassador will be multiplied, as will sales.