Making Loyal Customers Out of Holiday Shoppers

Holiday shoppers opening their wallets online this year looks promising, but how many of them will become loyal customers when the frenzy ends?

Black Friday’s ecommerce sales blew past the modest early projections for retailers, edging out in-store sales in year-over-year growth for the season’s big opening weekend. This strong showing reflects positively on sellers’ efforts to use marketing to address concerns of price-sensitive consumers facing rising inflation and economic uncertainty.

But value-conscious buyers do not necessarily spell long-term value for brands. Consumers motivated by price alone will likely take their money elsewhere when trends and prices change. Marketers know that recurring, loyal customers, not seasonal bargain hunters, are the most effective drivers of growth.

So, how can ecommerce brands and retailers ensure that their holiday campaigns don’t just churn out one-time conversions but create lasting gains?

Three steps online retailers and marketers can take to combat post-holiday churn include designing a high-quality purchase experience with digital tools that make shopping easy, rewarding, and enjoyable; crafting engaging content that forges emotional bonds; and cultivating an identity-driven connection with consumers through gated loyalty offers that speak to who shoppers are, not just the products they want.

Make Shopping Quick and Easy

I’m sure you’ve found yourself in need of a specific product, but had trouble navigating the retailer’s website. In the process, you see ads for dozens of products you’re not interested in. By the time you finally find what you’re looking for — if you find it at all — you feel fatigued and swear never to use the site again. Our dislike of the site is not grounded in price or product quality but in the experience.

With this in mind, it makes sense to tailor marketing to shoppers’ individual characteristics and expectations, rather than basing a marketing strategy on one-off discounts that are less likely to result in recurring business.

One of the most advantageous steps online sellers can take to foster a positive experience is investing in mobile-friendly content. As a percentage of total ecommerce sales, mobile commerce rose from 52.4% in 2016 to 72.9% in 2021. Plus, mobile is now the dominant platform for search among buyers. Sellers can position themselves for success by being available wherever their customers prefer to engage with them – and a quality mobile experience should top the list.

Another investment sellers should make is in personalization. Amazon has not become the dominant ecommerce retailer because it’s the most beautiful site or offers the highest-quality products. Rather, it’s the king of convenience, making shopping as easy as a single click. To a great extent, that convenience boils down to personalization — not just highly relevant search results but the ability to make recurring purchases and see suggestions for past purchases when navigating the site. Retailers must make returning easier than shopping the first time if they want to retain holiday newcomers as loyal customers.

Appeal to Consumers’ Identities

Fans who are emotionally invested in a football game are much more likely to recall ads during the game than casual fans not invested in the outcome. Ads that tap into emotions perform up to three times better than generic counterparts. The salient point is this: emotional connection to content is often a deciding factor for the consumer.

But what are some examples of content that establishes an emotional connection? The best content surfaces a shopper’s existing emotional attachments. For sports fans, ads incorporating teams they identify with might trigger this investment. Brands with the strongest emotional bonds, such as Disney and Apple, reap the rewards of improved customer loyalty year after year. The key word here is identity. Whether by means of a sports team or profession or brand, establishing a bond with an individual’s identity inspires loyalty.

Identity is not just brand recognition; it’s about belonging to a narrative involving the brand, or being invested in the brand’s story. Stories are remembered up to 22 times more than facts alone. In order to win the loyalty of price-sensitive buyers, brands must engage with them on a level that transcends simply the best deals. They must feel heard for who they are as individuals, for what they love and identify with.

One way to forge this emotional bond is through practicing brand values using tangible programs like sustainability and loyalty. An ecommerce brand with a reputation for supporting elementary school teachers will see much more recurring business from that demographic than one that merely slashes prices for all during back-to-school season.

Treat Them Special

Especially during the holiday season, it is common practice to offer special discount rates to win over customers. However, sales made because of generic promotions are motivated by price and little else, meaning that repeat business after Q4 is unlikely. This is because the customer feels little attachment to the retailer and has no incentive to return. While continuous promotions lead to brand dilution, targeted loyalty offers create an emotional resonance with the consumer and strengthen the brand.

Identity marketing creates an emotional bond by recognizing and honoring someone’s identity. It rewards them for who they are — for example, a teacher or military veteran. The needs of an elementary school teacher who regularly purchases school supplies will be different from the needs of a tech startup owner or veteran. Homing in on what makes each customer unique and then providing loyalty offers tailored to these specific needs fosters a sustainable long-term partnership.

Identity-driven offers make customers feel like equal partners in their relationship with the brand. Rather than mindlessly scouring the internet for products and making a decision based purely on price, consumers who have a partnership with their brands know these companies will provide the best deals and discounts for their exact needs. Companies that take the time to forge that partnership create a path from one-time transactions to long-term loyal customers and repeat business.

Sai Koppala is CMO of SheerID