How to Build Customer Loyalty Despite Supply Chain Issues and External Factors

Customer interaction is key to building customer loyalty.

Call it the specialty retail loyalty program: customer loyalty is a badge of honor that any store will wear proudly. But with a host of ongoing challenges posed by today’s retail landscape, it’s not as simple as punching a loyalty card and you’re done. Whether it’s external factors, like supply chain issues preventing delivery of a coveted item, or internal factors, like competition from other local businesses offering higher wages and better benefits , retaining a long-term customer has become a constant concern for even the most experienced retailers. operation.

Recent findings on consumer buying habits are not helping to ease the pain. According to NPD Group, in the first three months of 2022, consumers bought 6% fewer items retail than in the first quarter of 2021. And as consumers shop less frequently, the opportunities to reach them are also shrinking.

To help retailers reassess their business operations and improve their position with shoppers, we contacted retail training specialist Whizbang Retail for ideas on how to maximize the customer relationship for greater retention opportunities. To complement these strategies, savvy retailers also share their own success stories, as well as tips for boosting long-term engagements.

Customer interaction is the key to loyalty

Establishing a solid customer base that makes repeat visits is ultimately what drives store owners to get up and go to work every day. “Customer retention is the gold standard that you as an independent retailer strive for,” said Susan Negen of Whizbang Retail. “You’re trying to get to where, when a customer wants or needs to buy what you’re selling, they don’t think, ‘Where do I go?’ They think, ‘When can I arrive?’ But, as she notes, it can be difficult for specialty stores to compete with the wide range of existing opportunities that make shopping easier, from one-click e-commerce to exclusive social promotions.

That’s where dedicated marketing comes in, an approach Negen says stores can use to leverage their strengths. For starters, retailers need to create the unforgettable in-store experience that begins the moment customers step inside. “Your store should be clean, organized, well-merchandised, and properly signed with consistent on-brand visuals,” she advises. “Your customers make instant judgments: is it a great place to shop, do they have what I want, (and) is it worth spending my precious time there?”

With the logistics in order, retailers should then focus on what Negen sees as the most important part of the equation: the customer’s interaction with their staff. A shopper’s likelihood of returning is increased when an employee has answered all questions effectively, helped choose the perfect gift, and been pleasant throughout their visit. In stark contrast is the antithesis of this experience which will inevitably destroy any chance of securing a long-term client. “If your employee sits behind the cash register, doesn’t greet the customer, and barely manages a ‘bye’ when your customer walks out, your chances of the customer becoming loyal are exactly zero,” Negen warns.

Adjusting your customer policies to better meet their needs is a surefire way to keep shoppers happy. And while the adage “the customer is always right” may seem outdated, it still resonates with today’s consumers looking to engage with the brands and vendors they love. According to Negen, your store philosophy should be able to answer, “What would my customer want? “How do they want to pay?” AmEx? Take it,” she said. “When do they want to shop? Sunday? Be open! If you trust your customers and really want to help them, customer loyalty will follow.”

And of course, it goes without saying that having the right product line (and sufficient supply) is a must. “No matter how beautiful your store is, how competent your staff, how friendly your policies are…if you don’t have what they want to buy, they won’t shop with you,” she said. .

For Krissy Harper and Jacquelyn Conte, who purchased Wit & Whim in Port Washington, NY, in 2018, inheriting an already established customer base seemed like a dream come true. But with so many shoppers already dedicated to the specialty gift shop known for its exclusively handmade finds, it was up to them to maintain customer loyalty.

“Our clients range from tweens to 80s and everything in between,” Conte said. “They are looking for something unique, handmade or vintage. They not only enjoy shopping, but also have a shopping experience. To entice customers, the store features handcrafted items not found at other local venues and offers sweepstakes and product discounts during holidays and special events, such as Small Business Saturdays.

To develop its growing clientele, Wit & Whim equips its artist sellers with postcards to distribute at market fairs. Interaction with social media helps complete store exposure. “We connect with people who comment and like their posts, and we also try to include customers in our posts,” Harper said. This mode of communication proved particularly useful during the pandemic when the store relied solely on its online presence to conduct business. “We provided daily posts and stories to do our best to sell virtually with shipping,” Conte added.

Keeping customers and their needs front and center is key to continuing the Wit & Whim brand over the past four years. A personal touch goes a long way in ensuring they continue to shop there for years to come. Conte is a firm believer in caring about customers and their lives and calls them by name when they walk into his store. “These IRL (In Real Life) interactions are invaluable and don’t compare to any loyalty program,” she said.

Create the best in-store experience

Creating an exceptional in-store environment is one step in setting the stage for customer loyalty. Rewarding loyal customers with a loyalty program establishes your commitment to honoring their business and thanking them with special offers and promotions. While the myriad of programs range from punch cards to accumulated points, Negen says the best ones encourage spending more and buying more frequently — and many programs often opt for one over the other. The benefit to the retailer is that loyalty programs capture vital customer contact information in an instant. But sometimes getting buyers to agree to share their information can be a job in itself. “When you invite them to join, share the list of ‘high value for them, low cost for you’ benefits of being in the program and they will be happy to give their information to join the club,” said said Negen.

To ensure repeat customers come back, and not just for products, fill your calendar with as many events as your schedule and space allow. Communicating about these events is key to establishing a regular presence in your customers’ inbox and/or social feed. Just make sure you don’t overstay your welcome by flooding them with too frequent eblasts (weekly or monthly is fine). Negen believes these events will help make your store name synonymous with gifts.

Speaking of freebies, finding innovative ways to make shopping easier is another way to engage with customers. Negen recommends subscription services tailored to customers’ tastes and interests, such as a candle club of the month, a quarterly holiday decorating package, or a flower of the week. “Once they’ve committed to a subscription with you, they’re unlikely to buy anywhere else,” she said.

Use email marketing to connect with customers

For longtime specialty retailer Orange Tree Imports in Madison, Wis., maintaining a strong email list is key to building customer loyalty. With nearly 50 years in business, Carol Schroeder, owner of the store with her husband Dean, relied on this communication tool from the start. “It’s still a big plus for us,” she said. Targeted mailings of oversized postcards with coupons are sent out a few times a year. “Our mailing list gives us the ability to recognize where the majority of our customer base lives, so we can try to reach new customers in those postcodes,” she added.

Since Orange Tree’s mailing list is closely tied to its rewards program, shoppers who sign up and share their email address (after granting permission) can earn gift card-style rewards on their purchases. Those who share their birthday information are invited into the store to receive a gift during their birthday month. The store known for its culinary products usually distributes an orange kitchen item that Schroeder buys in bulk from one of its sales associates. “We often receive thank you notes mentioning how customers think of us whenever they search for a favorite tool they received as a birthday present,” she noted.

When the pandemic put a temporary halt to in-person shopping, the Orange Tree mailing list became even more meaningful for staying in touch with customers. To maximize its usefulness, Schroeder includes special offers containing rewards for shoppers who mention the email during their visit. “During a difficult time when the street in front of our store was torn up for nine months, we emailed weekly, but now try about twice a month,” Schroeder said. “I’m grateful that we have a high open rate.”

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Joseph P. Harris