The customer, in-store loyalty and the future of retail

David Buckingham, CEO, Ecrebo, explains how ‘brick and mortar’ retail stores can manage the growing e-commerce threat.

It’s the second month of the new year already and for many of us this means refining (and redefining) our fresh start, our new objectives and plans for self-improvement. For retailers, however, it’s not necessarily that easy.

Planning for the new year begins months in advance and is seen more of a continuation of their current plans, and a chance to build on their achievements — especially when it comes to customer experience and loyalty.

One of the major challenges that retailers face — in a market where the death of the high street has long been predicted — is the continued emergence of e-commerce retailers. Just consider that UK shoppers spent £1.4bn online on Black Friday in 2017, an increase of almost 12% from the year before. The best way for retailers to combat this threat lies in the in-store customer experience, which is linked to loyalty.

Loyalty, and particularly in-store loyalty, has evolved rapidly over the last years, driven by advances in technology and growing consumer savviness. 2018 will undoubtedly signal further trends and changes.

The right data, the right approach

Data and analytics have been playing a pivotal role in retail and loyalty for years now, and looking into the future, this will only continue. Data forms the foundation of loyalty; importantly though, when it comes to loyalty and personalisation, it’s about the quality of data collected and how the data is actually used. According to research, 61% of retailers agree that the quality of data can improve loyalty and retention rates.

With this focus on personalisation, what does it actually mean for the business going forward? With the compliance deadline for GDPR fast approaching, 2018 will see a change in attitude from retailers. While many are no doubt doing this already and following best practices when it comes to data collection and consent, there needs to be an added level of consumer education in terms of where and how their data is used. Consumers are willing to share their details with retailers — only if there’s a significant pay off — and they need to be encouraged to do so. More than that, they need assurances that this information will be used properly and to bring benefit to them.

Taking that even a step further, the same research as above revealed that 44% of a brand’s customer data is gathered at the till. This presents a mostly untapped channel of opportunity for retailers. How so? By using this data in real-time, at the point of sale, retailers can offer loyal customers personalised offers that they value. This will go beyond stretch spend offers or money off regularly purchased items, and extend to messages delivered at the point of sale with additional information about the products shoppers have just bought.

Hyper-personalisation or automation?

Hyper-personalisation is here to stay; there’s little argument here because it just makes sense. Giving your loyal customers rewards they actually find valuable and an experience they enjoy, all based on relevance. However, there’s a slight contradiction because as the desire for and delivery of personalisation increases, more and more automation will play a role. Can the two work together?

The obvious answer is yes. Automation may be more suited to the online environment (for example, the use of chat bots and the targeted use of data obtained from shoppers and the queries that can be answered) but the right mix of these two elements will have a definite impact on in-store behaviour.

Just think about the effect that self-help kiosks, mobile points of sale, and mobile store assistants using smartphones and tablets, can have on overall customer experience and loyalty, while still providing personalisation. Importantly, 2018 will be about finding a balance between the two.

Artificial intelligence or augmented intelligence?

According to Forbes, we should worry less about AI and more about augmented intelligence. Yes, AI has a contribution to make to retail; especially as Forrester predicts that 10% of purchase decisions will be influenced by agents (such as chat bots) and the platforms they reside on because of the wealth of information they are likely to gather from shoppers and use it to guide decision-making. But it’s not the use of AI alone that will contribute to success. Instead, as mentioned above when talking about data, it is the mix of man and machine that will have the biggest difference.

Conclusion

Happy customers come back. That’s the bottom line. And what makes a customer happy? That’s a combination of the right customer experience, loyalty rewards and giving them what they want. While this may seem overly simplistic, regardless of the trends and technology, the customer should always remain at the core of any marketing strategy — and that’s one thing that is not likely to change any time soon.

Ecrebo offers POS-based technology that opens up a marketing channel, enabling retailers to deliver targeted offers at the checkout alongside paper or digital receipts.

1 Comment on The customer, in-store loyalty and the future of retail

  1. I certainly agree with you that customers are the reason retailers do what they do. In fact, anticipating customer behavior is what drives the entire supply chain side of the business – at sustainably successful retailers. I like the notion of augmented intelligence as there’s nothing artificial about data science and the crystal ball that analytics provides.

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