How Retailers Can Build Relationships With Customers From a Distance

by Michael Klein

posted on 06-23-2020

It’s often said that distance makes the heart grow fonder, that being apart can strengthen the bonds between loved ones. But what about the bond between retailers and customers?

The coronavirus pandemic created some major challenges for retailers. Social-distancing policies kept shoppers at home, and many businesses had to temporarily close their stores, which understandably put a strain on all types of customer relationships.

But the good news is that brands can still continue to connect with shoppers, even from a distance — and those who harness the power of customer data will be in the best position to make the most of these relationships. This is a chance for retailers to truly show how much they care by putting consumer needs first.

At the end of the day, the thing that builds customer loyalty isn’t brand or price: it’s meeting customer expectations with meaningful experiences. It’s why, today especially, retailers need a flexible strategy that allows them to handle rapid changes, update preconceived customer journeys, and understand what their shoppers are really thinking and feeling.

Practice empathy

True understanding — whether in friendship, romance, or business — always starts with active listening. For retailers, this means slowing down and paying close attention to how consumer needs and behaviors shift, especially in uncertain times. Brands not only need to understand where each customer is at on their individual journey, but also what got them there. It’s all about agility: figuring out habits in real time and meeting customers where they’re going to fulfill their needs.

For example, there’s a good chance that consumers will adopt new habits (like cooking at home or working remotely) even after COVID-19 has passed. The number of customers taking advantage of online grocery shopping, for example, has grown during the pandemic and is unlikely to slow down. According to a study by Fabric, 20% of U.S. consumers made their first online grocery store purchases because of the pandemic — and our own research shows that there’s been a 110% increase in daily online grocery revenue during April. Now is the time for retailers to figure out how to adapt to these behavioral trends, immediately and long-term.

The ability to predict consumer behavior is a holy grail that can deliver on the promise of personalization at scale and contextualized promotions, which in turn will increase customer engagement and retention. That’s why 53% of companies are now investing in customer data platforms, while another 45% are investing in real-time decision engines. Satisfying today’s savvy consumers requires analytics tools that both report and predict.

Learn to share

Retailers know that first-party data is critical for understanding customers, but second-party and third-party data can help to create even more robust profiles. Just think of what grocery stores and consumer packaged goods brands can learn from each other if data is shared compliantly.

Collect as much data as possible by partnering with vendors who can help tap into an audience. Studies show that organizations with superior customer experiences are nine times more likely to have analyzed and integrated data from multiple sources.

Sharing technology can be a smart move, too — online grocery retailer Ocado has made its proprietary software available to others, giving the company access to more data points and consumer behavior that it can use to improve its own offerings.

Get ready to grow

If they’re really in it for the long haul, retailers need to mature along with their consumers. And that means evolving from surface-level transactions into a company that truly knows its audience inside and out.

Customer intelligence will vary depending on a retailer’s level of digital maturity, whether they’re in the crawl (setting foundations), walk (using proprietary data), or run (insights from multiple data sources) stage. Regardless, brands can benefit by understanding implicit signals — including what customers are searching for on a website — as much as explicit signals, such as transactions and inventory.

As companies mature, this customer intelligence can be used to provide better, more personalized context. A home improvement or home furnishings store, for instance, could combine purchase transactions with third-party intel to identify customers that have moved across the country or into a new household — and personalize marketing content to their specific needs.

Communicate value clearly

Meeting a customer’s needs isn’t always about changing a product — sometimes, it’s about changing how to talk about a product. Customer intelligence is the best way to inform retail messaging.

The current health situation has exacerbated the importance of communication. And with the help of data, retailers can prove they’ve been paying attention with messaging that is helpful to customers’ current situations. Nike, for instance, reacted to delivery service delays by extending its return and exchange periods. This is clear, responsive, applicable messaging that speaks to a specific audience during a specific time.

Make a long-term commitment

During times of change, it’s more important than ever to step up and be there for others. In the end, a little attentiveness goes a long way — and it will build loyalty that can withstand whatever comes next.

Explore our solutions for retail, and learn how we can help get you started.

Topics: Retail