In this guest piece, Paula Da Silva (pictured below), senior vice president of sales at CitiXsys, explores the importance of relationships in the retail industry, particularly between customers and brands.
In business, everything revolves around relationships. These relationships aren’t simply between customers and employees, or employers and employees, but perhaps most importantly between customers and brands. Brands become attractive to customers based on the product or service being offered by the company, and their subsequent shopping experience. This mixture of the two inspires customer loyalty which leads to shoppers not only buying more, but buying more often, and referring their friends. Redefining the rules of traditional loyalty will mean an evolution of the brand experience for customers at every touch point of their journey, be that online or in-store.
For any organisation, but particularly within retail, it is vital that customer relationships are nurtured and customer satisfaction is made a priority. If customers are satisfied with a brand, it is more likely that they will recommend it to others and make return visits, but if they are unsatisfied, potential sales will be lost. A robust loyalty program also has the added advantage of data acquisition, which is invaluable for retailers to market effectively to their customers based on their past behaviours and preferences.
OMNICHANNEL SHOPPING AND INTEGRATED LOYALTY PROGRAMS
The value of a good or service often makes or breaks retail relationships for shoppers. While the extras in customer relationships, including customer service, play important roles, it is essential that organisations recognise that shoppers are incredibly sensitive to the value they are receiving from retailers. Digital loyalty programs utilising digital passes must include all the valuable features that are present in traditional in-store programs including point accumulation and special digital promotions. In this way, it is important for retailers to integrate all channels of their retail business and run a common loyalty program. Shoppers need to feel equally rewarded and valued across all channels. With customers interacting with retailers both online and in-store, an integrated loyalty program is essential to provide a convenient, omnichannel shopping experience.
Integrated loyalty programs help to strengthen customer relationships by facilitating an exchange of value for information. This two-way relationship benefits both retailer and customer. The retailer gives something extra, whether that be reward points, discounts or special perks and privileges. The customers respond by joining the program and giving permission for retailer to track transactional data, survey data, and online and mobile behaviour across all shopping touch points. The retailer then ‘closes the loyalty loop’ by delivering that information back to the customer in the form of increased value and more relevant offers. The resulting positive sentiments felt by the consumer results in strong, sustainable, and mutually-beneficial relationships.
THE IMPORTANCE OF BRAND ALIGNMENT IN LOYALTY
The loyalty landscape has changed and omnichannel shopping, digital technology and consumer empowerment are having a dramatic impact on consumer loyalty, leading to a redefinition of what a loyalty program can be. Traditionally focused on driving sales, loyalty must now focus more so on unique, personalised customer interactions and creating a committed relationship between customers and your brand. Any digital loyalty program must mirror the retailer’s physical loyalty scheme to provide a consistent customer journey and further the relationship between shopper and retailer. Loyalty programs must now reflect the brand experience and brand alignment is imperative to program design.
Alignment to a brand’s objectives is a core loyalty design principle that refers to the precise relation of the program’s components with the attributes embodied by the brand. Loyalty today is not simply a program, but rather, is the relationship and the sentiment elicited by the brand to influence the behaviour of key customers. Brands must now seek to establish deep, meaningful relationships with their customers in ways that are engaging, emotionally-rich, and brand-aligned both digitally and in-store.
The roles of customer loyalty and loyalty programs have drastically changed from their traditional definitions, and it is imperative that retailers invest in loyalty in order to succeed. Living in the age of a digitally-savvy shopper and omnichannel shopping journeys means that the investment in brand experience leads to the ability to develop authentic and strong relationships with customers that keep them coming back for more.