The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way consumers interact in many aspects of retail—including trips to the store, items they typically purchase, and even how often they shop. Brands and retailers have much to learn about this new consumer behavior—which is likely here to stay—including how to maintain customer loyalty in retail during uncertain times.
When it comes to nurturing customer loyalty, many strategies have already been implemented and proven effective by top-selling brands and retailers before the pandemic. If you haven’t already shifted your marketing efforts, you’ll find that following these customer loyalty strategies will not only help your retail business outlive the current economic downturn, but any shifts that may follow.
Communicating With Consumers During an Economic Downturn
Harvard Business Review recommends brands and retailers draw upon the HEART framework of sustained crisis communication:
- (H) Humanize Your Company: Let consumers know your company understands the dire situation and empathizes with those directly affected by the virus. Spell out the steps you’re taking to help shoppers, employees, and shareholders, using social media sites and customer mailing lists to connect. Consider where you can redeploy workers to other essential tasks, even if stores are closed. This continuity can be very reassuring.
- (E) Educate About Change: Let consumers know about store closures, staff reductions, service availability, shipping delays, new hours, and expanded ordering options. Emphasize convenient return policies and responsive call centers that can help with problems or questions.
- (A) Assure Stability: Explain how your business will continue to uphold quality, values, and customer service. Communicate that your worth transcends the immediate crisis.
- (R) Revolutionize Offerings: Seize the opportunity in this moment. For instance, Fuddruckers started selling bread directly to consumers to help with supermarket shortages. Tito’s Vodka began making hand sanitizer to help frontline workers.
- (T) Tackle the Future: Show that your company has learned from the pandemic and is well-positioned for the next step. Let customers know that some of the temporary improvements will become permanent. Inspire confidence.
Brands and retailers could take this framework a step further by implementing the following strategies:
1. Communicate to Show Customers You Care About Their Wellbeing
Customers look to the business world for additional information, support, and guidance during times of turmoil. After all, it is business ingenuity that often solves many of the real-world challenges people are facing during this uncertain time. Stay true to your baseline values and purpose, but step up to let your community know you care.
When changes to day-to-day business operations initially began, many businesses reached out to let consumers know they care. For meal kit providers, it was a moment to reiterate their commitment to food safety and to assure customers they would be continuing business-as-usual, even while so many supermarkets were being stripped dry. Retailers who were staying open sent out communications to let shoppers know what extra steps they were taking to sanitize their environments and create safe spaces for their customers.
There are many ways to create campaigns that resonate now. For instance, Ford reached out with a “Built to Lend a Hand” campaign offering payment relief and credit support. Budweiser reallocated its $5 million sporting event budget to Red Cross. Some storage rental companies offered college students 30 days of free self-storage. Many credit card companies waived a month of interest on credit card balances. The experience of being helped in a time of need is not one soon forgotten.
2. Focus On Serving, Rather Than Selling
Many Americans are home from work, with a lot more time to spend researching products. Consider how you can meet this demand with branded content:
- If you’re a maker of rum, you might consider sending out a “Drink of the Week” article.
- If you make electronics, send a DIY guide on appliance repair.
- If you make food and beverages, provide tips on how to keep food fresh.
- If you’re a lifestyle brand, send at-home workouts and healthy eating tips.
- If you make toys, list bonding activities for families that can be done safely at home.
- If you make technology, share how your brand is keeping socially distant friends connected.
Remember, personalization works best with content. Consider segmenting your audiences based on what pages they’ve visited or what they’ve ordered.
Go for brand recognition but with the soft sell. Maybe you’re best off appealing to shoppers with feel-good messaging, inspirational posts, and relevant topics that take their minds off the current doom-and-gloom headlines. Pushing a sale could come off as insensitive or out-of-touch.
If you’re unsure what consumers want right now, send out a quick survey asking if they would like to receive updates on the latest offerings, value-based messaging, or take a break from communications altogether.
3. Implement Curbside Pickup
Don’t forget one of the joys of shopping in brick-and-mortar—instant gratification. Some of your shoppers may not want to wait for shipping. While it’s not the same tactile experience, offering in-store fulfillment with curbside pickup is at least familiar. The number of retailers offering curbside pickup surged 208% in the first three weeks of April.
Stores like Target dabbled in BOPIS (Buy Online Pickup In-Store) before the pandemic, but other retailers like Kohl’s, Best Buy, Bed Bath & Beyond, and Dick’s Sporting Goods have recently began offering the service.
4. Display Corporate Social Responsibility
Engaging with a charity can boost brand awareness and customer loyalty. Consider what some CPG brands are doing:
- Unilever donated $8 million in food to Feeding America food banks.
- Icelandic Provisions donated 30,000 cups of high-protein yogurt to City Harvest in NYC.
- Keen donated 100,000 shoes to anyone directly affected by COVID-19.
- Chewy gave $1.7 million in pet food and supplies to animal welfare groups in hard-hit areas.
- Magic Spoon donated 20,000 boxes of cereal to children in NYC.
- Hydrant sent out 6,000 rapid rehydration packs to doctors, nurses, and hospital admins.
Social responsibility has been a huge driver of emotional loyalty, particularly among young shoppers.
5. Sweeten the Deal with Mobile Rewards
Sending out an alert regarding rewards points offers via mobile will reach your customers whether they’re surfing news on the couch, out walking the dog, or on lunch break as an essential worker.
Of course, there are certain Dos and Don’ts to promoting your business during this time:
- DO offer customers free shipping and rewards points, increasing the value of rewards points if possible. DON’T include the words “COVID19” or “coronavirus” when naming special offers.
- DON’T ask customers to spend their stimulus checks on your brand. DO recognize hardship by promoting a contest to win $1,200, for example.
- DON’T make consumer purchase a contingency of your generosity. DO highlight relief efforts and donations to charity or community.
- DON’T leave loyalty programs on autopilot. DO consider extending the points expiration to let shoppers keep hard-earned points.
How to Maintain Customer Loyalty in Retail With Shopkick
Shopkick offers a unique platform for mobile advertising that brands and retailers can tailor directly to the current pandemic. Create a lookbook or a branded video that Shopkickers can engage with in exchange for rewards points (that are later redeemable toward a gift card of their choosing). Shopkick users can click on over to your eCommerce storefront while enjoying cohesive loyalty rewards that can also be earned in-store once businesses are allowed to re-open. As an affordable mobile tool, Shopkick is here for you!
Shopkick offers a unique platform for mobile advertising that brands and retailers can tailor directly to the current pandemic.
American consumption patterns have altered during the pandemic, with some of these changes potentially becoming permanent. After all, experts say it takes 30 days for a new habit to form. Coming out of this crisis, shoppers will likely be more price-conscious, in-store pickups will flourish, mobile checkouts will expand, and local products will take preference. The efforts you are taking to maintain customer loyalty are all positive steps forward, which customers will likely remember when they’re on the path to purchase.
Image courtesy of Drazen Zigic