The present and future of customer loyalty

Customer loyalty has always been paramount for retailers, but as we wade into 2012 and beyond, it is becoming increasingly evident that retailers have a renewed focus on establishing a strong sense of loyalty and creating an engaging customer experience through cross-channel initiatives that are touching customers both in and — perhaps more importantly — out of the store.


“This is a great time to be a shopper,” said Steve Mader, senior analyst for Kantar Retail. “The shopper’s entire path of purchase is evolving, and it is becoming more fluid across channels and ... more fluid across mediums. I think that retailers and brands are going to have to push themselves to be where the shopper expects them to be.”


While the in-store shopping experience remains important, it undoubtedly is becoming just one slice of a larger, more connected personalized customer experience. Enter social media, m-commerce, QR codes, mobile apps, mobile point-of-sale and in-store kiosks, to name a few.


Retailers, as well as manufacturers, swiftly are wading through the sea of fast-rising technologies to determine how best to leverage them and how to truly engage shoppers and remain relevant in the minds of today’s tech-wielding, information-hungry consumer.


In fact, the recently released joint report by the NRF Foundation and KPMG, “Retail Horizons: Benchmarks for 2011, Forecasts for 2012” indicated that 2012 is “all about the customer.” The survey of 247 retail executives from various sectors found that nearly 67% of companies ranked customer satisfaction as the top strategic initiative for 2012 and, similarly, 82% said customer service strategies will be their top priority in the coming year, up from 75% last year.


For the first time in the survey’s 10-year history, retailers’ websites or online channels eclipsed physical stores as the top channel for marketers (81% for brick-and-mortar versus 86% online). According to the survey, 85% will emphasize increasing online sales, up from 83% in 2011, and 38% will have a greater focus on increasing m-commerce sales over the next year, up from 29% in 2011. Furthermore, more than half (53%) of those surveyed said they specifically will focus on Web personalization engines in the coming months, which include such enhancements as location-based services and tracking methods unique to shopping habits.
To better serve mobile-savvy shoppers in their stores, retailers also stated that enhancing such handheld technologies as mobile point-of-sale will be a core focus over the next 18 months. While 17% already use mobile POS technologies in their store, an additional 33% indicated they plan further POS investments during that time frame.


“Your best customer is your multichannel customer,” Mike Gatti, SVP at NRF and executive director of the Retail Advertising and Marketing Association, told Drug Store News. “Your big spenders are the ones who are shopping through all of your channels, and they are most heavily engaged with you. So it has become really key for retailers to engage with the customers.”


What’s also important to note is that the industry is evolving to engagement solutions and away from just broadcast messages. One such example is QR codes. These little ubiquitous black-and-white squares must offer customers a compelling reason to scan in order to drive engagement or sales successfully. Simply slapping a QR code on a shelf or product packaging that, when scanned, just redirects a customer back to a brand’s website isn’t likely to meet customer expectations.


“It is interesting to see how all of the different pieces have come about. ... You are seeing all these different pieces of the pie starting to enhance the shopping experience and make it an omnichannel event,” Gatti said. “It is all about making that shopping experience better.”