The retail sector has had a good start to the New Year so far, considering the interesting period we experienced last year. This included footwear retailer Dune seeing their sales figures go through the roof thanks to a global network expansion (Retail Week -Analysis: The top 10 fastest-growing retailers in the UK in 2016 )  and the untimely departure of British favourite BHS. Some may agree that last year was a year of mixed fortunes. Now it’s time for us see what exciting developments are in store for 2017.

This year delivering a more strategic customer experience that ensures precious budget is being invested in the right areas will be absolutely vital. It is in the retailer’s best interests to build long-lasting relationships with customers who will spend more, return to purchase regularly and ultimately generate income. The focus for the rest of the year will be loyalty, so here is the who, the what and the why to make sure you get it right every time.

Who are your customers?

How well do you actually know your customers? As we enter into a particularly difficult time for the industry it’s more important than ever for retailers to get to know their customers, and it all starts with the basics. It is no secret that the high street is struggling, and in comparison online shopping is thriving more than ever before. Black Friday 2016 was an extremely clear example with continued growth in online sales while the high street was left deserted. Increasingly consumers expect a far more personalised experience online that goes beyond simply making suggestions based on previous viewing or purchase behaviour.

Machine learning and artificial intelligence are currently the top technological trends of 2017 and more than ever technology is impacting our everyday lives in new and exciting ways, this means that retailers need to keep up if they want to turn a profit. Already we are seeing this in store with services such as self-checkouts, and it’s no different for online platforms. Tech savvy customers want quick checkout pages, immediate payments and faster delivery – and expectations keep rising.

What could retailers be doing?

Personalised experiences, creating a tailored offering will help to build a strengthened relationship with customers. Whether it’s a simple banner offering free next day delivery or suggestions based on location, each detail shows the customer you understand them as a shopper and want to make the experience the best for them.

Often the act of being relevant itself is enough to encourage greater loyalty from customers, but to further build loyalty, retailers can use special offers, reward schemes or generate a unique discount code for particular items or categories so that they become their go-to retailer when making a purchase. One brand already demonstrating this is Waitrose. It used its bespoke ‘Turkey Buyer’ Targeting campaign to reward loyal customers and convert sales. Using customer data collected from its MyWaitrose members, the grocer was able to swiftly identify those who had previously purchased a turkey through Waitrose, but had yet to do so that Christmas. Through personalisation, Waitrose then targeted one million shoppers with specific messaging to encourage them to buy their turkey that year. Not only was this a key chance to up-sell and maximise online sales, it also drove in-store visitors, with a £5 off incentive when collecting from a local store.

Furthermore devising an integrated cross-channel approach to ensure a more seamless shopping experience should also be a priority. Customers are shopping on their mobiles more than ever due to bigger mobile screens and improved Wi-Fi connections. Customers want to browse on the go but make a purchase later on using a desktop as it’s considered more reliable. In fact, Monetate data shows that one in five shoppers’ complete purchases over seven hours after first visiting a site.

Ultimately, retailers need to take advantage of new technology to make the process quicker, easier, more accurate and seamless. This will make the shopper feel valued, meaning fewer returns and importantly, more money made.

Why is it important?

There is monumental pressure on retailers to perform in 2017 especially as more and more shoppers are spending their money online, as well as the added complication of deciding where budget should be invested. Essentially, every penny counts more than ever before and really drilling down to provide each customer with a one-to-one experience will be worth the initial spend. To truly maximise on investment there should be a heavy focus on turning each customer from shopper to advocate, who will continue to make purchases over and over again. It is common knowledge that selling to a new prospect is generally more challenging then selling to an existing customer, a reality that highlights the importance of keeping existing customers not just happy, but actively making your website a destination for repeat visits and purchases.

Simon Farthing

Simon Farthing