Have you noticed that the whole world seems to have agreed to a customer-centric marketing strategy? Nearly every single business and marketing expert will tell you that it is absolutely critical.

Being customer- and consumer-centric is no longer a choice – it is a must. And if that’s not enough, you’re now expected to make all your marketing messages personal.

The market will not compromise. Customers want the very best retail experience out there: fast, cheap, entertaining, rewarding, personalised but secure, and open 24/7.

Unsurprisingly, this trend has benefited the online retail industry significantly. It grew by 18% in the US in 2016, accounting for 8% of all sales and today constitutes 17% of all retail sales in the UK.

Amazon, eBay, and other e-commerce sites have eaten into the profits of many well-established household names, while retailers like Gap struggle with losses everywhere except on their online platforms.

So how can you make sure your business stands out?

Beyond the traditional shopping experience

One of the first and most effective answers to this fast-changing market reality across the globe has been the transformation of shopping into entertainment.

Consider examples such as

  • American Girl Place, where girls can get spa treatments for themselves as well as their dolls
  • Malls in China that combine shopping with food, arts and education
  • Absolut Vodka’s gaming app, Silverpoint, which uses storytelling, digital media and gaming to engage users in a mystery game featuring rare Andy Warhol’s drawings
  • The Salling department store in Aarhus, Denmark, where visitors can enjoy the rooftop space with panoramic views of the city with no entrance fee or obligation to make a purchase.

It is hardly a surprise that Salling quickly became a popular destination in its own right, improving its sales as people passed through the store.

The future of retail lies in enhancing the customer experience – a combination of entertainment and functionality, shopping and dining, and ever more creative options that can be enjoyed alone, with family or with friends.

Today, the rapid developments in Artificial Intelligence (AI), Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) offer even more opportunities to take an original approach to customer experience online and on-site.

In 2013, Pantene and Walgreens partnered with the Weather Channel. Using a multi-channel approach, Pantene delivered consumers a daily “Haircast”: geo-targeted messages based on the local weather forecast that suggested the relevant Pantene products to avoid a “bad hair day”. The campaign exceeded its targets by achieving, across all Walgreens stores, a 24% increase in Pantene product sales and, what’s more, a 4% increase in overall hair product sales.

Zappos has gained worldwide recognition for its client service. Its call centres support customers with everything from informed choices on Zappos products, to best buys from competitors (if Zappos are out of a certain product), to helping out with pizza orders in the middle of the night.

While there is no one-size-fits-all solution, it is worth noting that what all these examples have in common is a customer satisfaction strategy that goes beyond pure sales and the traditional buyer-seller relationship. It is about understanding your customers and improving their lives through useful or entertaining experiences or, to hit the jackpot, a combination of both.

From data overload to marketing excellence

In order to succeed with this transformation in 2019, however, retailers need a nuanced understanding of their customers beyond demographic and lifestyle data. They must understand their customers’ struggles, needs and traditions in order to provide a personalised and authentic shopping experience. By researching customers’ behaviour and overall brand engagement, they gain insight into the on-site, as well as online customer experience before, during and after the purchase which allows them to improve their lifetime value and retention rates.

In other words, retailers have to consider the entire customer journey from brand discovery to returns policy, not forgetting loyalty programs that, like the on-site experience, should meet the growing demand for value, meaning, personalisation and engagement. A modern loyalty program, for instance, might include incentives for peer recommendations in person and on social media.

Happily, with the myriad opportunities that face recognition, Google Analytics 360 Suite, Facebook Pixel and other enhanced e-commerce analytics tools provide, there has never been a better time to do this. In fact, it is here that traditional retailers enjoy a certain advantage. They can combine decades of consumer knowledge with the latest in-store and digital analytics tools.

The rights and wrongs of personalisation

The true key to success, however, lies in the smart management of this data.

Forrester and Accenture have both discovered that three quarters of consumers are more likely to buy from a retailer that recognises them by name, knows their purchase history or recommends options based on it.

Consequently, 96% of marketers agree that personalisation helps advance customer relationships, yet only 45% think that they are using personalisation right.

So why the disconnect?

The problem is people have noticed that most brands follow the same personalisation rulebook. A formulaic email with the first name at the top no longer works the magic it used to, and campaign ROI data reflect this.

What your audience truly craves is personalisation combined with authenticity. This means that providing a valuable insight, an actionable piece of advice or a special deal based on the customer’s purchase history should prove more powerful than adding somebody’s first name to a generic bulk email.

The retailers that will truly stand out in the marketplace in 2019 are those who understand that they are asking their customers for two of the most scarce commodities in today’s world: time and money.

Think of it this way: how can you personalise your message without necessarily trying to hide the fact that it is part of an automated campaign?

  • Start by providing value, solving a problem and offering insight into your company, brand values and culture.
  • Build a voice that has its own character and will be recognised even without your logo and imagery.
  • Think how you can link your brand and products to emotions, experiences and stories.
  • Think about how you communicate, asking for feedback and using social media to respond efficiently to any issues.

Last but not least, make sure that you have an agile business and operations model in place, capable of supporting your customer-centric marketing strategy, the increasing market demands and the constant need for innovation. Only then will you start to see strong growth in your customer loyalty and, ultimately, sales.

What next?

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