How are you communicating with your customers?

Social media has become a hub for customers to rate, slate and share feedback on service, purchased items and brands, as well as find out about the latest trends and must have items. But how can retailers use the channel to their advantage in the face of conflicting advice from so-called experts?

In any relationship, communication is key and the same can be said for retailers and their customers. It’s impossible to get it right all of the time, but if a customer is able to speak to a human being when they have a query or complaint and the problem is quickly resolved it’s likely that you will gain their loyalty and repeat business.

Customer data in the way of feedback, thoughts and demands is some of the most valuable information available to any retailer, so why not listen to and analyse it for actionable insight? The data available across social media platforms, if collated, can be used as business intelligence to add value to operations and ultimately deliver against and exceed customer expectations. Unstructured it may be, but its value is incalculable.

What are your customers saying? Good or bad, it can be used to make changes for the better, i.e. has a customer received a bad experience (online or in store) and is there an emerging pattern? If so, identify it and make sure that something is done about it and most importantly, notify the customer as to your actions so they know they’re valued.

As well as using social media to listen to customers it should also be used to deliver the latest updates, such as promotions, sales, competitions – everybody loves a bargain and social media is the perfect platform to promote this type of information and get everybody else talking about it. Pinterest and Facebook are great mediums for retailers to visually share updates of events and new seasonal ranges, whilst communicating the core brand messages.

It’s never been more important for retailers to engage, listen, learn and respond to what their customers are saying and social media offers a platform for retailers to be able to facilitate this. Customers continue to shape the future of retail and it’s never been more important to listen to them!

Making the local store more… local

Consistency of service and pricing & promotions across the retail estate are a priority for retailers, but when considering regional stores, they need to better understand the demands of local customers and decide which merchandise sells best at which location. Each store can then be merchandised differently based on local demand.

As a consumer, you know that the service in a London store will be different from that of the same retailer on your local high street, even though your expectations will rightly be the same regardless of the store.

When it comes to merchandise, what works for one store could have an adverse effect in another and a business savvy retailer will appreciate the power of knowing its regional target market. That being said, consumers change their minds as quickly as the wind changes direction, so how can retailers keep pace and ensure profitable sales across the retail estate?

Firstly, retailers need a connected store network for visibility across the retail estate – with head office able to have a view of stock, sales – products in demand and profit within each store.

The next step is to ensure the seamless operation of the supply chain, including the capability to shift stock from warehouse-to-store and from store-to-store. This way, once a retailer has identified which seasonal stock is selling best within each of its stores, stock can be easily transported between locations, dependent on the local demand. This prevents over stocking and a back-log of inventory.

Retailers can also move stock order by order – if a customer wants a product, but it is only in a store many miles away, while the cost may seem prohibitive, it can probably be justified by the fact that it cannot be sold locally and by the value in loyalty from a happy customer.

Taking this to the next level, retailers can tap into the power of BI solutions to deliver a forecast on future stock demand, so orders can be processed before sought-after items sell out – ensuring that adequate stock is available and customers aren’t left disappointed. This type of software is particularly useful in the run up to peak sales periods, such as Christmas, January and summer sales, Halloween and Easter.

Ultimately, the key to a successful retail estate is a mix of real-time communication, visibility and a robust supply chain network.