In these uncertain times, trust is a must

The General Election earlier this month saw a wave of uncertainty sweep the UK – and it’s a feeling that can make people behave far more cautiously in the retail space.

In the midst of one of the most unpredictable election campaigns to date, many retailers experienced a sudden dip in figures as the nation eagerly awaited the results. Even the great John Lewis admitted both sales and footfall dipped during the run up to May 7th.

The arrival of the election highlighted just how  dramatically an uncertain environment can affect attitudes amongst consumers. And it’s not just a major political events that can cause this; any economic, cultural or environmental change can make consumers more reluctant to loosen their purse strings.

With so many variables influencing their lives, consumers crave consistency – something they can rely on to meet their expectations. And this is something retailers should be providing.

John Lewis may have experienced an election blip, but to many they’re still a standard bearer for customer-centric retail. Recently celebrating their 150th anniversary, the brand has managed to maintain an excellent image amongst UK consumers – creating a sense of trust even throughout the most challenging of times. In fact, a study by analysts Nunwood revealed that consumers identified John Lewis as the most reliable in the country.

So how do other retailers create equally consistent customer experiences? There will always be consumers that abandon baskets, but a negative experience in store will make this far more frequent. Providing a seamless bricks-and-mortar experience significantly improves brand image and keeps satisfied customers coming back.

Staff play a fundamental role in ensuring the customer leaves happy. For example, poor product knowledge can lead to consumers looking online for answers, yet it is impossible for staff to know everything off the top of their head. So why not give them the tools to bridge this gap?

Technology has the power to bring digital capabilities into the bricks and mortar environment. Not only that, but it provides a platform for real-time communication with head office; senior decision makers can share crucial data on merchandising, availability, promotions and so forth, all of which feed back into creating better store experiences for the customer.

And don’t forget these communication channels are two way; sales associates have a direct line to head office for any customer queries that arise, enabling a swift and effective response.

With the right level of communication across the business, retailers can respond to the needs of individual customers, and create the consistently impressive experiences that engender long-term trust. This way, no matter the state of the economy or the severity of the weather, they  control over the perception they give to consumers.  can still act as an umbrella to shield their customers from uncertainty whilst in their store.


How can hospitality vendors win back customer trust?

Customer service is a vital part of the dining out experience, but it appears some visitors to UK restaurants, pubs and cafés are losing faith with the service they are receiving.

Recent statistics from the Institute of Customer Service (ICS) revealed that satisfaction within the leisure industry declined during the first six months of 2014, with major brands including Subway, Costa Coffee, Caffe Nero and Pizza Express slipping in its customer satisfaction rankings. So how can this be rectified?

Losing customer trust is critical at this point in time, as competition is rife within the hospitality sector. With new eating and drinking venues opening across the UK each week, providing outstanding levels of customer service can prove crucial to gaining and retaining business over market rivals.

While satisfaction success relies heavily on the demeanour and knowledge of staff, there are a number of things that vendors can do to equip customer-facing personnel with the best possible set-up to carry out their job. For example, the majority of modern hospitality businesses depend on a secure and reliable internet connection; from online bookings to chip and PIN terminals, connectivity is essential for a seamless end-to-end customer experience.

In addition to making the lives of personnel easier by removing common causes for complaint, a reliable network connection can be an incredibly useful tool for marketing purposes. Many diners and drinkers have come to expect free Wi-Fi access as standard in bars and restaurants, which presents a perfect opportunity to communicate special offers or loyalty vouchers to mobile devices at the point customers log on.

Customer trust is difficult to gain and easy to use, and even the slightest mistake can damage a valuable relationship. What hospitality vendors must focus on is getting the foundations of an outstanding encounter in place before building the wow factor on top – from basic staff training to running all venue devices from one reliable network connection.

Are retailers failing to get the most from their public Wi-Fi?

From coffee shops and hotels to shopping centres and retail outlets, so many businesses offer free Wi-Fi access nowadays that customers have come to expect it as part of the everyday shopping experience. This isn’t something that should be driven by public demand though – with up to 70% of consumers in-store carrying a Wi-Fi enabled device in their pocket, it’s the capture of your customers data via the network that has huge profit potential.

Offering a secure and reliable Wi-Fi connection is only part of the puzzle. Most retailers and hospitality providers are currently just using free Wi-Fi as a customer lure, when they could be engaging with those users to create new marketing leads and increase sales.

There are many ways in which you can begin a dialogue with customers using Wi-Fi services, such as requiring them to enter basic personal information in order to log on. This allows you to build up a profile of your customer database, allowing you to contact them with targeted special offers to encourage repeat business.

Alternatively, you could ask users to like your Facebook page or mention your location on Twitter in return for Wi-Fi access, which many consumers prefer as it’s less time consuming than filling out details. Once they’ve logged on, directing them to a branded homepage featuring special offers is another powerful way to generate revenue and market your services.

Establishing these communication channels is just the first step; the real value is extracted by developing long-term digital relationships with your customers. This should be done by continuing a dialogue using techniques such as push notifications, exclusive promotions and loyalty discounts.

Most importantly, retailers must strike the right balance of communication when using these services as not to overwhelm the customer.  When delivered in a targeted, timely and relevant manner, it will strengthen their attachment to your brand and increase their individual value to your business, promoting loyalty and driving sales. 

The science of shopping – what makes us buy?

There’s lots of data available on what we buy, but a lot less on why we buy. Surely, if retailers could tap into this knowledge they would be laughing all the way to the bank.

Retailers market to customers every day using varied methods, from newsletters and push alerts to advertisements on TV and online – on websites and social media sites, but what if there was a more effective way to influence consumers at a subconscious level?

The discovery of the brain’s ‘pleasure centre’ back in the 1950’s sparked an interest in understanding how the human brain can help corporations better understand consumers. Over the years this has evolved into the practise of Neuromarketing, a science that predicts why we buy and how to influence shoppers’ buying habits, by monitoring shoppers physical and/ or mental reactions in differing shopping scenarios.

Touch, taste, visuals and smell play a big part in the shopping journey with people associating these senses often with fond memories, triggering feelings of emotional attachment. For instance, a perfume may be linked to scent that reminds you of a flower in your mum’s garden, when you were a child. Emotional attachments can even come about from an association that a family member has had with a particular brand, instantly creating a sense of loyalty.

“People are fairly good at expressing what they want, what they like, or even how much they will pay for an item. But they aren’t very good at accessing where that value comes from, or how and when it is influenced by factors like store displays or brands. Neuroscience can help us understand those hidden elements of the decision process,” says, Uma R. Karmarkar, an assistant professor at Harvard Business School.

Neuromarketing has been identified as a more effective means of understanding shopper behaviour in comparison to mystery shopping and customer surveys, as it taps into the part of the brain that uncovers what a customer really wants, whether they know it on a conscious level or as so often is the case, not!

This method of analysis isn’t likely to replace the more traditional lines of marketing but will certainly complement them. As ways of testing are simplified and it becomes more effective it’s likely that Neuromarketing will be more widely adopted within the retail industry, other than just the larger corporations, so watch this space!

Big data in retail: The power of customer transaction data

Fact: Accessing customer data in a format that allows retailers to identify trends on when, where and how individual customers like to shop and the type of products they prefer to purchase is invaluable in helping retailers to put relevant offers in front of customers using targeted marketing.  But the challenge remains – how can retailers go about collecting and making sense of this data for a clear picture of customer shopping habits?

Banks and payments processors are miles ahead of the retail industry in documenting customers purchase history, with it being a fundamental part of their day-to-day business processes. NatWest has taken this a step further by offering customers a comprehensive annual breakdown on total expenditure by retail outlet, restaurant, hotel, attraction visited etc. So as a customer, you would know how many times you visited a particular restaurant that year and the total amount spent.

The financial sector spends much more than retailers on the technology that enables this level of granular detail, which explains how they are more advanced. However, they have an advantage on retailers, in that most of their customers only purchase a handful of products, where retailers are dealing with much larger product and range volumes. The issue for most retailers is amassing and analysing data, which is not a core retail competency, and without the technology in place to enable this, it’s near on impossible to make sense of it all.

Standards such as PCI: DSS have also made it more of a challenge for retailers to monitor customer transactions, with stringent and expensive guidelines to abide by if they are to hold and securely process customer card details.

Taking all of this into consideration, it makes sense for retailers to partner with a payments provider that has the capability to manage payments across the retail estate and multiple channels, with a central hub for all of this data to be stored for visibility of transactions across the business – ultimately to deliver a single view of the customer – then report in a way that can be exploited through marketing.

With the growing importance of big data, it will become common practice for retailers to work in a much more integrated way with payments processors and banks, to access critical customer data. As they say, knowledge is power!


Is today’s ‘convenience driven consumer’ capable of loyalty?

Retailers are now faced with a new type of customer – fickle, informed and connected – who will turn to a competitor if lured with what they perceive as a better offer. So, what can retailers do to preserve a loyal customer base?

First and foremost, price alone is no longer enough, except for certain highly commoditised items. The consumer of today wants convenience, whichever channel these chose to shop via, along with the guarantee of a competitive price. They expect items to be readily available and to be able to purchase a desired product in-store or online.

Therefore, retailers need to guarantee consistency across their sales channels and regularly engage with customers to better promote new product lines, offers and sales across the retail estate. But what is the most effective way for retailers to reach the new customer and keep engaging with them across channels to build a rapport and ultimately loyalty?

With mobile technology used across sales channels and over 30 million people owning a smartphone in the UK, it’s the easiest, most instantaneous and effective vehicle available on the market for retailers to reach out to customers. Offering convenience of service for the consumer and delivering immediate results for the retailer.

Some retailers are already capitalising on these opportunities, offering mobile vouchers that can be redeemed in-store or/ and are considering mobile payments, but there is so much more that can be done to better connect to the customer on their journey.

Retailers need to bring their loyalty programmes into the mobile era, using NFC or geo-location technology, rewarding customers with vouchers for visiting the physical or online store, using mobile payments or simply for being a loyal customer.

With the lines between online and in-store becoming increasingly blurred, eventually, loyalty cards will be delivered as a mobile wallet as opposed to a physical card – so all points, vouchers, offers etc from multiple channels are stored in the one place. Pizza Express already offers a similar mobile application, allowing customers to receive and redeem vouchers on their mobile in restaurants.

This type of mobile loyalty scheme will deliver a level of convenience across multiple channels that a physical card cannot; providing the flexibility required in today’s ever evolving retail environment for loyalty across the retail estate.