How to engage customers in retail (10 tips + examples)

Shoppers crave genuine personalization and well-targeted communications instead of generic messages and massive promotions. Retailers should make sure that communications are tailored around a shopper’s lifestyle, interests and purchase history. Too often, loyalty programs are just glorified voucher campaigns rather than a genuine attempt to enrich shoppers’ lives and thank them for being valued customers. Let’s dive into the top strategies for retailers to encourage customer engagement.
How to engage customers in retail

What is retail customer engagement?

Customer engagement is the way retailers create a relationship with shoppers to foster brand awareness and brand loyalty.

Why does customer engagement in retail matter?

According to Wikipedia, customer engagement practices aim to create, stimulate or influence customer behaviour.Customer engagement targets long-term interactions, encouraging customer loyalty and advocacy through word-of-mouth. Although customer engagement marketing is consistent both online and offline, technology based initiatives and online initiatives are the basis for most customer engagement efforts. Still, let’s not forget that brick and mortar business have an advantage in terms of creating close connections, and can surely combine both online and offline tactics.

Is customer engagement a priority among retailers?

As of December 2020, 41% of North American retailer survey respondents stated that their main customer engagement priority for 2021 was personalizing the customer journey.

% US retailers
Additional Customer Delivery/ Pickup52%
Customer Identification/ Personalization41%
Customer Mobile Experience Alignment41%
Real-time Retail33%
Empowering Associates with Mobile Tools33%
Self-Service Options22%
Customer-Facing Technology19%
Guided Selling/ Clienteling15%
Returns and Customer Feedback Optimization11%
Social Media Commerce/ Analytics11%

Source: Statista, Customer engagement priorities among retailers in North America for 2021

Tip #1: Understand your customers better than they understand themselves

Customers used to only care about how you treated them, with customer service being a core component of their purchase decisions. Now customers care about customer service and a brand’s values – and whether they are aligned with issues they personally care about, such as sustainability, fair wages, social justice, etc.

In short: actually care about what they care about, and they will be more likely to care about you.

Loyal Guru’s top pick:

Julahas Fashion is a dutch brand that claims the following: “When you choose JULAHAS, you choose to do good—for the people and the planet.”

They don’t only brag about the quality of their products, but also educate them about how their products are manufactered and that sustainability is one of their main values.

By informing customers about exactly who made their products, how it’s made, and how long it’s going to take to reach them helps them connect better to the production process. In the handmade world, things work slower, and while people don’t mind waiting for their products, it’s important to educate them as to why it takes that long. Kanak Hirani, Founder, Julahas

Tip #2: Listen to your customers

The only thing more important than collecting customer feedback is to actively listen to it and make reasonable and necessary changes to improve the customer experience.

Your customers have opinions and are willing to share them, so be sure to use this opportunity every chance you get.

By listening, you’ll not only gain valuable perspective into how your customers think, feel, and act and what they want out of your products — you’ll also create a sense of trust between your brand and your audience and build stronger, longer-lasting consumer relationships.

Are they struggling with bills this month due to the economy? Might be a good idea to offer a payment plan.

Are they dealing with a family crisis? Send your thoughts and best wishes – and mean it.

Maybe you just value their business? Let them know!

Find opportunities to listen to your customers, both actively – through feedback forms and questionnaires, etc – and passively (monitoring reviews and hashtags on social media, etc).

Loyal Guru’s top pick:

Crate and Barrel encourages buyers to post their items with the hashtag #CrateStyle on Instagram. Hashtags invite buyers to participate in the community. Think of it like a product review, and by the way, 91% of customers read at least one review before purchasing.

Using tools such as facial recognition, floor sensor technologies and heatmaps, retailers can monitor their stores’ activity to improve personalization and interactions while customers are present and ready to shop.

Tip #3: Design wow moments into your customer journey

Yes, shopper expectations are higher than ever, which means that wowing your customers will require some creativity and lateral thinking. But know that this investment and experimentation is well worth it, because wow moments foster loyalty and generate word-of-mouth, and will quickly contribute to bumping your bottom-line.

When you think of loyalty program results, show appreciation to your best shoppers with personalized and relevant rewards. Do the due diligence and make it count by collecting the cross-channel data on individual customers, then give them rewards that matter. Also, surprise and delight customers with unexpected rewards.

Don’t skimp – think about the cost of acquiring new, loyal customers will always be higher than taking care of the ones you already have.

Loyal Guru’s top pick:

We love the new Neiman Marcus’ digital “memory mirrors” that record a video of shoppers trying on clothes. The video lets clients see how the outfit looks from all angles and is easily shareable so they can ask friends for advice while in the dressing room.

This is a memorable experience only physical stores can provide, and a creative way to offer a remarkable experience.

Tip #4: Address complaints like a champion

Responding to positive and negative feedback in a timely manner shows that you’re listening to customers and value their opinion, regardless of whether it’s good or bad.

When a customer contacts your company to complain about a product or service received, it can be a blessing in disguise. For every person who complains, there might be many others who do not bother to give you feedback but talk negatively about your company.

Companies that value their customers immediately answer the complaint and solve the problem. It may be to give money back, exchange a product or do some repair. Quickly and properly solving customer complaints can greatly help a retail business. Ignoring complaints or dealing with them in a dishonest manner can result in loss of business or even lawsuits.

Loyal Guru’s top pick:

The reaction of ALDI to a customer’s public complaint is priceless:

Tip #5: Keep customer engagement simple, seamless and straightforward

The point of customer engagement is to enhance a customer’s overall experience with a brand, but brands should be mindful with creating extra work. Make sure your initiatives work seamlessly, require as few clicks as possible and make it easy for shoppers to understand how participation is a true benefit to them.

Convenience should become your top priority. A Customer Data Platform enables you to collect comprehensive data on your individual shoppers and communicate with them via their preferred channel of choice at the right time of day.

For example, if you know a shopper is a late-night buyer on your site, set up real-time notifications and offers that will arrive when she’s online. If a shopper is an on-the-go mobile app user, use relevant push notifications.

Loyal Guru’s top pick:

Zenni Optical enhances their customer experience with a “Virtual Try-On.”

When customers visit their site to purchase new glasses, instead of endlessly browsing through hundreds of models, all they have to do is upload an image of themselves and quickly see how they’d fit in real life.

Tip #6: Humanize your brand

Generally, shoppers don’t like being treated as numbers. It’s important that brands figure out what tone, voice and style best embodies their brand, and to reflect that through all customer facing communications.

Is it witty and irreverent, like Denny’s?

Is it elegant and refined, like Tiffany & Co.?

Or is it fun and whimsical like Disney?

Your brand’s voice will dictate what you say, and your brand’s tone will dictate how you say it.

Tip #7: Go mobile

Retailers can’t ignore the growing mobile eCommerce market. According to Statista, 53.9% of retail eCommerce purchases are projected to generate through mobile phones.

Walmart has succeeded with its Savings Catcher app by combining price and loyalty factors without requiring customers to visit multiple stores in order to find the best deals. Walmart has also successfully tackled the issue of making it easy to claim points without hassle: customers simply scan their receipt, and if any product is being sold cheaper elsewhere, the system will automatically refund the difference on a gift card.

Express sends special discounts to existing customers. This strategy is especially useful for their young audience, who buys more products through mobile compared to the older population.

Mobile marketing is Verb Energy’s primary method of customer service. Unlike most online chat support, Verb Energy builds 1:1 relationships through text messaging. Customers can refill their energy bar subscription, ask questions, or even send photos of their dog to Verb Energy. The brand’s marketing team offers a human response.

Tip #8: Offer experiences as rewards

Experiential rewards – rewards that get people out and about, and give them something to do, rather than getting free or cheaper stuff – are absolutely the way forward and they’re fantastic for motivating and engaging customers and making them feel special and valued.

Loyal Guru’s top pick:

Sephora was an early leader in transforming its in-store experience, offering free beauty classes hosted by professional makeup artists; customers not only get the opportunity to try products before they buy, but also walk away from the experience having learned pro tips, tricks and skills.

Sephora has since expanded upon its in-store offerings with special events hosted by customers’ favorite beauty brands, brand consultations, new product launches, and more.

Tip #9: Collect retail data and make it available across the entire organization

Modern retailers collect as much omnichannel shopper behavior data as possible, store it in one location (ideally a customer data platform tailored for specific retail use cases), then share it across all departments.

All teams – including Marketing, Customer Service, Product Design, Procurement, Merchandising, Supply Chain, etc – should be accessing the same data to ensure the customer has a consistent, well-informed experience across all touch points of the shopper journey.

Use that data to develop personalized and relevant rewards programs and communicate with shoppers via their channel of choice, at the right time and place.

Loyal Guru’s top pick:

Up to 75% of today’s shoppers opt for digital receipts.

When a customer requests a digital receipt, they are likely to provide their best email address, which helps to increase the retailer’s reach and engagement potential.

Digital receipts have resulted in retailers like Aldo Shoes adding up to 25% more emails to their database, and leaders like GNC reducing their bounce rate by as much as 25%.

The ability to capture more valid emails and enrich customer profiles can be monetized in many ways including by sending smarter, more personalized post-purchase shopper communications.

Tip #10: Encourage social sharing

More and more, shoppers depend on their friends, family and colleagues for product reviews, ratings and information. Retailers and brands should not shy away from making this information prominent and available to their customers, because they will find it elsewhere.

Reward customers who recommend your products and share helpful feedback on your site and social media.

Loyal Guru’s top pick:

Ooni Pizza Oven not only created a new product category, but also got raving fans all around the world that post pictures of themselves using their ovens to make the most fantastic pizzas.

Doritos’ ambitious Legion of Creators gives Doritos-loving independent content creators the tools to create their own brand-sanctioned advertisements through a series of creative challenges.

Apple’s iconic “Shot on iPhone” campaign encourages iPhone users to share their best shots on social media with the chance to have their photos displayed on billboards and in Apple stores around the world.

Conclusion: Give Customers a Way to Take Action

Customer engagement is best when the interaction goes both ways. Instead of making your brand the only active participant in the connection, give your customers a way to respond and interact.

Utilize in-store content platforms that let customers participate in conversation, control their experience, or manage their purchase. Set up tools and systems that allow customers to get involved when they visit your store. Create online contest where participants can get highlighted within the community and even get prizes.

Customers value customer engagement when it comes to being loyal to a brand. They want to know the brand understands and cares about who they and what they like. For brands it’s the opportunity to infuse a human touch to an otherwise transactional relationship. It needs to be high touch and make the customer feel valued and special.

If you’re a retailer and you’d like to talk about any of the customer engagement strategies outlined in this article in more detail, then get in touch with our team – we’ll be happy to show you examples or talk through your brand’s unique challenges.