It’s Time for Retail Brands to Get Personal with Consumers

November 13, 2018 Jeffrey L. Cohen

Three different pairs of shoes

Large retail brands want to build relationships with their customers. Once a customer makes a single purchase, it is easier and less costly to keep that customer than it is to try to entice a new customer to buy something.

I recently purchased new running shoes from a small, local retailer and there are some lessons about the experience that apply to all retailers, both on and offline. This is especially relevant to large brands who want to get personal with their customers so they feel more like small brands.

Be friendly and welcoming

When a customer walks into a retail store, someone should greet them. This always happens at small stores, but it rarely happens at big stores. I shop at smaller stores because I want the interaction with the store staff. I’ve come in to ask questions and get recommendations in a friendly environment. In a big store I am just as likely to avoid a salesperson, and when they do ask if they can help me, I usually say no.

How do you create this small store friendliness in a big store or on an ecommerce site? Use different greetings that are less salesy and are more conversational. Can you determine if they are a previous customer? On the web, if you can identify them then you can make recommendations based on previous purchases. Is this weird in person? Think about this in the context of service, not data. This is about knowing your customers. Consider how you are treated in your favorite store.

Ask the right questions

Many consumers do research before making a purchase. Some do a lot of research. Even if they arrive at a store or ecommerce site with a purchase decision already made, they want some validation that they are making the right choice.

The store employee or web buyer’s guide or chatbot needs to ask the customer a series of questions to confirm the decision. When a customer doesn’t have their mind made up, these questions steer them in the right direction. In my case, the questions were about how much I run, where I run, and what I thought about my previous shoes. This guides me to the right shoes, but it also creates conversation and builds rapport.

While writing the guiding questions that might go on a website may seem easier than training employees, it is actually more natural for an employee to ask the questions. Use the strengths of each approach – preparation for online and conversation for in-store – to improve the other.

Match the customers’ passion

My local retailer is a running store. The only things they sell are for runners. Everyone who works in the store is a runner. This means that they can modulate their passion for running with every customer. If an experienced runner comes in to buy shoes, or something else highly technical, every employee can talk about the items in great detail. Things like the subtle differences between materials, philosophies, and structure of products. Geeky conversations for sure, but some runners enjoy these conversations. Some runners actually come to running stores to have these in-depth chats.

But a new runner just needs enough basic information to make a decision to buy a pair of shoes. A passionate employee can convey the excitement of running to a customer like this, but with the right level of detail. The better an employee – or ecommerce site with the right first-party data – understands their customers, the more appropriate the conversations are. And when you can match the right level of passion and excitement, it leads to a sale.

Share the expertise of others

No matter how passionate an employee is about items they are selling, there are always others who know more about a certain topic. This is one reason reviews are so popular on ecommerce sites. They are about more than recommendations. They present expertise and a point of view from impartial consumers. Ecommerce reviews? Easy. These even show up in retail stores now. Often they are from the store staff, but they could also be from posts on a website.

During my recent visit to my running store, we started talking about GPS watches. This wasn’t something I was interested in, but it came up in a conversation about finding running routes. The employee wrote down a weblink to an external review site so I could learn about the watch. He didn’t worry that I would be learning about something on the internet, which gave me a clear path to purchase elsewhere. He was counting on the level of service provided – and the breadth of conversations we had – would keep me and my dollars connected to their store and all of the previous purchase I had made there.

It is easy for a single, local retailer to provide personal service that really connects with a customer that walks in the door every few months. Global retailers and their associated web stores need to think like these local retailers and use the data and tools available to scale that personalized experience across their outlets.

About the Author

Jeffrey L. Cohen

Jeffrey L. Cohen is the director of content strategy at Cheetah Digital, where he creates entertaining and educational thought leadership content to grow the brand. He’s an award-winning marketer, strategist, and author (The B2B Social Media Book) with a 25-plus year marketing career.

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