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OPINION A loyal customer is for life, not just for Christmas

Retailers are no longer defined by products but their customer journey. Katharine Biggs, UK Marketing Manager at parcelLab, looks at how multi-category retailers can create long-term customer loyalty for themselves and not just the brands they stock, by creating the best customer journey and experience, especially during the busiest Christmas shopping period.

Christmas. It’s the most wonderful time of the year. And in the world of retail, it’s also the most competitive as retailers across the country vie to capture a slice of the £80.27bn UK Christmas spending predicted this year in the Centre of Retail Research’s annual ‘Shopping for Christmas report’.

In recent years, this has seen increased competition amongst multi-category retailers (those who don’t only sell their own products but sell a range of brands) who have invested big bucks into advertising campaigns in an effort to create the most buzz in the lead-up to the festive shopping period.

There’s no denying that John Lewis has set the bar extremely high on this front, with its annual Christmas ad release treated more like a movie premiere. And other retailers have been quick to follow suit – including the likes of Argos, Boots, M&S, Asda, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and more. But where John Lewis shines is in its ability to create something memorable that taps into human emotions, as illustrated by Excitable Edgar the dragon this year, and carry that story throughout the entire customer journey, in-store and online.

And it is in creating the best customer journey and experience that multi-category retailers should be striving for in order to build long-term customer loyalty – for themselves and not just the brands they stock. Retailers are no longer defined by products but their customer journey – so it’s more than simply a quest for sales.

Looking specifically at fashion retailers, as uncovered in our recent ‘UK E-Commerce Shipping Study 2020: Fashion Edition’, it’s clear that fashion retailers have invested greatly in customer acquisition but are falling short in their customer retention strategies. Indeed, a loyal customer is not gained prior to checkout but at the end of the buying journey.

Amongst the top 100 fashion retailers in the UK, 11 of the retailers we ranked in the study fall within the ‘multiples’ category – including Debenhams, House of Fraser, John Lewis & Partners, Littlewoods, Marks & Spencer, Matalan, Moss Bros., Oliver Bonas, Selfridges, TK Maxx and Very. JD Sports, which stocks a range of popular athleisure brands, was the only multi-brand retailer to rank amongst the ‘elite’ retailers, while John Lewis & Partners, Littlewoods, Very and Zalando fell into the ‘leading’ retailers category. In fact, many of these retailers ranked higher in the study than some of the ecommerce sites for the brands they stock.

Although the study shows that the quality of service provided by retailers prior to checkout is very good, communication and customer retention break down once the purchase is checked out – with the biggest failure coming down to the shipping and returns part of the customer journey.

A smooth post-checkout experience is paramount for customer loyalty, retention and repeat purchases. Retailers must extend their marketing and customer service strategy into and during the delivery window. Otherwise, the customer experience will continue to be poor and therefore revenue opportunities will be missed. By taking control of the customer journey post-checkout, retailers can improve their customer retention dramatically, reduce customer service enquiries significantly and increase revenue.

Only one retailer in the whole study sent personalised shipping communications to the customer, and a further six actively communicated during shipping. This means that 93% of retailers are ignoring customers when they are at their most highly engaged! This means no branding, no customer experience and no control over what the customer sees. There is a big opportunity here to increase revenue by utilising this untapped marketing channel to showcase further products and create millions of additional touchpoints and equal amounts of revenue.

The fact that too many UK retailers hand their customers over to the delivery carriers during shipping means that customers are not accompanied through the entire purchasing journey – which can be detrimental to building brand loyalty. This is even more important at Christmas, a time when shoppers are likely waiting on news of multiple orders, needed for various loved ones in the run up to December 25th – they are anxious to be kept up to date with clear messaging about what will arrive and when.

At the same time, given the huge spike in returns at this time of year, retailers need to communicate directly with their customers during this process and offer a range of options to simplify this experience to suit the needs of the customer. Encouragingly, in 94 of the 100 returns made as part of the study, the retailer communicates directly with the customer during the process – yet this communication is limited to just one message from 71% of retailers.

Multi-category retailers have spent decades building up from being known simply as a marketplace that stocks a range of popular brands into creating their own brand that customers know and trust. Take control of your brand throughout the entire purchase journey – from checkout to shipping to returns. Don’t solely rely on carriers to inform your customers, create a hosted Track & Trace page to drive additional revenue, make returns easy and communicate as much as possible with your customer directly. Get this right and a multi-retailer can become the one-stop shop during peak buying periods.

As the old saying goes: a puppy is for life, not just for Christmas. This same principle can be applied to the world of retail. With four of the five busiest shopping days in the UK coming up in December, there’s still time to make a few simple steps to improve the shipping and returns process and ensure that you give your customers the best possible online retail experience during this busy shopping period. Take control on the entire customer journey from start to finish and you could be building a loyal customer base for life.

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