As social distancing and isolation practices become the new norm, life in post-pandemic times forces companies to rethink marketing strategies. Customer loyalty, in particular, is changing rapidly, as businesses look for ways to retain customers while adhering to continually changing restrictions.
This article examines the impact of COVID-19 on user behavior and eCommerce, and offers five methods businesses can leverage to retain customers in post-pandemic times.
Why Is Customer Loyalty Important?
Customer loyalty encourages customers to choose one brand over the other, and repeatedly purchase from the chosen brand. When consumers are loyal to a business, they value the traits of the company, quality of the services, or other inherent factors over the cost or ease of access to products.
Customer loyalty has a significant impact on businesses because it defines some of a business’s most valuable customers. It also defines those customers that a business typically prioritizes keeping happy. It is cheaper for a company to maintain loyal customers than it is to acquire new customers. Additionally, loyal customers are often good sources of referral and can serve as brand advocates.
During a crisis like COVID-19, customer loyalty is more important than ever. Consumer budgets are tight, and customers’ willingness to spend is much lower than other times. However, with high customer loyalty, you are more likely to see continued engagement and purchasing from your customers. According to a survey by LoyaltyLion, some businesses even saw a 30% increase in loyalty purchases from February to April 2020.
The Impact of COVID-19 on User Behaviour and eCommerce
With brick and mortar stores and businesses closing due to COVID-19 restrictions, the way that business is done had to change. While this could have meant simply less consumerism, and has in some sectors, some purchases continue to be necessary. For example, food, toiletries, household goods, and in many cases, technology.
Pre-COVID, many consumers were already familiar if not comfortable making purchases online. The growth of Amazon in the consumer field and software as a service (SaaS) in the business field has been a clear trend. This made the transition to fully or primarily digital purchases an easier one for many during the COVID crisis.
According to research by eMarketer, around 75% of consumers surveyed in March 2020 said they intended to avoid physical stores and over half avoided shops in general. This has led to significant growth in eCommerce.
According to a recent report by Adobe, eCommerce spending is up 77% with $82.5 billion spent in May alone. One area in particular that has grown is online buying, pickup in-store, which grew by 195% in May. This may be largely due to the ability to shop online for groceries that many stores are now offering.
How to Retain Customers After COVID-19
While you can still trust the classic methods of improving customer loyalty, there are also a few COVID-specific actions you can take. These steps can help you retain your current customers and possibly bring in some new ones.
Offer exclusive hours or items for at-risk groups
If you have a physical location, one of the biggest efforts you can take is to offer at-risk groups special hours. Several retailers, such as Target, Walmart, Whole Foods, and Publix, already started implementing this strategy.
While these hours reduce your overall number of shoppers during that period (not necessarily a bad thing) they may also draw out those who are otherwise choosing not to shop. For example, the elderly or those with compromised immune systems. Offering special accommodations can also signal to customers that their safety is a priority and help you acknowledge their value to your business.
For online stores, offering special items or pricing can be an effective strategy. For example, you can grant discounts to healthcare or essential workers. Or, you can include add-ons like masks for free or a nominal fee. Another strategy may be to include personal notes thanking customers for their purchases during these trying times.
Create virtual content
Creating virtual and interactive content related to your business can help ensure that your brand remains accessible while the world stays home. Digital content is consistently available even when physical stores are not and can help keep customers engaged from home.
With or without a physical store, consistently creating engaging content is a winning strategy for attracting customers and adding value to your products. Additionally, with many people staying home, eCommerce stores that are already comfortable creating virtual content may have the upper hand. Brick and mortar stores haven’t had to rely on digital engagement and are likely to be slower on the uptake, leaving an opening for online stores.
Several options for implementation of content exist but two popular strategies are informational and entertainment. For example, if your company is dedicated to lifestyle and fitness products, you may think about releasing recordings of meditations or workout classes over Zoom. Or, if sustainability is one of your selling points, you could share blog posts highlighting the construction of your products.
A story of gratitude
Emotional connection is a powerful tool when it comes to customer loyalty. COVID times are an opportunity to leverage this tool by expressing gratitude for your customers and community. This method is particularly relevant for small businesses but can also be useful for large companies.
When signaling gratitude, make sure to specifically thank your customers and community for any support they have given. You may also want to acknowledge how hard COVID has been for individuals or other brands you partner with and share a message of hope for the future.
Stories of gratitude are also a good opportunity to highlight any ways you have been working to engage or build up your community. This can improve your ability to build solidarity with your customers.
Promote buying local
Understandably, a large concern of many during and following COVID-19 is how their communities can recover. This means an increased focus on supporting local businesses and economies. For example, ordering groceries from local chains or purchasing clothes designed by local artists.
As a local business, you can use this to your advantage. You can also leverage this advantage by highlighting ways your own supply chain is sourced locally. Try to highlight how customers can shop with you to put money back into local economies. This can help boost your own business and the financial status of your potential customers, helping everyone.
If you do not already have a customer loyalty program, now may be a good time to start one. Loyalty programs provide a way to acknowledge a customer’s value, keep customers engaged, and create solidarity with customers.
For example, you can reward customers with badges to praise them for coping with this tough time and lighten their spirits. Or, use it functionally to alert them to special shopping hours or times of low traffic when they may prefer to shop.
Social distancing and isolation restrictions keep people at home and mostly away from brick and mortar businesses. However, research indicates that people are still buying. The major difference is that they are buying online.
The impact on existing eCommerce businesses is massive, with eStores reporting an increase in purchasing. On the other, the competition is quickly becoming fiercer, as many previously strictly offline shops go through quick digital transformation. To ensure customer loyalty, eCommerce businesses must employ innovative strategies, and continue to lead the way to better user experience. Since there are many types of strategies and possibilities for segmentation, each brand can create a unique loyalty program that suits its needs and clientele.
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