As holiday season arrives - want a second date with your customers?
By Yair Holtzer,co-founder, SVP and head of U.S. office at Como
Retailers know very well that this is the time of year to roll up their sleeves, get out of their comfort zone, and start thinking strategically about how to make the most of the upcoming holiday shopping season. But if you're looking to evaluate how well your business is capitalizing on this season, the real test will only come next year — when you start to see whether your 2017 holiday sales have brought in customers who are sticking around.
Starting with Black Friday and Cyber Monday, many businesses typically see a spike in sales that will keep them busy until the end of the year. While customers work overtime to find the best deals — both online and offline — successful retailers will use price decreases, sales, and aggressive marketing to make this season count.
But those tactics aren't enough.
Once 2018 rolls around, it's going to be over 10 months until the next holiday shopping season starts — and if you want to sustain your success throughout the next year, customer relationships are essential. The peak times of November and December are chock-full of opportunities to create and foster those relationships, but it won't happen automatically.
Making this holiday shopping season really count for your business in 2018 involves investing time, planning, and resources now. But perhaps most importantly, it involves taking a long view that is focused on making your company thrive 12 months a year.
Building the foundation for a relationship
Let's say you've lowered your prices, left slimmer profit margins, and seen your sales numbers drive your profits higher. Clearly, you have been successful in terms of sales, thanks to the savings you offer your customers. But when will you see those customers again? Is your business really willing to neglect more than 10 months of the year, just so it can stay focused on the holiday season?
I hope not, because the most promising sales strategies for brick-and-mortar stores involve bringing customers back again and again.
Even in November and December, your approach doesn't need to be all about underselling your competitors and running up your sales numbers with low profit margins. To make the most of the coming weeks, you need to think about building real, long-term relationships with your customers. And in its early stages, every relationship is built through courting.
You might refer to it as "customer experience" rather than "courting" — but if you want a second date with your customer, you'll need to woo them, starting with their first impression of your business. That courtship could start with a sale to a customer, and then continue with a discount on their next purchase. Then they could get a text message or an email about your new products, and the customer relationship could grow from there.
The idea is to form continuity bit by bit, methodically building a rapport. And it's important to continually consider what extra value you can give your customers how to stay on their minds so the next time they need what you sell, they'll think of you (and think of you positively).
It's a two-way street and data is essential
To make your customers remember you, you need to remember them. The neighborhood stores of yesteryear knew how to do this intuitively. In many cases, the salesperson would know their regular customers' names, faces, and stories. Not only would the salesperson occasionally give a special, unadvertised discount to a loyal customer, but they would also ask how the customer's family was doing.
While that kind of interpersonal connection may have largely gotten lost over the years, today there are new tools that can create a similarly personalized customer experience. Most importantly, it's critical to combine data with personalization. Retailers must gather essential customer information and use it to communicate with their "regulars" in a personally relevant way, including both product recommendations and messages designed to foster customer relationships.
And the holiday shopping season is a perfect opportunity to start gathering that information.
It's no surprise that when a customer gets product recommendations that relate to their personal interests, needs, and characteristics, that customer is more likely to buy the recommended products. But no less importantly, personalized product recommendations can help your customers feel that your business treats them as individuals. Combine that with individualized messages that are less product-specific — a birthday greeting, for example — and you can start to create a customer experience that makes your shoppers feel like your business really knows them.
In today's digital age and the business environment that accompanies it, retailers will not be able to fully harness this season's momentum unless they use it as an opportunity to collect customer information and start building customer relationships. Companies that miss this chance risk being left behind.
The good news? With the holiday shopping season still around the corner, it's not too late to think strategically about the specific steps your business will take to retain the customers who stop by for your holiday sales. Now is the time to lay the groundwork for turning those one-time shoppers into the loyal customers who will drive your sales well into 2018 and beyond.