When 80% of sales consistently come from 20% of your existing customers, it goes without saying that keeping those buyers around and engaged is a top priority. Retail customer engagement strategies drive retention rates, and with 86% of consumers reporting they’ll pay more for a better brand experience, it’s an open opportunity to form lasting relationships with customers and increase your bottom line.
Since the pandemic hit every retailer hard, changing the retail world as we know it, optimizing your business’s omnichannel strategy, and finetuning your customer engagement plan can have a bold difference in your quarterly and yearly results. In this article, we’ve collected 13 of the most effective omnichannel customer engagement strategies which can help any retailer recover in the years to come.
What Is Customer Engagement in Retail?
Customer engagement in retail is the total number of touchpoints your brand creates with customers along their entire journey through the sales funnel, from initial brand awareness to brand loyalty.
It’s important not to confuse customer engagement with customer service. While customer service is a reactive response to inquiries, customer engagement is a proactive marketing strategy. Especially in retail, customer engagement revolves around the buyer’s relationship with the entire brand. Today, your job is to focus on selling a lot more than just quality products — you’re selling an entire experience with each consumer touchpoint.
How To Create a Retail Customer Engagement Strategy
Companies that focus on reactive customer service more than proactive engagement may be hurting themselves by leaving opportunities on the table. More than half of consumers believe companies need to change how they engage. This reinforces the significance of customer engagement and retention strategies, knowing a majority of customers take it that seriously.
Retail management/leadership should review how the brand is performing in all areas including:
- Social optimization
- Email workflows
- Transactional emails
- Onsite pop-ups
- In-store signage
- In-store customer communication
When onboarding strategies for customer engagement, look to brand leaders like Sephora for inspiration. The best retail customer engagement strategies focus on omnichannel interactions. Omnichannel engagement isn’t just reaching people on multiple channels — it reaches them across channels. Keep reading for ideas on how to kick-start the brainstorming process for effective company engagement.
Here Are the Most Effective Retail Customer Engagement Strategies
Creating an omnichannel engagement strategy has multiple moving parts. Establishing a strategy is great, but it has to work. Effective strategies provoke positive emotional responses at every client touchpoint. This comprehensive guide explains how to create a customer engagement strategy in 13 effective ways.
Customer Engagement Strategy #1: Build a 360 Omnichannel Plan Using Email, Push Notifications, SMS, and Social Channels
Engaged customers encounter your brand in multiple locations and often multiple times a day. An omnichannel engagement strategy actively and consistently meets them where they are. So to be effective, you need to know where your customers spend their time.
Email and social media marketing are consistent players in retail customer engagement strategies. Push notifications and SMS messages are growing in popularity due to their effectiveness. Customers are 40% more likely to purchase when they receive marketing SMS messages.
Takeaway: Analyze the average day of your customer persona and build your campaign around it. If your customer base includes multiple buyer personas, do this for each one. If you don’t have them yet, start with establishing customer personas.
Customer Engagement Strategy #2: Strengthen Your Brand Image With Personalized Engagement Messages and Tone of Voice
More than 75% of retail customers abandon their carts when shopping online — so a lot of money is being left on the table.
Abandoned carts are the perfect opportunity to talk directly to individual customers. Craft the verbiage in your brand voice and send an SMS message or email — or both — with a call to action to complete their purchase. If done effectively, omnichannel communication can help your company efficiently close more abandoned cart sales.
Takeaway: Create a list of brand statements and messages in the right tone of voice. Add these to your brand standards guide and encourage employees to adopt them in their day-to-day practice. This will strengthen your brand, which strengthens engagement.
Customer Engagement Strategy #3: Learn More About Your Customer’s Journey, TouchPoints, and ‘The Moments That Matter’
Learning more about the customer journey is crucial in developing a customer persona. Customers often interact with your brand long before they ever make a purchase. Understanding the complete buying process enables you to hit buyers at every touch point and nurture their relationship with your brand from the first possible interaction.
What matters to customers can differ drastically across industries, so it’s important to define. Moments That Matter (MTM in marketing) are actions tailored specifically to a customer to make them feel seen and valued. They are personal, unexpected, and high-quality.
Strong examples are when customers or prospects are sent something that’s seemingly out of the blue. Lots of companies send Christmas cards, but people don’t typically expect to hear from you on days like Valentine’s Day or St. Patrick’s Day. Sending a nice swag item, flowers, or treats on an unexpected occasion leaves a lasting impact.
It’s even better when an MTM relates directly to your brand. If you’re a retailer for the outdoors, there are multiple opportunities throughout the year like Earth Day, World Oceans Day, or Arbor Day. Get creative and have fun with it.
The most important aspect when creating these magical moments is that you aren’t asking your customers to do anything in return. A great resource to help better understand marketing moments that matter is the book “ The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact.”
Takeaway: Go straight to the source with customer experience feedback. It’s OK to outright ask customers what matters most to them when interacting with your company.
Customer Engagement Strategy #4: Review the Customer Experience With Feedback Forms
Statistics show that 39% of companies don’t regularly ask customers for feedback about their interactions. This is another area with a competitive marketing opportunity. Customer feedback can be invaluable, especially if it uncovers something you can take quick action to change or fix. Examples of additional questions for customers include:
- How can we better serve your needs?
- Rate your satisfaction from 1 to 10.
- How do you prefer to shop for our products?
- Would you recommend our company to family and friends?
Takeaway: Offer an incentive or discount for giving feedback or completing a customer survey. Buyers feel cared for when asked to share their opinions, and when you reward them for it, it’s a win-win.
Customer Engagement Strategy #5: Use a Customer Loyalty Program
Customer loyalty programs have been around for a long time, but technology and social media have enhanced their possibilities and effectiveness. It can be as simple as rewarding points for purchases. Your loyalty program could also be a main marketing focus for driving sales.
Many brands today have taken customer loyalty programs and enhanced them to VIP status. Similar to a Sam’s Club, Costco, or Amazon Prime membership, brands are starting to offer memberships that customers initially pay for and then reap benefits from all year long. Examples of benefits include:
- Rewards on customer birthdays
- Member-only access to exclusive products
- VIP access to sales
- Referral bonuses
- Member appreciation giveaways
Kohl’s is a major retailer that has combined its customer loyalty program with its credit card program. Any customer can sign up for Kohl’s rewards, but customers who also have the store credit card get higher discounts. Use customer feedback to develop your loyalty program. Finding out directly what your target audience would likely respond to sets your program up for success.
Takeaway: Combine a referral program with your customer loyalty program. Make the benefit of sharing products with family and friends too good to ignore. The best referral programs are mutually beneficial to both the customer and referred prospect with a product credit or incentive. Combine this strategy with your customer loyalty program and reward members for every successful referral.
Customer Engagement Strategy #6: Monitor Your Engagement Metrics and KPIs on a Daily Basis
Keep an eye on engagement analytics daily. There is no point in putting time and resources into launching a customer engagement strategy if you cannot effectively measure its performance.
Engagement KPIs that brands should track:
- Click rates
- Open rates
Takeaway: If something is not working, use multivariate testing for further insights. Adjust one thing at a time until the desired outcome is reached. If you change multiple variables at once, it can be extremely difficult to determine cause and effect. One example is testing the same email with different subject lines to see if open rates are affected.
Customer Engagement Strategy #7: Enforce and Encourage Brand Guidelines Across All Channels
One of the biggest elements in growing your brand and retaining customers is trust. Customers become loyal and passionate about brands they trust. How can marketers increase trust among consumers and the public in general? Consistent branding everywhere, every single time.
Given the choice between a generic brand and a household brand name — where both items are the same price — the majority of people will go with the trusted brand. Building that brand relationship of trust takes time, but it is possible with effective customer engagement ideas and strategies.
Takeaway: Employees company-wide have the power to influence the customer relationship with your brand. Accounting and IT coworkers are unlikely to consider something like branding their LinkedIn profiles. They’re busy fulfilling their own responsibilities, so it can take effort to get brand buy-in and compliance outside of marketing and sales.
Customer Engagement Strategy #8: Be Active Across Social Channels in Your Brand Voice
Directly chatting with customers is about as engaged as it gets. Companies that respond directly to comments on social media set themselves apart from competitors. Take Instagram: With more than 120 million active users, the social media giant is a great way to reach buyers.
There are many benefits to marketing on Instagram, but direct interaction with customers and prospects is key. When people comment on your Instagram post, make it a point to like the comment and reply when appropriate.
In a way, interacting directly with brands you love is like meeting a favorite celebrity. For the target audience, the emotional response to hearing directly from the brand could be extremely important personally.
Takeaway: Go beyond interacting with your social media followers on your account. If it makes sense for your brand, follow your top engagers on their own accounts. Like and interact with some of their personal content if it’s appropriate for your brand voice and style.
Customer Engagement Strategy #9: Use Incentives, Contests, and Giveaways
Are you effectively using giveaways to help achieve goals and outcomes? For example, when brands have the goal of increasing followers on social media, they often run contests that require liking their account and/or tagging friends for eligible giveaway entries.
An important aspect of any contest or giveaway is how it will be measured. It’s OK every so often to do a giveaway for the sake of a giveaway and customer appreciation. But all other times, start with a measurable goal such as:
- Increase social media followers by X%.
- Capture X new email addresses using a giveaway entry form.
- Sell X number of products.
- Increase customer loyalty program members by X%.
- Reach X amount in new sales.
Takeaway: Retail customer engagement strategies that e-commerce businesses use should not overlook shipping. The top reason behind many abandoned carts is the high extra costs that add up at checkout. Free shipping is the most ideal offer when possible.
Flat-rate shipping can work well for some retailers, but you need to be careful. If your company sells smaller items in the $10 or less range, flat-rate shipping could cost more than the item in the customer’s cart. If financially possible, use shipping that varies based on the total weight or price of the order.
Customer Engagement Strategy #10: Connect With a Cause That Customers Care About
Cause marketing has been around for a while, but it’s becoming increasingly important for buyers. It can be a huge part of your strategy, knowing customer engagement is about an emotional response. What you support is your choice, but your cause should align in some way with your industry for the highest impact.
TOMS shoes solidified a positive brand reputation and was the first major innovator of cause marketing. The company’s one-for-one sales model donates a pair of shoes for every pair purchased.
Takeaway: Update customers on progress, funds raised, and/or goals accomplished for the cause you support. It’s nice to make a purchase in support, but the impact is greater when buyers see results from something they contributed to.
Customer Engagement Strategy #11: Make Customer Service a Seamless Extension of Customer Engagement
Marketing and service departments ideally work together on messaging and resolutions, but this is easier said than done — especially for companies that have been around for a while and are somewhat stuck in their ways.
Customers could have fantastic engagement with marketing campaigns, but one experience with the customer service department can make or break a relationship. Nearly half of consumers stop doing business with a company after one poor experience.
Takeaway: Turn a negative customer service call into a positive experience. Your service department could go above and beyond to address a problem reported by a customer. Provide such a pleasant experience that when the customer hangs up the phone, they’re left feeling more positive. Whatever the problem, even if it was a shipping delay and not the product itself, the way you treat somebody matters.
Customer Engagement Strategy #12: Harness the Power of Reviews and Brand Reputation
Like a bad customer service experience, a single bad review online can do serious damage to your brand — it doesn’t even matter if the review is accurate or not. However, reviews leave the ball in your court. Responding to negative reviews is still customer engagement. The language used in response to a negative experience could change the customer’s perspective. It also tells other consumers who read reviews a lot about the company’s character.
Directly responding to positive reviews is equally beneficial. Even just posting a thank-you for the review provides another positive customer touchpoint.
Takeaway: Encourage customers to leave feedback by adding points to their loyalty account for each product review. This provides a reward and customer appreciation.
Customer Engagement Strategy #13: Launch an Affiliate Marketing Program
Affiliate marketing is the latest trend in social marketing, accounting for 15% of e-commerce transactions. An effective approach to affiliate marketing is brand partnerships with social media influencers who are essentially spokespeople for your brand. Although not actually employees, they are an extension of your company.
It could be a celebrity or someone local, but influencers should generally have a large social following. Your company only pays affiliates who drive conversions, so using them to extend your audience is definitely cost-effective.
Phrases used on social media that indicate affiliate marketing are “swipe up for my link” or “I’ll post my link in the comments.” The influencer then receives a benefit from any sales conversion from an affiliate link. The better your affiliate incentives, the more people will want to work for you. It could be a product credit or a percentage of converted sales, for example.
Takeaway: How companies treat their affiliates is still customer engagement. An affiliate marketing program that is not well managed can do more harm to your brand than good. Stay engaged with your social influencer partners and follow through on your promises to them.
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