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Many Happy Returns? A Guide to Shopper Loyalty after the Festive Season

The festive season may be over but the end of the busiest shopping season is not yet in sight for retailers. The January sales are in full swing, with brands vying for the attention of consumers on the hunt for a bargain and ready to spend those Christmas gift vouchers.

And, to add to the High Street havoc, thousands of us are also hitting the shops this month to return unwanted goods. An estimated 40% of clothing and between 5% and 10% of electrical goods and homewares bought via the internet or catalogues are returned to stores by shoppers. This seasonal rush sees many customers visit stores for the first time to return unwanted gifts purchased by others.

So what can retailers do to ensure they stand out from the competition and provide a great customer experience during the sales mayhem?

Step 1. Multiple channels, one experience

This time of year sees many goods bought online returned to brick-and-mortar stores, as many brands offer a free in-store returns service. Multi-channel experiences form the component parts of the customer’s overall journey—incorporating product research online, store visits, purchase and social media interaction with the brand, and recommendations or complaints to friends and family.

Customer opinions of your brand are formed over time across these channels. You may see them as separate, but customers view them as one brand experience. It is important for brands to deliver a consistent experience, delivering the same brand promise at each point of their customers’ journey—right through to the possible return of goods for a refund or product exchange.

If a store’s return process works well, first time visitors will consider coming back. If not, they will view this as reflective of the overall experience and may stay away. Feedback programmes can ensure each channel is consistent with the desired brand experience, enabling businesses to maintain a strong brand identity across what may be disparate parts of their operations.

Step 2. The human touch

By taking steps to enhance a customer’s overall experience, you can make them feel good and further differentiate your customer experience from other brands. Little things can make a big difference. A friendly welcome upon entering a store can make a great first impression to shoppers battling their way through sales crowds; shop floor staff can direct customers to what they’re looking for with ease and provide up-to-date stock information via mobile devices; and a friendly word at the checkout with clear information about refunds and returns policies can complete a great in-store experience.

Forging a human connection with shoppers can also help grow turnover. Empathica retail studies show a thoughtful product suggestion from a staff member can increase basket sizes by up to 30%.

Step 3. Walk a mile in your customers’ shoes

Store layouts change to accommodate sale items. At best, this can confuse customers; at worst, it can irritate. Examine every aspect of the store environment, starting from the outside looking in, all the way through to what is experienced as a customer leaves. Include all staff interaction points, from shop floor advisors to checkouts and returns desks. Ensure they build, rather than detract from, a great customer experience.

At sales times, more than any other, these elements are potential key moments to deliver the brand promise and consistency in operations to ensure every visit is a perfect one. Getting these details right will generate considerable goodwill among new and existing customers at a busy time of year. By delivering a consistent, well-executed experience, shoppers will visit more, spend more, and become active brand advocates.

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