Brand loyalty is increasingly fragile. Since the beginning of the pandemic, three-quarters of consumers in the United States have switched brands, products, stores or buying methods, reports McKinsey. As retailers strive to woo shoppers into a long-term relationship, supply chain hiccups can sabotage those efforts — but it doesn't have to.
In truth, there's much that retailers can do to counter subpar experiences stemming from product shortages and shipping delays, which are expected to linger well into 2022. Monica Deretich, retail industry advisor at Sailthru, shares a few tactics for immediate and lasting wins.
"This may be oversimplifying it, but the key is to communicate, communicate, communicate," Deretich said, recalling her own experience having to chase after a Halloween-related order months after placing it. When buying journeys hit a speed bump, customers often just want the issue to be acknowledged. A simple "We're sorry, we’re working on it," goes a long way. "Customers want convenience, and part of convenience is not having to call customer service to check on an order," she explained.
To that end, retailers can lean on direct marketing channels like email, website, SMS and mobile app notifications to deliver timely updates, which can be done at various levels of granularity — even down to a single product. Retailers can also define service level agreements to trigger communications when orders haven't shipped after a defined period. "A simple apology can alleviate customer unease and also carries a cost savings for retailers by decreasing call volumes to customer support," Deretich noted.
Retail marketers should also take care not to commit a common sin in communicating with customers awaiting fulfillment: displaying the delayed item in personalized recommendations or requesting reviews before the item is delivered. "It's like pouring salt on the wound," Deretich said.
Automate make-good incentives, in-stock notifications
In the last three months alone, 60% of surveyed shoppers said their desired product was out of stock. About 70% of those switched retailers or brands as a result.
"Today's consumer is very much buy-now, use-now, reserving backordered products to wish list items," Deretich explained. Retailers can ease that wait and compel buyers to return with back-in-stock notifications and personalized recommendations for similar products. A headline that says "Available Now" with relevant alternatives might sway that shopper to consider a similar item they can enjoy immediately.
It's also wise to automate proactive, make-good incentives for customers experiencing delays as part of the post-purchase communications flow. To that end, Everlane has used an incentive tactic in the past, offering $20 to their best customers during the Holidays to spend in good faith.
Treat high-value customers to unexpected perks
Pampering customers who've placed repeat orders or spent a small fortune isn't just a nice gesture; it's also good for the bottom line. With that in mind, retailers can use metrics like loyalty status or lifetime customer value to run e-gift card and bonus offers when a customer's average order value reaches a certain threshold.
Kraft's "Mother's Day Away" comes to mind — a campaign that offered to reimburse up to $100 of babysitting fees so moms could enjoy me-time activities. "There are many interesting ways to use customer data to make them feel valued and drive spend," said Deretich.
Treat returns as opportunities to "wow"
As orders increase, it's natural that more returns will follow. That’s particularly true for online orders, which generate three times as many returns as in-store purchases, Deretich noted. The return experience is critical to retention, either repelling or compelling customers to buy again.
Returns aren't necessarily bad; they're part of building a relationship. It's reasonable that customers who buy more would return purchases more frequently. To elevate return experiences, retailers can program post-return lifecycle touchpoints with confirmation and update triggers, or use segmentation tactics to tailor responses such as thanking longtime customers for their loyalty over the years or acknowledging a first purchase.
Disposition codes and data around reasons for returns can also enable tailored, win-back series potential. If a shopper is returning a sweater for fit or quality, that data gives you insight on how to navigate the relationship. Finally, a return confirmation and promo code with an invite to shop again is another way to turn a negative experience into a positive (and profitable) one.
Move toward platform unification
Reasonably, the tactics we've examined so far hinge on automations and dynamic personalization — two essential capabilities for retailers looking to thrive in the coming months. That’s difficult to achieve when stitching together incomplete data from disconnected platforms.
"It's not uncommon for transactional emails to go out on different platforms," said Deretich. "The ideal solution for nurturing customers in the long run is one that makes it possible for all communications to be deployed from a single platform. Or, at the very least, has the ability to orchestrate with visibility from a single platform."
Data unification is one reason why retailers like Everlane, Food52 and ThirdLove have moved to cross-channel platforms like Sailthru, enabling marketers to unify user data from multiple sources to facilitate instant, deeply personalized actions. "The long-term vision is to have everything consolidated, but if you can't get there now, ensure platforms and vendors you're working with can share key data points," Deretich advised.
What's at stake
The stakes of getting personalization right (or wrong) are multiplying, warns McKinsey: "Organizations able to build and activate that capability at scale can put customer value on a new trajectory, driving double-digit revenue growth, superior retention, and richer, more nurturing long-term relationships." That's a heck of a competitive advantage — even in the midst of supply pains.