The five things every 21st century retailer must do

Vaughan Rowsell is the founder and CEO of Vend, a retail and point-of-sale software provider used in over 8000 stores across one hundred countries.

Here are the five things he says no retailer can afford to ignore in the 21st century if they are to survive and succeed in an increasingly global and competitive retail environment.

1. Your customers are different from each other – treat them like it

As a retailer you will know well that one size does not fit all. You can’t engage all your customers with a single message or campaign. So do away once and for all with all those impersonal mass email blasts or general coupons that you send to everyone, and try to make it personal instead.

Some of the most common ways to segment your customer base include:

  • Geography – Determine where your customers are and send them messages accordingly. Wish your customers a happy morning in Melbourne, and another set a happy morning in Sydney.
  • Referral sites – If you’re doing online advertising and marketing, look into where your customers are coming from. How did they find your website (i.e. web search or ad clicks)? The insights that you get from referral information can help you tailor your landing pages and offers.
  • E-commerce vs bricks-and-mortar – Send them offers relevant to where they like to shop.
  • Customer activity – Look at how your customers interact with your brand. Who are your active patrons? Who are the ones who haven’t dropped by in while? Connect with your customers based on how engaged they are. For example, if you want to reconnect with your inactive subscribers, why not send them a “We miss you” message with the offer of a free flower in-store?
  • Interests – You can determine your customers’ interests by looking at their past purchases. A bookstore, for instance, can tailor their marketing messages based on the books that its customers bought in the past. Those who purchased sci-fi novels would receive a different message from those who bought young adult or mystery novels.

2. Build real relationships

Get to know your customers. Don’t bother with focus groups or surveys. Just talk to them. Ask them what led them to your store. Ask them questions, respond to their tweets, and get your decision-makers to take their calls and answer their emails.

Establishing real relationships with your patrons gives you deeper insights on what they’re like, so you can serve them better. And it builds loyalty, which in turn encourages repeat purchases and word-of-mouth referrals.

3. Be the same, online and off

If you have a “bricks and clicks” business – that is, if you have a bricks and mortar location as well as an ecommerce store – you’re in the position to offer a best of shopping experience regardless of what an individual customer prefers.

Strive to create a seamless shopping experience for both stores. Be consistent with your branding messages and more importantly, make it as convenient as possible for your customers to shop online and in person. Your customers do not think of these as different stores – so you shouldn’t either.

Consumers value convenience. They value it so much that it is often a deciding factor when it comes to choosing where to shop. Enable in-store pick-up or returns for online purchases, or allow them to use online coupon codes when they’re shopping at your physical location.

4. Differentiate your business

The key to effective marketing—especially in a sea of similar products and “me too” companies – is determining your company’s own unique flavour. Find out what makes your company unique by recognising its quirks and by going back to your core values. Make a list of your competitors and go through each one to identify the things that only YOU can offer, as well as the feelings or emotions that only your brand can evoke.

Once you’ve identified the key factors that make your business unique, use them to position yourself in the market. Own that position. When doing anything, always go back to your differentiating factors and ensure that your business decisions are in line with them.

Instil your values and brand ethos in your employees. Don’t look at them as salespeople. Let them be ‘likeable experts’ instead. As likeable experts, your employees should be trained not to sell, but to guide customers, solve their problems, and help them make the right decision. By doing so, your customers will learn to trust your employees (and in turn your brand) and see your company as more than just a commodity source.

5. Be credible, be interesting

Consumers prefer to buy from companies that they perceive as trustworthy and credible. These days though, conveying authority and credibility isn’t as simple as displaying a bunch of certification logos or awards in your store (though they do help). In this day and age, you need to go beyond that, and establish yourself as a thought leader in your field.

Demonstrate how knowledgeable you are by engaging with your target market. Publish reports, write blogs, be generous with your time and expertise.

If there aren’t networking opportunities where you are, start some.


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