It’s understandably dispiriting to keep reading about the ever-increasing numbers of consumers that are sitting on their spare cash or, if they have any disposable income, shopping online to escape weather that’s too hot, too cold, or too wet. So there is nothing more important than incentivising your customers to return to your store, rather than a high street or online competitor.
Of course, it’s a complex business – involving management of multiple strands including: maintaining an attractive store environment; ensuring your staff deliver exceptional service; stocking desirable products at the right prices; designing effective and innovative promotions; providing well thought out personalised incentives and loyalty schemes; and cross-selling and up-selling in-store. In many of these areas, your IT system will be a vital component sitting at the heart of your operations.
Stocking the right products at the right price is a fundamental activity in which your IT system should excel. Without real-time stock information you cannot maintain a balanced product range that maximises your margins and profits. It is all too easy to hold excessive stock, tying up working capital and forcing you to take desperate measures to shift it. By using your IT system effectively, you will know at any given time what is in stock; what is on order; what has been sold; and what you need to order. The goal is, as far as humanly possible, to have only in stock goods that you know your customer base wants, at the price points they will pay for them.
Running personalised promotions is a vital means of incentivising repeat visits. Once you know what individual customer are buying, and are likely to buy, and you have those products in stock, you need to ensure your customers know about them.
Your staff should always ask customers whether they want to be contacted at all and, if they do, by what method: via post, e-mail, SMS or telephone. Providing an incentive is a good idea: try offering anyone who gives consent to be contacted the chance to win a radio or kitchen appliance (based on a monthly or quarterly draw). Ideally, you also need to capture lifestyle details about the customer – from family structure to hobbies and interests. For ideas, take a look at what Argos are doing with their ‘preference centre’.
You also need to understand what types of rewards, incentives and promotions will rock their boat. Some may respond well to discount vouchers; others will prefer reward points; some may relish invitations to open evenings and other events; others may respond to “refer a friend” schemes. Sending every opted-in customer carefully thought-out offers that reflect this knowledge will demonstrate that you are listening to them and their needs, and not just thoughtlessly transmitting to them.
None of this is rocket science, although you should not underestimate the effort required, but campaigns that are targeted in this way will typically generate twice the revenue of an untargeted campaign. They will also reduce the numbers of customers that subsequently unsubscribe from receiving contacts from you. Remember that you should limit the number of promotions you send to each customer – too many and you will most definitely run up against the law of diminishing returns.
Cross-selling is another way to satisfy and retain customers. Think of McDonald’s staff asking everyone “Do you want fries with that?” and imagine how much additional revenue that simple phrase has generated. In your own world, it will be accessories. If your staff are unsure about which products to offer, then your IT system should generate prompts at the point of sale to ensure they offer customers products that are directly related to the one they are buying, the ones that make life easier for them and are therefore valued. Remember also that you should not try to cross-sell expensive or complex products that need long explanations. The secret is to enable customers to make a very quick purchase decision that delays them very little and where they feel no excessive sales pressure.
Up-selling, packages and discounted second buys can also be promoted by your IT system at the point of sale. They can all be incentivising if customers perceive you as offering additional benefits such as financial savings or meeting an aspiration. Above all, you want to create the feel-good factor at the end of every sales transaction, creating satisfied customers that have bought highly valued products and had an enjoyable time in your store that they will want to experience again.
If you use your IT system creatively, it really will help you to create those essential boomerang customers: the ones who keep coming back and keep recommending you to their friends.