Loyalty in the Time of “Near Me” Searches, Omnichannel, and Covid-19

Building a brand’s reputation is both simpler and more complicated in our mobile-first era than it was a decade ago.

On the one hand, digital tools and channels provide more means to reach customers and strengthen relationships with them, augmenting the loyalty B2Cs can foster. On the other hand, the number of ways consumers may try to reach or find out about a brand makes maintaining even basic information on all relevant platforms an uphill battle. Faulty or absent information prompts customers to look elsewhere.

In addition to the opportunities and challenges that come with an omni-channel commercial ecosystem, 2020 brings to businesses the challenge of mobile search, which leads people on the go to search for “X near me” and pick the closest possible option. The new year also brought, as hardly anyone would’ve predicted months ago, an impending recession as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

I caught up with Nicole Amsler, vice president of marketing at loyalty tech firm Formation.ai, to garner her insights on loyalty strategy this year.

In what ways have strategies to build loyalty changed as consumer touchpoints and channels have multiplied?

As consumer touchpoints and channels have multiplied, it’s become increasingly important that brands can understand each customer and create experiences that are relevant to them wherever they engage. Whether a customer is making a purchase online, in store, through a mobile app, or any other channel, a retailer needs to be able to identify that customer so they can deliver a personalized experience. Loyalty programs play a major role in helping brands to identify their customers across these channels and create a personalized and customer-centric experience.

Some say loyalty is becoming less important or harder to capitalize on as “near me” searches and similar phenomena increase the relative importance of convenience. What do you make of that angle?

Loyalty is doubly important when customers have more choices than ever for where to shop and is a powerful revenue driver. For ecommerce stores, 40% of revenue is created by 8% — the most loyal — of customers. While convenience is definitely a motivator for a lot of customers, relevance and personalization are even more important.

A solid loyalty program allows brands to test offers and experiences at scale to figure out what drives each customer to take an action. This helps companies offer things that are valuable and relevant to individuals. For someone that values convenience, that might be an offer for free two-day shipping. Other customers might be open to the inconvenience of longer shipping times and be more interested in other things that they value more such as first access to new products, or points they can apply to get an exclusive add-on item. Building loyalty is all about being customer-centric and understanding what individual customers value.

How do loyalty strategies differ for large brands with many locations and SMBs? For DTC brands and brick-and-mortars?

Specific loyalty strategies depend on a company’s goals. For example, a new DTC brand might be focused on encouraging existing, loyal customers to spread the word to help with customer acquisition goals. Brick-and-mortar retailers might be looking to encourage more foot traffic. Whatever a company’s goals, loyalty strategies need to be customer-centric and emphasize engaging with customers as individuals.

Any thoughts on loyalty in the time of the coronavirus? 

Every industry is facing some uncertainty right now, but retailers especially are dealing with a hit to foot traffic and spend. However, customers making fewer purchases doesn’t mean that retailers should stop working to keep those customers’engaged. Loyalty isn’t just about purchase frequency.

Retailers should use this time to engage with customers and create relevant content that drives continued loyalty. At the same time, when engaging with customers right now, companies need to understand that this isn’t business as usual and show empathy. Brands’ messages to customers need to reflect that. Not every message needs to be about what a business is doing in response to our current situation, but companies need to make adjustments to ensure they’re at least acknowledging that this isn’t business as usual.

Part of making messages and offers relevant to customers is ensuring they are also relevant in the context of what’s happening in the world. Showing care for your customers beyond their purchases may not make you money today, but it is going to turn one-time customers into loyal ones in the long run.

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Joe Zappa is the Managing Editor of Street Fight. He joined Street Fight as a contributing writer in 2015, has compiled the daily newsletter since 2016, and has spearheaded the newsroom's editorial operations since 2018. Shoot him an email at jzappa@streetfightmag.com.