Pre-pandemic, building up ecommerce capabilities was a priority for a lot of retail businesses. Then, with national lockdowns and store closures across the UK, it became a lifeline. So where does the shopping experience go from here, and how do you hold onto those new customers?

According to an Ofcom report published last month, British consumers spent £113 billion online during 2020. That’s a huge jump of 48% compared to the year before. Innovation has also skyrocketed. Retailers have invested in strategies from last-mile delivery solutions to asset-light approaches such as dark stores.

But the big question on many retailers’ minds is not just what’s next in terms of ecommerce technology. It’s how to keep up this momentum and retain the customers who are now comfortable with shopping online. If you’ve pivoted and made those digital improvements, you won’t want to let them go to waste. Here’s what to consider to make the most of the new retail environment.

Short-term trends become long-term habits

It goes without saying that a lot of people have had their incomes negatively impacted by the pandemic. However, for those who kept their jobs and reduced their commute or entertainment budgets, the savings have actually been huge. Spending power has been a significant driver in online sales. The EY Future Consumer Index even found that 43% of people now shop online for products they would previously have bought in store.

Children have also seen their purchasing power grow more than ever. Digital pocket money apps and prepaid cards have opened doors to under-18 spending. And they’re leading the way with ecommerce. Since the first lockdown last year, teenagers have spent more online than in bricks and mortar shops. If they stick to these habits, you’re getting a glimpse into the future.

Customer experience has changed

Many businesses were forced to innovate last year – or at least to dramatically accelerate their innovation timelines – to adapt to the status quo. But now it’s time to consider what consumers will want and need in the future. Don’t just think about the investments you need to make to keep up with a changing, digital-first landscape. Ask yourself why these changes are happening and try to look at the bigger picture.

When retail reopened there was a boost in sales for many sectors. But, as soon as restaurants could serve inside and other leisure activities resumed, those sales slowed down. With life edging towards ‘normal’, the excitement of visiting a store lowered. While stores will always have a place for many customers, they simply aren’t as relevant as they once were. The customer journey looks different and will no doubt continue to evolve. The key now is deciding how each channel serves your business.

Before you settle on how to combine online and in-store experiences, you need clear answers to these three questions:

  • Who is your target customer?
  • What channels do they want to use?
  • How much value is in each of the channels you currently use?

Every part of your supply chain has to be strong

Your website could be beautiful, easy-to-use and well stocked. But for a customer, all of that jumps out the window as soon as there’s a problem with their delivery. It’s the most important part of the journey to get right if you want them to shop with you again.

You need to maintain your brand experience all the way to consumers’ doorsteps. The customer of 2021 expects fast, well-priced and reliable home delivery or click and collect services. Research alternative shipping options, better inventory software or third party last-mile delivery providers that will make the experience seamless.

Supply chain issues, from unreliable delivery to incomplete or missed orders, can cause inconvenience for both you and your customers. If you’re having trouble with any links in the chain, it might be time to start shopping around for more reputable providers.

A short-term investment in strengthening your supply chain could help see long-term returns when it comes to repeat business. If you need working capital to fund supply chain improvements, you could consider a MarketFinance flex loan. This kind of solution puts you in the driver’s seat by letting you choose how much of your loan to access and when, as well as how quickly you’d like to repay. Head to our website to find out more.

Communicate and automate

From social media to email communication, the way you talk to your customers is vital in building loyalty. Inspiring customer trust comes down to how you're seen online and in their inboxes. Keep your tone of voice authentic and speak directly to your audience.

Think about the quality of your content and how frequently customers are seeing it. Good quality content helps build trust with your customers and encourages their loyalty. Thoughtful, targeted content is the best kind you can put out. Try to personalise your email communications and think about which groups would benefit from different promotions, blog posts and updates. Let them know you appreciate them and they’ll reward you with their business.

It’s really important to monitor review sites like Trustpilot and Google Reviews. Respond to anything negative as soon as you can, and make sure you reach out directly. Of course, things can go wrong – you won’t please every customer every time. But the mark of a great business is how they resolve these issues and restore relationships.

Give new customers a good welcome with automated communication. You can create a series of welcome emails that should hopefully encourage them to become a repeat customer. Win-back emails are also an important way to remind customers that you exist. These can be easily automated in platforms like Salesforce to go out when a customer hasn’t bought anything for a defined period of time.

Use your data carefully

The challenge for retailers is to keep customers coming back regularly. While automated emails are a blessing, they only get results if you’re sending them to the right people. Make sure you clean up your data so that you have all the correct personal information. Sending Jenny an email that lands in Mohammed’s inbox won’t do you any favours.

Data also helps you work out who is most profitable to you. The 80/20 Pareto principle recognises that not all customers are equal. Usually around 20% of customers generate the majority of a business’s revenue. The other 80% place smaller and less frequent orders.

Scoring your customers with the data you’ve collected is the first step in making sure you’re communicating the right things to the right people. Focus your retention efforts on the people who bring you the highest revenue.

You can do this by assigning an RFM (Recency, Frequency and Monetary) value to every customer. Use a score from one to five that relates to how recently their last purchase was, how frequently they buy from you and how much they’ve spent. The best customers would in theory score fives across the board. Once you know who generates the most revenue, the most often, you know where to focus your marketing spend.

Loyalty schemes

You might think about introducing a loyalty scheme. Customers could earn or redeem points based on how regularly they spend with you. When a customer has a certain number of points, you could offer discounts or extra items. It could give you the boost over your competitors that you need.

Offers like double points, exclusive access for account holders and early access to sales will further incentivise these customers to spend with you. Just make sure you don’t go too far in the discount direction. You don’t want to risk lowering the value of your brand.

You could also create schemes based on causes you support. For example, customers could redeem points or an incentive when they return items to be recycled. Or, you could make charitable donations rather than discount rewards. Ultimately you want them to know that their loyalty is valued.

Ecommerce is part of a wider picture

The main point to remember is that retaining ecommerce customers comes down to loyalty. If you offer good and reliable service, and keep up communication, those customers are likely to shop with you again. Using data in a smart and thoughtful way, and ironing out any kinks in your supply chain, will also help boost their experience.