How to Build Customer Loyalty by Creating the Perfect Shopping Experience

by Donald Clark

Courtesy of Handmade Business

It's been written about again and again--great customer service will turn a shopper into a customer:
Yes, it's important to be open hours that are convenient for your customers.
Of course, it's important to help the customer find what they need.
Sure, it's important to box and wrap and ship.
However, the reality is that good customer service alone isn't enough to turn customers into the brand loyalists that are essential to a solid bottom line.

Retailers realized long ago that it's easier (and less expensive) to keep a customer than to get a new one. For this reason, it's important to begin building strong, long-term relationships--right from the shopper's first visit. Loyalty doesn't just happen: it grows over time.

What Do We Mean When We Talk About Customer Loyalty?

Before looking at what customer loyalty is, let's take a look at two things it isn't:

First, loyalty is to your brand, not to a particular product you may produce or sell. It begins with a purchase and builds on the customer's feelings and perceptions of your brand based on their experiences with it. The customer may have shopped with you because of a particular item you offer, but it will take more than that to keep the costumer coming back.

Second, it's not about a rewards program. The problem with such programs is that when you take the reward away, the customer often goes away too. The goal is to get shoppers to revisit us without thought of a monetary reward. The customers we want seek something else.

It's all about Faithfulness and Feelings

A quick flip through Webster's brings up this definition of loyal--"faithful to one's allegiance."

So I shopped around. Wherever I looked, it was about faithfulness. We all know that faithfulness isn't necessarily about anything logical--like having longer hours or advertising more. That is only a small part of the answer. It's all about feelings and emotional connections between your brand and the consumer.

Think about your own most memorable experiences as a consumer and how they made you feel about their stores. It's these feelings that will fuel loyalty to your business. Loyal customers will return again and again to purchase for themselves and for gifts. Best of all, they'll send their friends in to share the place where they find and experience great things.

Loyalty and the Shopping Experience

There are a number of emotional factors that make customers feel comfortable and keep them coming back. Most important they want to return to shop where they've had a pleasant experience. A pleasant experience could be as simple as them easily finding just what they wanted. The smart retailer will make it more than this.

Maintaining Loyalty ... on the Road

Clearly it is easier to apply many of these principles if you sell from a fixed location. Yet, there are certainly ways an exibitor at temporary shows can build customer loyalty too.

Many craftspeople attend the same seasonal shows each year. The same customers typically also return to these shows. This is where having a well-managed mailing list will pay off. A postcard or an email with a personal greeting will certainly make the recipient feel remembered and a part of your community at the show.

A friend recently showed me a postcard from a weaver she had visited at a show. The craftsperson wanted to let my friend know she'd be in the show again and had some work in the colors my friend had asked about. How's that for loyalty building!

Here are 5 simple ways you can create both a pleasant shopping experience AND build loyalty to your brand.

1. Know your product--Customers want to know about the items they purchase. Who made them? Where? They want to learn as part of the buying experience. Who better to do this than the maker OR a retailer who knows the maker? Knowledgeable sales people and smart signage are additional ways of sharing this information.

2. Create a comfortable environment--Remember, a customer will be using all of their senses when they enter your space. Consider the colors you use in your d├ęcor. Be aware of the effect of the flooring you choose. Don't forget background music as a way of setting the mood. Snappy displays, good lighting, and clear, uncluttered aisles that allow easy movement are just as important.

3. Acknowledge and interact with your customers--In this increasingly impersonal era, recognizing customers when they return gives them a sense that they are valued and part of your community. Even better, addressing them by name is a total loyalty builder. And make sure they know your name too! Go even deeper: ask about their last purchase. Did you enjoy the earrings? Did your friend like the mug you gave her for her birthday? Offer to show customers an item you think they might like based on past purchases.

4. Make it a group effort--You probably already know that customer loyalty is not a given; it takes a lot of thought and work over a period of time. Furthermore, you can't do it alone. Anyone who works for you and interacts with your customers must be made aware of your commitment to treating customers in a way that will grow their loyalty. Of course, a given here is that you are already treating your staff in ways that make them loyal to you and your business.

5. Promote a sense of belonging--The 21st century customer lives in a series of fast-moving environments. Today's successful retailer must reach out and create opportunities for their customers to feel a part of their community. A retail place where customers can feel a sense of belonging and connectedness heightens their comfort level. Conversations with them about topics (other than the purchase at hand) are important connectors. Eblasts or printed newsletters highlighting goings-on with your business are always welcome. Conversely, it's important for customers to feel you care about their community. Be sure to reach out to your community, make donations where appropriate, and make an effort to show up at local events.