How to Win – and Keep – Customer Loyalty in a COVID-19 Shaped World

By Michele Morelli, SVP, Global Marketing Strategy, Toluna

As the COVID-19 lockdown eases, retailers across the UK are starting to pick up the pieces, focusing sharply on their bottom lines – and their survival. Safeguarding their businesses will depend on how well they connect with customers and retain loyalty in a retail world that’s been completely redefined.

Throughout the pandemic, Toluna has published a biweekly COVID-19 barometer that taps into our community panel of 30+ million members to provide accurate and timely information on consumers’ perceptions. It shows consumer sentiment is changing as fast as the pandemic – and retail organisations must pay attention or risk the consequences. They must prioritise the COVID-19 shopper and work to predict how they will engage in the economy, what they will buy and where they will go to spend their money. For example, our research showed that in the UK, France and US, consumers are willing to return to shopping at big stores, but less often than before the pandemic. When it comes to visiting restaurants, people will visit – but restaurants will need to rely on those who were loyal patrons before the pandemic. Consumers who previously frequented a restaurant will be the first ones back in seats, while those who dined there less often will not return.

To win customer loyalty as we move forward, marketing must be a key driver. As a retailer, remaining true to your values is crucial. If you are true to your brand, everything – customer service, engagement and the products or services you sell – should cascade from that laser focus. Consumers expect brands to operate how they perceive them and to retain customer loyalty, retailers need to win consumer trust. To win trust, consumers need to love your brand.

For retailers, knowing who you are and sharing your values with customers is critical as we move into this new normal. Brand loyalty will depend on how effectively retailers communicate with customers and maintain an open dialogue through good times and bad and across a range of topics, from their response to the pandemic to their transparency on societal issues like social injustice.

Retail businesses must be nimble. People expect brands to move at the same pace of everyday life, including our current news cycle. It’s essential to adjust messaging to adapt to the current climate and the way consumer behaviour has changed and continues to change. If they don’t, retailers run the risk of sounding tone deaf. Personalisation is also key – empathising with customers in everyday challenges and issues and engaging where customers are. Map that journey – if customers are now more on Instagram or YouTube, then marketing efforts need to shift to those channels. Make it convenient and easy for people to be loyal. And treat returning customers as if they were new to the brand and impress them as if it was their first time.

Retailers must know who their competition is and regularly track up-and-coming businesses that may be nipping at their heels. As a retailer, you want to be the one to first differentiate your messaging from similar competitors or come up with something that’s authentic to you. Ultimately, if retail businesses are going to win customer trust and loyalty in the current environment, they need to know their customers now, next week, next month – and into the future. Always keep your finger on their pulse and you won’t have a problem staying ahead.

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