Customers are fickle but if you want them to remain loyal to your brand, Mary Winter says there are five key areas you need to focus on.

Brand loyalty is hard-won and never a sure thing. Shoppers may appear to be loyal but often they remain with brands out of inertia, time poverty or because there is no glaring reason to change.

Loyalty is precarious. Many customers are just a hair’s breadth from reconsidering their choices. Even the loyalty of those who have remained with a brand for years is up for debate.

Earlier this year, Principals conducted qualitative research with Australians and New Zealanders to ask them fundamental questions about the way they interact with brands.

What we found is that retail brands have their work cut out in establishing and retaining loyal customers.

In the words of one research participant: “I don’t believe in loyalty to a brand. You only care about making money from me, so I only care about using your service so long as it benefits me. Loyalty means standing by them through thick or thin, and no, I will not do this. As soon as you do something I don’t like, I’m off to explore my options.”

Another said: “I am loyal to a brand. However, if they did something stupid, I would consider switching.”

If that’s the case, what does makes people stick with your brand over time? Through our research, we uncovered five key tenets to securing customer loyalty.

Perceived quality

Consistent quality over time makes people think twice about moving away from a brand. If you represent quality, and do something better than other brands, it is worth reminding your customers of that competitive advantage. A key for a customer to stay where they are is to avoid disappointment elsewhere.

In the words of one research participant: “I can’t really describe it, but I just trust Samsung. I think they make the ultimate phones. I’m 100 per cent – almost irrationally – loyal to Samsung.”

Shared values

If you offer price and quality parity with competitors, demonstrating values can be key. People stay with brands they believe share their ideals. Being sustainable and ethical are growing reasons to be loyal to a brand among conscious consumers of any age.

As one research participant put it: “If a brand shares my values, then I will be loyal. If I believe that a brand is committed to improving the environment, sustainable supply chains or supporting the community, it will earn my loyalty. I would be reluctant to buy another brand.

“Kathmandu is an expensive brand. However, their products are great quality and they are proactively trying to improve conditions for workers throughout their supply chain. When it comes to hiking gear, I am loyal to Kathmandu for these reasons – even if I have to pay more.”

Show your customer love

People remain loyal to brands that value them as a customer. Little things can drive substantial loyalty such as asking for feedback.

A genuine rewards program or just giving someone a call to see how they are going can often be enough. People love to feel relationships are reciprocated and once a human connection has been made, they are reluctant to go to a cold, insensitive provider.

Make it fun

Engaging a customer with your loyalty program and promotions is a great way to keep them, especially if the program offers surprises or something new and different.

As one research participant noted: “A brand like Mecca maintains loyalty by having a loyalty program, free items in their Beauty Loop boxes and keeping their customers interested with new products – many of which they stock exclusively.”
Another noted: “I belong to the Woolworths Bunch group where I get free products once a month – at least one or two products. The other day I was granted free a four-pack of blueberry muffins!”

Establish trust

If you really trust a brand, it is harder to leave. People talk about bad experiences and in a competitive consumer landscape, there are a host of bad stories doing the rounds.

Knowing you can be safe with a provider means you are likely to question the value of shifting. Unless pushed, no one wants to deal with an unknown quantity.

People are also reluctant to quit a brand if it has gone above and beyond to help them by providing extra help in solving a service issue.

A research participant noted: “I need to be comfortable that the brand can do what it says it can. Trust is a big thing when it comes to the brand. It’s important that you know that the brand will be there for you when you’re at your most vulnerable.”

By playing up these five aspects of your retail brand, you will be able to foster and build loyalty even with the most fickle of customers.

Mary Winter is the Insights Director at Principals.

This article first appeared on Inside Retail.

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