To thrive, or even survive, in footwear — or any business, for that matter — building a loyal customer base is crucial. While marketing and consumer-management specialists seem to agree that there’s no magic formula for customer retention, experts say there are a few hacks that can help shoe brands and retailers secure customer allegiance.
Here are four customer-retention tips to include in your business strategy now.
Never Forget That Product Is King
It’s obvious that brands need to create the finest possible product— that should always be the priority. For retailers, selecting and maintaining a healthy assortment of trend-right merchandise is key.
“The best marketing campaign in the world will not matter if the product is wrong or is out of stock,” said Matt Powell, a sports-industry analyst at NPD Group.
A top-notch marketing campaign might drive initial interest, but once customers realize your shoes wear out easily or lack arch support or that your store is always sold out of the hottest kicks, that news is liable to spread like wildfire and undo all the puffery you’ve attempted to pump into the environment.
Speaking of puffery, if you beefed up your advertising and other promotional activities with exaggerated claims or catchy nothingness, that’s sure to leave a bitter taste in the mouths of consumers.
“No matter how personalized and motivating customer engagements may be, customers will not make repeat purchases if the products they receive are of poor quality or style,” said Tyler Walton, marketing manager at consulting firm Clutch. “To create and maintain an attractive product, brands must make conscious decisions to become customer-centric and continually design their footwear around evolving customer tastes.”
Invest in a Consumer-Loyalty Program
If done right, experts say, consumer-loyalty programs can be effective. “Millennials are looking for value,” explained Powell. “Loyalty programs provide value.”
The promise of a free gift or discount after racking up a certain number of points on a loyalty card can sometimes provide just the motivation a customer needs to make an additional purchase.
However, Walton warns of the pitfalls that can accompany customer loyalty programs that are poorly developed.
“The most effective loyalty programs focus on adding value for the customer, not discounting,” Walton said. “While a coupon can periodically be effective in driving lapsed customers back, the overall focus should be on the brand experience. A brand’s biggest fans already believe the product is worth the price, so marketers need to think of creative ways to increase that value.”
Systems that offer regularly anticipated rewards and foster customer entitlement versus loyalty, or one-size-fits-all incentives that ignore individual tastes, are common mistakes, experts caution.
Create an Experience
Quality touches, such as premium packaging, interesting and stylish décor in brick-and-mortar locations and personalized followup emails are all important elements for retaining customers.
“Don’t be underpriced in an omnichannel world,” explained B. Riley & Co. analyst Jeff Van Sinderen. “Add value to the customer through product knowledge, shopping ease and so on.”
Walton agrees. “With consumer-management technology, marketers are able to have a single view of each customer across multiple channels,” he explained. “This allows them to personalize their engagements, increasing the bond customers have with the brand.”
Several footwear firms have already tapped into this sort of consumer engagement.
Under Armour’s MapMyFitness app, for example, has a Gear Tracker feature that monitors users’ shoe usage and alerts them when it’s time for a new pair.
Create a System for Feedback
How do you determine if your efforts are working? Will you use social media, invite customers to take a survey at checkout, or send a followup email a couple of weeks after the sale to inquire about the experience?
Regardless of your methods of gleaning feedback, experts say it’s important to give consumers a voice in your organization. In fact, their voices may need to be the loudest.
“Surveys, customer-feedback forms and most importantly, social engagement allow brands to integrate customer feedback into their product decisions while also fostering engagement between the customer and the brand,” said Walton. “Customers love to have their opinions heard by brands they support. After all, who doesn’t love a product they had a say in creating?”
This is particularly true, Powell says, when marketing to millennials.
“The most important key in marketing to millennials is: Don’t talk — listen and respond,” said Powell.