Putting customers back at the heart of fashion retail

26th Aug 2016

While the expansion of Amazon is nothing new, the impact this growth is beginning to have on the British high street is becoming more evident. Having launched Amazon Fresh, providing a shake up to the grocery sector with same day delivery to its Prime members, it can be argued that it won’t be long before the ecommerce giant makes a concerted move into the world of fashion. If previous expansion is anything to go by, it’s something the UK’s oldest and most established names in fashion retail need to respond. If not, they risk losing even more customers to competitors as they have been in a precarious home for a while, which makes the additional Amazon threat all the more real. Take for example the collapse of stalwart of the British high street, BHS. While the post mortem is far from over, a big reason for its downfall was that British shoppers had fallen out of love with the brand.

All retailers should see what happened to BHS, and Austin Reed just before it, and take that as a cautionary tale. Both had dominant positions on the high street which appeared to rapidly collapse, but in fact had been leaking customers, particularly loyal ones, for years. Meanwhile, Amazon’s customer-centric, data-driven approach has driven loyalty, which has resulted in them generating impressive revenue. Ultimately, it’s understanding how to establish this loyal following that is so important for retailers in order to prevent the leakage of their customers to multi-national online competitors.

Fashion retailers need to think more about how they are building an emotional connection with customers to drive brand devotion. Simply collecting points or stamps is getting tiring when they often serve no clear purpose or offer anything tangible in return to customer or business. Similarly, a generic discount sent to everyone does little to make customers feel special. Brands need to show their customers they are valued and recognised with personal, relevant offers and promotions and rewards that are designed from the outset to both surprise and delight.

All of this requires a change of thinking, but it shouldn’t be difficult. After all, we all know what it’s like to keep a friend, partner or relative happy and to make them feel special. Customers need to be thought of as people, not as names on a database. So, what steps then can retailers take to put this into practice?

Personalisation, personalisation, personalisation

Online shopping means that nothing ever needs to be generic again, nor should it be. By capturing purchasing data, retailers can make highly personalised suggestions for products, sized, colours and styles based on previous shopping behaviours as well as recommending events that the customer might be interested in based on their preferences and location. Whenever data can be used to build an emotional bond, it should be, as this should see the customer engage further, making them more likely to make a purchase.

Blur the lines between online and offline and then enhance them for your best customers

Multi-channel retailers must make shopping a seamless experience, enabling customers to move between devices and channels in whatever way suits them. If someone wants to carry out some of their purchase in store and the rest online, or vice versa, this option should be available and most importantly, should be as simple as possible for them to pick up where they left off. Customers should feel as welcome entering shops as they do browsing online. Brands must use data to inform the customer experience, whether that’s through ensuring their preferences are recognised, they are greeted by name or offering the payment option that suits them best. Implementing click-and-collect services, bespoke delivery options and making the returns process simple all help integrate the on and offline channels. How can your best customers get something that’s just that little bit better? If you offer free delivery as standard, should your best customers get free express delivery instead? Could you send a courier to their workplace so they don’t have to disrupt their busy day? It’s often the little things that make all the difference.

Best customer marketing for your best customers

While it might seem like an obvious point, simply adding your best customers to a generic mailing list is unlikely to make them feel valued and important. If customers are sharing their data and spending money, they rightly expect something in return. Retailers can segment their top customers – whether by the amount they spend or the frequency of their transactions - and reward them in ways over and above the standard loyalty proposition, whether it’s implementing express tills and priority changing rooms or inviting them to the launch of new product ranges. This is by no means an exhaustive list, and frankly the more creative the better. There are so many options open to retailers to treat, recognise and reward customers to keep them engaged. Taking time to understand what matters to your customers will deliver huge benefits to the brand in the long run.

Fashion has always been a challenging and competitive industry, but one in which building a strong and loyal following is so important. Amazon has shown that a customer-centric approach can work, and as its tactics pay dividends, the online giant will soon set its sights on the UK’s fashion retailers. Luckily, most high end fashion retailers still have a large number of regular customers who are ripe for turning into truly devoted fans of the brand. Retailers, however, need to start taking risks and coming up with new ways to build loyalty amongst their existing community. It’s time for retailers to woo their customers and turn them into devoted advocates of the brand.

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