When should retailers stop talking to customers?

9th Apr 2020


Simon Brennan, VP Europe, Engage Hub

With the grey and gloomy circumstances we have been experiencing lately, it may be increasingly hard to imagine the long and bright days of summer. Yet, many retailers are already marketing summer deals and discounts to their customers. Some even started as early as the 21st of January, otherwise known as ‘Blue Monday’. Is that too early? Or do consumers want to stock up on summer dresses before the season rolls around?

Often, retailers isolate their consumers by flooding their inboxes with generic marketing messages. According to research, nearly two-thirds of adults in the UK say they receive ‘too many’ digital marketing promotions. Consumers also admitted that they wouldn’t think twice about unsubscribing from a brand’s promotions if they were receiving too many messages.

For brands to create and retain optimum levels of customer engagement, they need to step back and evaluate the level of communication they have with their customers. This involves personalising interactions, using the channel their customers are most receptive to and analysing customer activity to flag any concerning fluctuations in their shopping behaviour.

It’s the journey that counts

To avoid an overload of one-sided communication, brands should take the time out to evaluate the ‘channel of choice’, aiming to communicate with customers on their terms. The channel then also defines the number of marketing messages sent to the customer. For instance, SMS and WhatsApp may be too personal and brands should avoid sending generic marketing messages through these channels. Texts are inherently short and conversational, and people don’t like reading dense or highly technical information on their phones. Hence, marketers need to restrict communication here to quick and easily digestible information, aiming to communicate their brand identity as concisely as possible.   

Emails, on the other hand, can be used as a canvas for creativity by brands. Email marketing may not be seen as the most exciting channel, but it remains central to many brands’ communications strategies. In fact, 73% of marketers rate email as the number one digital channel for ROI, according to a study by Econsultancy, which also suggests email marketing generates around £29bn of retail sales annually in the UK. Brands can also be more liberal with their use of email for communication, as long as it is targeted and adds value to the customer, because customers are generally more receptive to brand communication over this channel.

However, it is still important to understand and evaluate the interaction response from each customer and react accordingly, to ensure a seamless and engaged customer journey. Intelligence tools come in handy here, as campaigns can be analysed for response rates and reactions, to define the ideal level of communication over the preferred customer channel – and avoid customer burn-out.

  Listen for the alarm bells

According to Gartner, by 2024, the World Health Organization will identify online shopping as an addictive disorder as millions abuse digital commerce and encounter financial stress. As technology grows more sophisticated, marketers will be able to more accurately predict what consumers want, how to price products and where to position them.  But this comes at a price. As consumers purchase more products they don’t need and can’t afford, retailers need to take responsibility to warn potential buyers.

By leveraging data, retailers can identify patterns within their customer’s buying journey and flag any signs of addictive behaviour. This is more easily identifiable if the customer is swiping a loyalty card every time they make a purchase, allowing retailers to identify excessive spending.

Such data can be used by marketers to adjust their communication with the individual identified. By using the right tools, brands can also limit the number of times they reach out to consumers, diversifying across the various available channels and ensuring they are acting at the best interests of the customer. A simple way of doing this is by categorising messages as marketing and service messages – and setting a limit on the marketing messages sent to the identified individual.

Create the connection

Brands can learn a lot by listening to their customers and creating a lasting connection with them accordingly. One of the challenges with digital proliferation is that there are so many potential customer journeys and touchpoint combinations and creating a full picture of the customer may seem like an impossible task. However, segmenting customers based on demographics and behaviour, pulling in feedback from marketing, sales, customer service, product development and more, is a good place to start.

This portrait can then be refined by understanding customer reactions to marketing campaigns and mapping the customer journey to understand where the gaps and bottlenecks are. It may not be realistic to highly personalise every message, but through testing and gathering customer feedback, brands can optimise communication and garner high levels of engagement.

In the post-GDPR age, brands should also ensure they have gained customer consent before creating data profiles. Giving clarity around consent, by making it easy for consumers to opt-in and out of services or marketing messages, puts the customer in control and results in an increase in customer trust.  Once a customer has opted in, their data can be legitimately drawn from, to personalise their experience, inform messaging and reduce friction in their customer journey. Increased trust also correlates with increased loyalty, further enabling organisations to understand how customers interact with a brand across devices and channels. Whilst opting in, customers can also be given the choice of how often they want to hear from the brand and their preferred method of communication.  

Brands and businesses should have a duty of care towards their customers. By defining an optimum level of customer engagement, and building safeguards to protect customer data, organisations can create lasting relationships with their customers. Gone are the days of mass messages to overflowing inboxes. This decade will bring with it the age of targeted and mindful marketing, creating mutual and lasting relationships between a brand and its customer. 


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