03 July 2020   

15 minute read
As stores reopen and we begin to think about how to thrive in the post-coronavirus world, staying connected with customers digitally will help retailers understand consumer mindsets, changing behaviour and needs. We spoke to Stockland’s digital marketing gurus, Nathan Maroon, the Digital and Social Channel Manager for Stockland Retail, and Vanessa Lynn, the Direct Marketing Manager for Stockland Retail, about suggested channels to use, how to grow your customer database and what content to produce.

As retailers step into a post-coronavirus future, it will be really important to find a balance between what worked before COVID-19 and what we need to do next to rebuild trust and confidence. For many retailers, the trade restrictions revealed the importance of communicating digitally with customers when they can’t be instore. Physical distancing highlighted the importance of digital channels like email, social media and websites.

With customers becoming increasingly reliant upon a retailer’s online presence to stay informed about shop activity and keep connected to their favourite brands, it will still be important to engage with them beyond the in-store experience in the ‘new normal’.

Nurturing the customer relationship online, keeping customers informed and engaged, and complementing the in-store experience and transaction will be critical to rebuilding customer relationships.

Amplifying digital to complement the in-store experience

Here’s how you can use digital to build on your store’s strengths, guide customers at the start of their product-discovery journey, as well as interact and stay engaged with them after their in-store purchase. Digital is an immediate way to respond to enquiries, keep customers up-to-date with changed trading hours, new product launches and store openings.

Vanessa explains, “Now is the time for retailers to anticipate shifts in consumer sentiment and behaviours and guide their purchasing decisions from beyond the store. Personalised digital marketing will help you to deliver better quality interactions online and instore, stay relevant to your customers and shape their purchasing decisions.

“Retail businesses need a diverse marketing strategy that uses different channels, but email really should be front and centre as it is still one of the most effective ways to connect with customers and build lasting relationships. There is plenty of research to show it’s more likely to boost customer acquisition, conversion rates, and purchase behaviour,” said Vanessa.

Here are Vanessa’s top tips for making email work for you:

  • Grow your customer database (but ensure you have permission and a record of that permission to email the customers on your list) - Invite your in-store visitors onto your mailing list to help build your customer database. Tell them about the benefits for doing so (subscriber-only special offers/promo-code, birthday gifts, VIP treatment, be the first to know) and honour them. Remember to always get their permission first, by having a form containing a clear statement as to what content they will receive and a very clear opt-in box. Do not send them any other content that deviates from this agreement. It is essential that you familiarise yourself with the Spam Act 2003 (Cth) and best practices around data collection and storage. It is also suggested that you have your acquisition form in a secured digital format rather than using paper forms, to minimise the chances of human error or misplacement.

  • Personalise it - This means doing more than using a customer’s first name in the subject line of an email. Capturing and managing customer data will help provide a personalised experience for your customers. Use your customer’s purchasing history or interests to send them curated content (and, of course, make sure you are being compliant and that you have a clear privacy policy).

  • Content, content, content - Exciting, thoughtful and relevant emails with seasonal offers, store events, news, and inspiration will help to drive results. Remember to include details on how to visit- think store location, a map, trading hours, parking access etc.

  • Tick-tock, timing matters - Not sure about when to send your emails? Start by thinking about the circumstances of your target audience. Are your customers active during business hours, looking after young children, working from home or an office? Then, after sending your email, monitor your results and continue testing until patterns become easily identifiable (these patterns could change, so never stop checking!). Also endeavour to send a welcome email to new subscribers as soon as possible, but don’t go radio silent for months thereafter. You don’t want your subscribers to wonder when, how and if they even subscribed to your list. A good content plan will help you to stay organised.

  • Don’t SPAM! Every marketer should be aware of anti-SPAM rules, so stay informed. For example, you are obliged to always include in your emails a functional unsubscribe option (and to timely honour any unsubscribe requests), a valid postal address for your business, and a clear sender name.

  • Test, optimise, then test again – always check your email campaign results. This will help to keep your content relevant and your customer in mind. By monitoring your results you will know what is resonating most with your database and you should use this as a guide when planning what to send next.

Using social media to boost in-store sales

In a retail market disrupted by COVID-19 and changing customer preferences, how do you build strong relationships with your customer at every stage of the journey? Social media can amplify your reach and help to differentiate your brand, understand who your customers are and what motivates them to purchase.

It can help create buzz, target customers from when they’re choosing between brands and products through to after they have made a purchase in-store and influence customers to act as social advocates for your brand.

Stockland’s Nathan Maroon agrees it’s more important than ever to rethink how you interact with your customers beyond the store to influence the in-store purchasing experience.

“As customers start to come back to stores, it will be important for retailers to get a deep understanding of their customer preferences through social media to help shape the customer experience and reignite the instore experience,” he said.

Here are Nathan’s tips for harnessing social media to shape customer decision making:

  • Drive customers from in-store to your social media pages: Create instagrammable moments, shareable items in-store or preferred hashtags.

  • Know customer trends: Use social channels such as Instagram and Pinterest to identify customer trends and popular products and signpost these products in your store.

  • Curate user-generated content to promote your satisfied customers, rather than making it all about you – this will foster a sense of involvement and connection beyond the transactional relationship, which will spark brand loyalty, and encourage customers to continue to engage with your brand both in-store and via this online community.

  • Have a consistent brand identity across all channels, both physical and digital – at one end of the spectrum is a set of comprehensive style and brand guidelines, but as a minimum, keep everything in the same tone of voice, adopt a consistency of colour scheme etc.

  • Get customer feedback: Use Instagram stories or question-based posts to encourage interaction and replies to find out what sort of products your customers want and what content they want to see.

Here are Nathan’s top tips for ensuring your website provides a great customer experience:

  • Communicate the benefits of shopping in your store: the physical store’s greatest benefit is customer experience and interaction. Use your website to talk about what’s happening in-store – to entice customers into the store.

  • Tell your brand story: your website should visually represent your brand and your products. Images should be relevant to your products so you don’t confuse your customers.

  • Get the basics right: ensure that store information, location, opening hours are up-to-date and easy to navigate to.

  • Be mobile friendly: having a mobile responsive site is important. Shoppers want to check you out on their phones when they are on their way to your shop, in your shop, or in a retail centre.

  • Craft compelling customer stories: customers buy brands whose stories resonate with their own. Instead of shouting about how great your technology is, or how effective your product performance is, focus on your customer’s story. Demonstrate how your product fits into the lives of your customers. Show how it can make them better at whatever they do.