Customer Loyalty Strategies: How to Build Real & Lasting Relationships with Shoppers

Every retailer dreams of having happy, loyal customers who buy from their store again and again, and who wouldn’t? Loyal customers are a godsend; they’re much easier to sell to — and if they really love your brand, they’ll proactively spread the word to encourage more people to buy from you.

But how exactly can you get there? If you answered “loyalty or rewards program,” you’d only be partly correct. While having a great rewards system can increase repeat sales and loyalty (and we’ll talk about this later on), it should only be one part of your overall customer loyalty strategy. Real, honest-to-goodness customer loyalty stems from your shoppers having meaningful connections with your brand.

Today we’ll explore how retailers can encourage those connections. Check out the ideas below.

Know exactly who your customer is, and build your brand with that person in mind.

People are loyal to brands they can relate to. That’s why you need to make every effort to ensure your company is highly relatable to your customers. Your messages and marketing materials need to speak their language. Your shelves should be stocked with products they can see themselves wearing or using.

Achieving all that starts with knowing who your target customer is. Find out as much as you can about your audience. What do they value? Where do they live and work? What’s their annual income and education level?

Knowing the answers to these questions will enable you to craft the best messages, stock the right merchandise, and generally be more relevant to your target shopper.

One great example of a retailer that truly knows its audience is Ashley Stewart, an apparel company with a target audience of plus-size women, primarily of color. Ashley Stewart has done a tremendous job at communicating and relating to its specific audience. Every aspect of its business — from the products it sells to the models it uses on the website — is geared towards its specific target market.

Strive to do the same thing in your company. Figure out your ideal customer, get to know that market as much as you can, and make sure that everything you put out there is relatable to your audience.

Be a kind and decent company.

Companies that attract the most loyal shoppers usually have a moral compass and stand for something good. They have specific core values they adhere to, and they endeavor to “walk the talk” by engaging in corporate social responsibility (CSR).

Doing this isn’t just good from a moral or ethical standpoint; studies have shown that CSR is good for business. And there are many examples of companies encouraging loyalty through CSR, such as Chipotle’s Food with Integrity campaign and TOMS One for One initiative.

That said, companies wanting to do good don’t necessarily have to implement high-profile CSR campaigns to do so. Being a good and decent company can be as simple as promoting kindness and diversity in the workplace. You can check out Fortune’s list of best retailers to work for to see examples of how other companies are doing this.

But perhaps a better way to illustrate this point is to show you what could happen if you don’t engage in ethical business practices. Have a look at what happened to Uber, the popular ride-sharing service.

In February 2017, stories about sexual harassment within Uber started to spread. Former employees came forward to talk about the systemic sexism they experienced while working at the company. And to make things worse? The following week, a video of Uber CEO Travis Kalanick arguing with his driver about pricing surfaced on the web.

All these incidents prodded many users to delete their Uber accounts. The hashtag #DeleteUber (which was originally created as a political protest) resurfaced on social media. Uber tried to do damage control, but their efforts did little to bring back lost customers.

Learn from Uber’s mistake, and recognize that obnoxious or unethical behavior can kill customer loyalty faster than you can say “corporate social responsibility.”

Charm people with your unique voice and personality.

Let your company’s unique voice and personality shine. If you act like every other company in your market, customers won’t be able to distinguish your store, let alone develop a connection with your brand.

It’s always a good exercise to figure out what differentiates you from your competitors and to use those distinctive factors to come up with a voice and personality that’s completely “you.”

The Virgin Group’s airline companies (i.e. Virgin America and Virgin Atlantic) are doing an amazing job at this. Virgin isn’t afraid to be cheeky, and it shows its personality in marketing materials, the design of its planes, and even its safety video. 

Sure, all that cheekiness might turn some people off. But Virgin’s customer loyalty strategy successfully attracts and retains its core customers — and that’s what really matters.

Keep up with your customers by going omnichannel.

Know what else encourages loyalty? Excellent retail experiences. When you give people convenient or enjoyable shopping experiences, they’re more likely to return to your store and recommend your brand to their network.

Of course, creating great retail journeys starts with understanding how consumers shop. And these days, it’s safe to say that people are increasingly using multiple channels and devices to research, browse, and buy. It’s not uncommon for a shopper to browse products in-store, check prices using his phone, and complete the purchase online.

This is why it pays to develop a killer omnichannel strategy. Maintaining presences on multiple channels (i.e. brick and mortar, ecommerce, social media, and mobile) enables customers to shop however and wherever they want. This, in turn, results in increased sales and loyalty.

In fact, a study of 46,000 consumers found that omnichannel shoppers tend to buy more and be more loyal. According to the Harvard Business Review, omnichannel customers “spent an average of 4% more on every shopping occasion in the store and 10% more online than single-channel customers.”

These shoppers also “logged 23% more repeat shopping trips to the retailer’s stores and were more likely to recommend the brand to family and friends than those who used a single channel.”

Clearly, omnichannel retailing works. So if you’re still stuck in one channel or if you’re having trouble connecting your offline and online stores, it’s high time to figure out your omnichannel strategy.

Set up a great loyalty program.

Last but not least? Your loyalty program. When implemented correctly, a system that rewards your best customers can encourage repeat spending and boost loyalty. The specifics of your loyalty program will depend on your store, but here are a few quick best practices to keep in mind:

Eliminate loyalty cards. Avoid cluttering your customers’ wallets with physical cards. Instead, implement a POS-based or mobile-based loyalty program that allows you to digitally manage members and rewards.

One retailer doing a great job at implementing loyalty through their POS is Rockets & Rascals, a bike emporium in England. They have more than 800 members in their loyalty program — and the fact that they don’t require physical cards has been a boon for the retailer and their patrons, who don’t always have their wallets on them.

“It’s a wonderful lifesaver for a cold, wet cyclist who’s come in without his wallet,” says Steve Toze, marketing director at Rockets & Rascals.

Personalize people’s perks. Send out rewards or offers based on the behavior of your customers. For example, if a shopper regularly purchases items by a particular brand, why not reward him with a freebie or discount from that same category?

Have a look at what Walgreens is doing. The retailer collects data around the shopping behaviors of its Balance Rewards loyalty program members and then uses that information to send out tailored offers. For instance, shoppers get promos or coupons for items they’ve previously bought.

This level of personalization worked really well for Walgreens, and it helped grow program membership to more than 150 million in just five years.

Vend Tip

Are you a Vend user? This video shows you how you can track purchase histories and make tailored recommendations using our loyalty and customer management features. Check it out!

Offer exclusive perks. Make your VIPs feel extra special by offering promotions just for them or by hosting exclusive events.

Disneyland, for instance, holds “AP Days,” which are special days to celebrate Annual Passholders. During these days, people with Disneyland Annual Passes enjoy exclusive perks such as free keepsakes, special movie screenings, character experiences, and more.


Your turn: tell us about your customer loyalty strategies.

We hope this post gave you some ideas to implement in your business. Now we’d like to hear from you! Do you have a customer loyalty strategy in your company? Tell us about it in the comments.

About Francesca Nicasio

Francesca Nicasio is Vend's Retail Expert and Content Strategist. She writes about trends, tips, and other cool things that enable retailers to increase sales, serve customers better, and be more awesome overall. She's also the author of Retail Survival of the Fittest, a free eBook to help retailers future-proof their stores. Connect with her on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Google+.