How retailers can stay close to their customers after the lockdown

While lockdown has meant isolation for individuals across the world, there’s one area of our lives that is more crowded than ever before: the inbox.

Our annual consumer census in 2019 found that 70% of people regularly felt overwhelmed when they opened their inbox(es). This was our discovery before Covid-19. As soon as the UK went into lockdown we all experienced an influx of emails responding to the crisis, all of which would have further overwhelmed consumers.

For retailers, email marketing has long been a vital marketing tool at the heart of CRM strategies. It is a fast, flexible and cost-effective way of reaching new customers and keeping existing customers engaged. However, the pandemic has forced retailers to completely rethink the way they communicate with their customers, putting the onus on the most effective communications only. How can retailers help, rather than overwhelm, consumers in the current context?

Staying relevant is key

Covid-19 means that contextually relevant marketing is no longer a ‘nice to have’. Now, all comms need to be customer-centric. And according to McKinsey, brands that get real-time personalisation right can deliver eight-times the ROI of their marketing spend and lift sales by over 10%.

Many brands have used this approach to great success since the pandemic. Homeware brand Trouva has reaped the rewards of pivoting to a more responsive email marketing strategy, reframing its emails based on real-time insight about trending products and categories. As a result, they saw a heightened engagement with the average open rate increasing by 13%.

With the Covid-19 threat still very much a daily reality for all of us, there is an opportunity to provide a helpful service to customers that goes beyond the usual customer-retailer relationship.

Research shows that 52% of customers feel greater loyalty towards brands that effectively communicate with them and are showing how they’re helping people during this time. Personalised content - whether there to entertain or inspire - is key to developing and maintaining loyalty during Covid-19.

Value, creativity and connection

Brands have also had to adapt to focus on products and categories that make sense during the pandemic, as well as navigate the need for sensitive communication in a crisis; both of which have encouraged retailers to take a softer, more content-focused approach that prioritises providing customers with valuable information and entertainment over selling products.

We’ve seen retailers be creative about the messages they’re sending, focused on providing interest and value to their subscribers. House of Hackney ran a beautiful campaign encouraging children to design their own wallpapers, creating relevance and helping their customers find new creative outlets during a difficult time. Even the brands that have still been pushing products have focused on a ‘curated’ approach rather than pure sales;  Nip + Fab ran an email campaign providing product ideas essential for a ‘stay at home pamper party’, encouraging self-care and indulgence.

Customers have become accustomed to brands being more creative and making the effort to win their cash, meaning we can’t go back to the way it was before.

The crisis has also heightened sensitivity to social connection; to essential workers and supply chains and those who physically ensure products arrive at their front door. Retailers that seemed to be trying to put profit over people’s lives have met with criticism by consumers over the last few months. 

It’s been refreshing to see retailers prioritising their people in their email marketing strategies - showcasing the people being the brand - such as Not On The High Street which focused in on its small Creative Business Partners providing tips for working at home.

The importance of customer insight

According to research, the top five categories consumers reported purchasing most online prior to the Covid-19 were apparel, electronics, home goods, accessories, and food and beverages. Four months later and consumers were ordering kitchenware, books, toys and games, crafts, exercise equipment, and gardening.

For marketers, this change in consumer behaviour in such a short time is huge. Insights from previous years are no longer relevant as consumers look for different products in predominantly digital ways.

This is where understanding and effectively leveraging customer data to gather real-time insight on behaviour becomes crucial. Doing so across different digital touchpoints means retail marketers can personalise their messages to individual preferences, ensuring the most relevant content comes to the fore. Marketers must be tapped into their audience and be responsive, allowing empathy and authenticity to fuel a data-led understanding that means insights can be actioned quickly at scale, allowing the brand to truly be customer-centric and relevant to the end user. 

Space in our inbox has never been so competitive and so it’s vitally important for retailers to deliver personalised marketing messages that stand out. Retail brands are now faced with a stark choice: to continue contributing to the mass of generic, undifferentiated marketing messages that overwhelm consumers, or to focus on creating the kinds of experiences that consumers crave.