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Part 1: The Evolution of Loyalty

Today's 'always on, always connected' customers have become much savvier and discriminating. Unsurprisingly, they have lost their appetite for loyalty programs that deliver irrelevant offers and rewards via the same-old, tired propositions and experiences. Although the retail industry has generally graduated to 'loyalty 2.0' – more personalized communications, coupons, and channels based on data and segmentation science – the majority of loyalty programs are simply not keeping pace with the needs and expectations of today's shopper.

Customers now have much higher expectations of how rewards programs use of their gift of personal information – ever more valuable benefits and "hyper-relevant" experiences where and when the Customer wants it. Hence, the next (and long overdue) evolution of loyalty must no longer limit its focus to earning and redeeming, but also on continual and active Customer engagement. The 'program' must become a 'conversation' that creates interactions throughout the whole Customer journey to better demonstrate the retailer's loyalty to the Customer, and thereby winning incremental loyalty in return.

Customer Needs and Expectations Have Raised the Bar

Customers expect their experience with a retailer to be fully integrated and seamless across touch points. Whether they are searching for product information, checking reward status, making an online purchase or browsing in the store, they want to be recognized and have their needs understood and reflected in the retailer's offerings and the personalized service provided. Their lives are so busy, retailers who make shopping easier will be rewarded. Convenience and ease are key – whether it's making relevant suggestions and offers based on past purchases, making access to the rewards program fully digital, or offering an app that provides information, offers and payment options at their fingertips.

The following graphic illustrates how some of these expectations are playing out:

What This Means for Loyalty Programs Today and Tomorrow

The importance of a loyalty approach over a loyalty ‘program’

We live in an "attention economy" – Customers are attracted to offerings and retailers that win their attention in an otherwise cluttered and confusing multichannel world. Retail growth (and indeed, retail survival in a non-growth market) comes down to who best attracts meaningful attention. It's almost as if there are two choices that retailers face: win attention by being cheaper or by being more personally relevant (for Customers, this can be translated as better service, selection, convenience, etc.).

Arguably, in today's multichannel, post-recession world, the decision is binary and any middle position is short-lived and profit-starved. Being cheaper means competing in a continual race to the bottom against every type of price competitor and disruptor. Being more relevant means understanding Customers better than others, resulting in the ability to deliver an experience that Customers personally value. And, it means being more loyal to Customers than others are. In this way, a loyalty approach powers the growth strategy.

To earn loyalty rather than be given loyalty – to think of loyalty as a relationship earned through ever-relevant shopping experiences, offers, and conversations – is an important and powerful distinction with significant implications for any organisation in the multichannel world. One view puts the responsibility to change on the organization itself, while the other presumes that the Customer owns the change journey (from less loyal to more so). Only the former approach has been proven to drive sustainable growth, measured in organic, like-for-like terms.

Earning more loyalty means earning more sales – one more item, one more visit, one more customer, and so on.

Therefore, the essential question is around which type of loyalty program – points, discounts, surprise and delight, experiences, etc. – will best enable the practice of a loyalty approach? In our experience, the answer depends on how willing the business is to use data and insights to truly change the experience for its Customers.

Loyalty Trends and Best Practices

Customers have redefined what "relevance" means to them, rewarding retailers who deliver value and experiences that best meet both transactional and emotional needs. Clearly, today's customers are saying that points and discounts alone are insufficient. The most successful and appreciated loyalty propositions in practice today are focused on responding to the following Customer needs:

1) Sharing – Socially enabled and connected, local, advocacy and reviews, C2C and C2B. Customers expect propositions that listen more than talk, and marketing communications that speak with / on behalf of (not to) them. Think of propositions that help create communities, enable influence, ideas and reviews, and which enable Customers to gift their rewards.

2) Digital – Seamless omni-channel experiences, mobile enablers and connections. Customers expect programs that recognize them with or without a card and offers / status whenever and wherever they want. Integrate payment and 'discover' options.

3) Experiential – Experiences that are entertaining, fun, interactive, disruptive (the concept of gamification fits here), and priceless. Customers expect rewards for activities above just dollars spent and authentic 'thank you' messaging. Think of experiences that gratify instantly, are priceless and disruptive, personalizing and human.

4) Control – Of the offer, of time, of promotions and privileges. Customers expect transparency, simplicity, and curated choice. Think of experiences that are easier to enjoy and eliminate hoops.

Stay tuned for Part 2 coming soon: Foundational principles for developing a brilliant loyalty strategy

This is the eighth in a series of LinkedIn articles from David Ciancio, advocating the voice of the customer in the highly competitive food-retail industry.

[This is the fourth in a series of articles advocating the voice of the Customer in the highly competitive food-retail industry. David Ciancio is Global Customer Strategist for dunnhumby, a pioneer in Customer data science, serving the world's most Customer-centric brands in a number of industries, including retail. David has 48 years experience in retail, 25 of which were in Store Management. He can be reached at David.Ciancio@dunnhumby.com].

Treating Customers differently based on their 'profitability' is counter-productive to building loyalty and toward creating a healthy retail Customer Experience.


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Memories of panic buying may be fading here in the UK but have resurfaced elsewhere1. The near constant threat of another wave of Covid-19 may yet prompt another round of hyper demand. Whilst there is little hard evidence to determine the underlying drivers of panic buying2, there are numerous theories that the retail industry may benefit from exploring.

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In a series of posts published earlier this year, we covered the results of the dunnhumby Customer Pulse – a global study designed to explore changing consumer mindsets during the COVID-19 pandemic. Over three waves, conducted between March and the end of May, we polled thousands of people from more than 20 countries on subjects including supermarkets' responses to the outbreak, the economic outlook, and how their shopping behaviour had changed due to COVID.

At the beginning of September – three months on from the previous wave and with supply chains stable and the changing nature of lockdowns – we wanted to revisit the Customer Pulse to see what, if anything, had changed. Below are some of the standout findings from this fourth tranche of research.

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Predicated on the idea that individuals respond better to indirect suggestion than outright commands, nudge theory is commonly used as a way of subtly influencing our behaviour towards positive choices. The idea has gained such traction, in fact, that many governments around the world have created "nudge units" in a bid to tackle thorny issues like obesity and the climate emergency.

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It's a well-worn phrase by now, but it's true that the COVID-19 crisis has drastically altered the global retail landscape. Here in the Asia-Pacific region, a majority of markets are now looking past the panic of the first wave and towards the future. In this series of articles, we'll explore how grocery retailers must adapt to a more omnichannel reality to thrive in a post-pandemic world.

The new wave of online grocery customers

Throughout the COVID-19 crisis we've seen the sharp rise and fall of many trends. As countries veered from one phase of the pandemic to the next, we've seen everything from panic-buying and stockpiling, to a booming demand for hygiene products. While some of these trends have stuck, the resumption of a more 'normal' life in many parts of the Asia-Pacific have seen others tail off.

One trend which is set to stay is in eCommerce, particularly within grocery. Lockdown drove a surge to online grocers the likes of which we have never seen – and it seems customers have been convinced by the online experience. According to multiple recent studies[1] China's grocery eCommerce market, already a booming sector with 29% growth last year, is now tipped to grow by 60% this year as the coronavirus has driven whole new segments of customers to the online grocery market. The trend is also sustaining; the main growth driver in JD.com's record-breaking '618' event this year was grocery, with sales almost doubling[2].

While general retail has been building momentum online for some years, grocery has been something of a laggard, rarely accounting for more than 15% of the overall grocery market. Historically the major barrier to entry to online grocery has been trust – over 50% of customers do not trust online grocery deliveries to pick the freshest and best items[3]. For years this has been a catch-22 scenario for retailers: customers don't trust the quality of online grocery because they haven't tried it, but they won't try online grocery because they don't trust the quality.

COVID-19 has caused a new wave of customers to finally take a leap of faith into digital grocery. Retailers can be happy that they've won new customers online, but now comes the hard work of retaining them.

The need for Customer Infrastructure

Much has been made of retailers' attempts to keep up with surging online demand during the early phases of the pandemic. Even in globally advanced eCommerce markets like the UK, the lead retailer has had to significantly expand delivery capacity to keep up with demand[4]. In order to meet the needs of new customers, retailers have rightly focused on having the right physical infrastructure in place.

However, if retailers want to keep meeting the needs of customers, they'll now need to focus on a different kind of infrastructure - the online customer experience.

The ease of shopping online is a double-edged sword for retailers. If customers can shop online with one retailer, they can shop online with any retailer. Your competitor store is no longer 1 kilometre away, it is one click away. Customers can literally browse competitor shop windows while they are in your store, and for countless retailers in the Asia-Pac region where online sales have historically been low, their digital stores may be looking rather outdated.

So while you may have won new customers, the fight to keep them is much more challenging.

Getting the digital experience right

The principles of great customer experience online are the same as instore. It's about helping customers easily find what they want. It's about helping customers feel they've got a good deal. It's about having a well-laid out store. Fundamentally, a great digital experience is about putting customers first and responding to their needs. Thankfully, the nature of eCommerce makes it possible to know these needs in detail through the wealth of data available to retailers. The data you're likely already collecting will tell you everything required to build a better overall and individual shopping experience for each customer who shops online.

Here are 3 ways retailers can act now to build a winning customer experience online:

  1. Bring the offline online
    Your customers may be new online, but many of them will be existing offline shoppers. Their loyalty card history enables you to show them items they already buy. Better still, predictive data science can detect which of those items are staple and regular purchases that each customer might need right now – helping them quickly and efficiently build a basket based on their own personal behaviour. This knowledge can also help act as an online virtual assistant, helping customers find substitutes for out of stock products and prompting them with items they may have forgotten to add at the checkout.
  2. Make it easy to find value
    In a world where customers can price compare at the flick of a tab, maintaining price perception is vital. This is easier said than done online, as customers won't spend time browsing the 500 products you have on special that week. Instead, use relevancy algorithms to curate your promotions list at the customer level using their previous behaviour, and show each customer the offers that actually matter to them.
  3. Optimise the navigation
    Newer online customers tend to use online search and taxonomy functions much more than experienced online shoppers. If your online category flow is unclear, difficult to interpret or poorly arranged, shoppers will have a harder and more frustrating experience. Equally, if their searches lead to incorrect or blank results, customers will quickly lose patience. Site analytics data in the hands of an expert is a goldmine for optimising the online navigation – from naming and arranging categories in a strong taxonomy to eliminating poor-performing searches.

Retailers in Asia have a limited window of time to win the continued business of new online customers. As these customers become more familiar with the experience, the greater will be their demands and their likelihood to look elsewhere when their experience is sub-optimal.

At dunnhumby, we've been advising grocery retailers on digital best practise for over 10 years, led by 30+ years of leading experience in data science and we have developed a range of products for retailers to deliver exactly these kinds of industry-leading customer experience online, powered by retail data.

In the next part of our series on the post-COVID landscape in Asia-Pacific, we'll explore the diverging needs of customers in the wake of the pandemic, and how omnichannel personalisation can help retailers meet those needs efficiently and effectively.

[1] E-commerce drives China's stay-at-home economy in coronavirus aftermath & China's online grocery sector set for explosive growth, says GlobalData

[2] Chinese shoppers are staying online. That's great news for JD.com

[3] Study cites barriers to online grocery shopping

[4] Tesco Delivers One Million Online Orders In A Week In The UK

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