Getting prepared for the middle and the end
When we get through this challenging ordeal – for get through it I am certain we will – and when the shops re-open, and the commuter trains are full, and the pavements crowded, how will we feel about the companies to whom we used to feel loyal?
Much of the answer to this question is likely to rest on how well those companies and their loyalty programmes communicated with us during the lockdown. Were we kept informed? Was redemption of points and miles allowed? Did they extend the time limit on our loyalty tier? Did they continue to make us feel special even while we were not spending money with them? Could we contact them?
At the core of these important questions is something so basic, I hesitate to raise it as an issue. As a company, do you know the contact details of your loyal customers, and are you able to communicate with them? If the answer to that is no, then please, go back to square one and sort it out as a matter of urgency.
For the rest of you, let’s go to the next square: What do you actually say, when talking to customers in lock-down in the middle of a life-threatening pandemic? Some very good customer communications are being produced that are informative, useful and welcoming. Good emails are best from the CEO, especially those that give more than flannel, and do their best to be upbeat and spirit raising, while not glossing over the fear, uncertainty and often despair that customers are feeling. Many people will be concerned about the loss of their job, their homes, even their loved ones, so this is no time for mirth certainly, but there is a balance. One thing there is no shortage of right now is coronavirus information on media feeds. There is no need to add to this.
As Julian Bracey-Davis, senior director of client & vertical content for our new Loyalty Magazine Awards sponsor Cheetah Digital told me yesterday, “we have done the beginning of the pandemic, now we need planning in place to handle the middle and the end.” Good thinking, but of course this requires on-the-go initiatives because none of us have been here before, and predictions are nigh on impossible.
So what does the middle feel like? It is being told the lock-down continues. That there is no change in the numbers to justify any other course of action. It means more of the same – home working with children demanding attention; challenging conference calls with overstretched broadband, and finding ways to sell things to people who are much less able to buy.
There are green shoots. The figures for online shopping in April are much improved on March for all retailers, even non-essential items such as clothing and exercise equipment. Doing particularly well are gardening, DIY and home, nursery and of course food.
Retailers are finally waking up to the fact that unless they respond to this trend, they will not exist. This is not before time, and may well save quite a number who would otherwise have gone under.
Asurvey commissioned by global commerce services company PFS to look at changes in consumer online purchasing behaviour, as well as their perceptions and expectations of brands around the pandemic finds that three in five (60%) consumers have purchased more goods since the lockdown began, than they did before, with 53% having shopped more online.
More than three quarters (77%) of these went on to say that they expect they will continue to purchase online more once the lockdown is over – indicating a potentially irreversible change in consumer purchasing behaviour.
Online shopping – the new normal
Other similar reports in a number of markets are showing similar results. This really is the new normal. Even the hard figures that reveal sales dropping are showing that online is not dropping as fast. The lockdown has speeded up a change that would have inevitably happened anyway.
Now this doesn’t mean there is no place for retail stores. People are social animals, they like crowded places and they like to shop. They also like to go to bars, restaurants, gigs, the theatre and the cinema. They like to sit on crowded beaches, cattle truck aeroplanes and around swimming pools. All of these things we will do again, but which companies we choose to do them with will depend on the actions of loyalty programmes now, when we have time to listen to what they are saying, and the propensity to feel valued or otherwise.
So if you are a CEO, or the PR/marketing company working for one, start writing, and make it count. Then analyse how well your loyalty programme is performing when compared to those of your competitors. Now is the time to do some adjustments. Tomorrow, your loyalty programme needs to be working for you.
Amazon – doing well
And if you are still uncertain of the need to work on your online presence, consider the report that the founder and boss of Amazon, Jeff Bezos has seen his wealth swell by $24bn (£19bn) after soaring demand for online shopping sent the firm’s share price to a new high. Crisis, what crisis?