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What can retailers do to keep customers in the face of price rises?

Loyalty through price rises and tough economic times is the Holy Grail for just about any business. But it’s particularly prominent in the retail sector, and even more starkly apparent on the High Street.

Commentary on Brexit is extensive and while it’s not our remit to be telling stories about Theresa May and her chinwags with Angela Merkel, it’d be naïve to believe that politics doesn’t directly affect our clients and the industries they’re part of.

In retail, food prices went up 0.8% in December 2016, and although still down compared to 2015, there’s a clear upward trend emerging in the wake of the UK’s decision to leave Europe. The price of everyday items like bread, cereal and oils all went up in December, as did higher ticket purchases such as air fares and housing in London. All this saw the Consumer Prices Index (CPI) rise by 1.6% in December, up from 1.2% in November and a much steeper increase than city analysts had warned us to expect.

So with that gloomy preamble in mind, we thought it’d be a good idea to set out some key ways to inspire loyalty when the going gets tough in the face of rising costs and growing price tags. Based on experience working with some of the UK’s most recognised, loved and successful high street brands, we’ll focus only on what we know best.

Maximise the power of quality
If something’s the best, tell people, because even if times are tough, quality outstrips belt-tightening among consumers who value the cost per wear/use over “fast-fashion”. Buying things that are built to last is something people are prepared to do, seeing the false economy in buying cheaply and replacing often.

Tell the whole story
Customers are savvy, largely due to the incredible abundance of information available online. It means that there’s no point trying to cover up the bad news. In fact, it’ll most likely double back and bite you on the bum if you do, in the form of customer backlash. You wouldn’t trust a friend if they didn’t share the good and the bad; so why should a consumer part with their hard-earned cash if they don’t trust that you as a brand are, at least trying to be, transparent? So share through your retail copy that you know price rises are happening and what these means for them or how you’re working to reduce them again. But also share what value you’re adding to your offering to offset rising prices.

Tell it consistently
If each story you tell a customer reads differently to the last, you run the risk of sounding disorganised and unprofessional – tone of voice is incredibly important to brand loyalty. And it should permeate everything from call centre staff training and scripts to marketing materials and your website. What a consistently on-brand tone of voice does is ensures you’re instantly recognisable, trustworthy, and quite clearly more than just one man with a shed full of stock.

Give customers more than just a great product
We talked about adding value and this can be really simple to achieve as long as you know your customers well. Think about setting up an insightful newsletter or blog series, or if you’re in fashion, for example, things like style tips and editorial trend content can be valuable to new and existing customers.

Maximise what you do at every single touchpoint
This is crucial yet still far too often overlooked. ‘Sign up to our newsletter’ just won’t cut it anymore, people need a reason to part with their email address and be more than ok with yet another email being fired into their inbox. They’ve got to want what you’re offering, so sell it to them and back it up with content that’s as personalised as it can be. Check out our blog on how to build loyalty at every touchpoint.

Keep your customers bang up to date
This ties in with telling the whole story (not just the good stuff). Ride out the storm and enjoy the good times with your customers. There are countless studies which show that companies who cut back on marketing and advertising spend when times get tough don’t profit from the decision over companies who keep it the same or increase budgets. If you market when others aren’t, you’ll be in an incredibly powerful position once the tough times are over. From a day-to-day perspective, think about something like TFL tube announcements. Gone are the days of sitting on the tube for 10 minutes in a dark tunnel wondering why the train isn’t moving. Now, more than a few seconds stuck still and the driver will announce the reason for the delay and often how quickly it’ll be resolved. Goodbye irate commuters, hello relaxed Metro readers.

Adapt and grow without losing sight of your brand’s core purpose
According to TED speaker Simon Sinek, people don’t buy what you do but why you do it. It’s a theory adopted by some of the world’s most successful brands, including everyone’s favourite example, Apple. It’s all about communicating why you exist and why customers should care, before you tell them what how you do what you do and what the end result/product is.

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