Building a business has never been easy. Aside from coming up with an original idea, everything from marketing and staffing to legal concerns need to be addressed at an early stage. This often means that there’s more money leaving the company than coming in, a problem that can persist for the first few years. Of course, the scale of these growing pains can be mitigated with just a little foresight.
The Staff-Shopper Relationship
Ultimately, customers will determine just how successful a venture can be, both in terms of whether you can get them on board and whether or not they come back. These two things are usually described in marketing terms as customer acquisition and customer retention. Making progress in either area requires an understanding of what your clients want, and how and where they like to shop.
In an article on the subject, Harvard Business Review suggests that the way customers are approached by businesses has changed in recent years. The staff-shopper relationship began as a “personal” experience that relied on staff to guide shoppers to products. Today, though, commerce is an almost faceless industry, where information is king but there’s not really anybody to talk to.
Put another way, for new businesses in just about any sector, conditions are challenging. Everything is faster and more competitive, and there are barely enough customers to go around. So, where does the intrepid businessperson begin? Oddly enough, there’s a school of thought that suggests a return to older values through something called personalization, where everybody is on a first-name basis.
While that might sound a little intrusive in this era of AI assistants and human-less interactions, personalization is widely considered part of what people crave. Customer experience company Salesforce claims that half of any demographic will ignore marketing materials that aren’t personalized. On a related topic, a further 79% of people prioritize personalized services over all else.
A "Retail Apocalypse"
Business Insider claims that a “retail apocalypse” has 80,000 stores and 550 shopping malls ready to drop within the next few years. This means that strong customer relationships are all but impossible for some outlets. It might be a highly recommended tactic but calling a client by their first name on an email isn’t exactly the height of intimacy.
The more digital-focused company does have some advantages over brick-and-mortar ones, especially in terms of customer acquisition. Ignoring the potential for data collection and profiling via web searches, digital products are sometimes used in promotional ways to overcome other problems. For instance, sales estimates can be made from pre-orders, which can inform future marketing decisions.
Pre-orders are very popular in the gaming industry, which often offers in-game or physical bonuses with every pre-sale. In a recent example, pre-orders of the 2023 video game Dead Space (actually a remake of a 2008 original) were bundled with copies of the title’s sequel when purchased via the Steam storefront. This kind of incentive naturally drives interest in pre-sales, which can form a large part of first-year takings. A similar trend has emerged in the casino sector too, albeit with welcome bonuses and similar treats.
The gambling.com website lists plenty of these offers as a way of giving potential customers direction in an incredibly crowded marketplace. A site such as Party Casino leads with a 100% deposit bonus for new players, while the promotion currently being run by Megaways Casino includes 30 free turns on the Phoenix Megaways slot. This is generally how casinos attract customers.
Digital companies are especially fond of free gifts as a snare for consumers, even if it does come at the expense of personalization. Just look at the Epic Games launcher, which gave away 765m free copies of games in 2021 alone. This practice has produced a truly massive financial loss for the company (not that it matters for the Fortnite developer) but it got millions of people to download its storefront and launcher.
It’s important to realize that customers can afford to be demanding. They want their problems solved. They want to be told what to buy and where to find it. They want to be known and heard. Perhaps most importantly, they want their time to be respected. Businesses that allow for near-instant consumption, like Amazon, with its one-day delivery times, have made that latter point all the more salient.
Doing just one of these things better than a competitor can make the difference between success and failure in the first year. Bizarrely, customer service is often one of the first things to go neglected in a fledgling business due to the costs involved in staffing call centers. However, the nature of the internet and social media means that, if you’re not listening, people are going to hear about it.
The way you need to speak to your customers will vary across demographics. Older generations who didn’t grow up with the internet or even computers may need guided instructions and a seamless journey to the checkout. The magazine site Inc.com notes that even something as minor as listing a delivery time without the AM and/or PM can make the effort pointless.
Of course, customers don’t want to be treated like babies either, which makes the tone of voice used in marketing materials a bit of a difficult thing to nail down. Once again, this is why commerce needs more than a surface level of customer knowledge. How is a business expected to get so close to its user base?
Customer engagement can begin without even talking to anybody, via tools like Google Analytics. Businesses increasingly rely on the collective voice of their audience on social media too. For instance, it’s possible to glean information from comments on your advertisements, largely due to the fact that only very happy or very angry people actually take the time to comment on brands.
Ultimately, many customers can be fickle and demanding, but don’t despair. From personalization to gifting and an appropriate tone of voice, there are plenty of different ways to attract (and keep) a loyal customer base.