By Bryan Roberts, global insights director at tcc global

At this year’s Marketing Week Live, our global insights director, Bryan Roberts, had the daunting experience of speaking to hundreds of marketers about the nature of loyalty in the modern retail industry. He’s put pen to paper on the main points below, in case you didn’t catch him on stage.

Throughout my childhood, my Mum was as loyal a Waitrose customer as you could ever hope to find for one straightforward reason.

In the small Hampshire town in which I grew up, Waitrose was the only supermarket.

The nearest other option was a Sainsbury’s 45 minutes down the road. For my Mum to switch her weekly shop would have cost her at least 90 minutes of her valuable time, and she therefore became – on paper at least – the most loyal Waitrose customer imaginable.

The great loyalty erosion

Fast forward to 2018 and you’d be hard-pressed to find that kind of loyalty. We all now have an unparalleled amount of choice when it comes to buying groceries—a plethora of supermarkets, discounters and convenience stores. At the same time, our switching costs, thanks to the ability to shop online at the click of a button, have almost completely disappeared.

The knock-on effect of these factors is the erosion of meaningful loyalty. Retail marketing managers are spending serious time and money trying to address this, but they’ve so-far overlooked a very human tool for loyalty creation: our emotions.

Using emotion to beat transactional inertia

Most shoppers are feeling what tcc global has dubbed “transactional inertia”: the options available to them work at a functional level, and they are being given little motivation to change their habits. Yet there is evidence that shoppers want to be given a reason to become loyal, or to switch from a supermarket that is simply functional—they want their supermarket to be emotionally resonant.

There are two ways retailers can do this. The first is by “doing the right thing”; showing themselves as caring towards the environment, their community and their employees. The second is simply by spreading enjoyment, leaving customers with a warm feeling of satisfaction after their shop.

Loyalty, reimagined

The pursuit of loyalty is a very human thing; we want our friends to be loyal, we want our employers to be loyal, and hopefully, dear reader, you have been loyal enough to read up to this point of my article.

However, in all these cases loyalty is never the primary objective. Rather, it is an outcome; whether that’s the outcome of treating your friends well, being a hardworking employee, or writing something engaging.

Too often, retailers pursue loyalty in the complete opposite way to how we would in our personal lives—treating it as a strict, corporate objective. If they were to instead consider it as an outcome of saying thank you, creating an emotional connection or doing the right thing, then perhaps they we will once again see shoppers who are as loyal as my Mum.

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