Shoppers today have virtually unlimited choices when it comes to where to spend their hard-earned money. If they can’t find what they want at your store, they will simply shop your competition, including online competitors. There is a way to defend against this and keep shoppers coming back, however, and it all begins with the customer journey.
What are you doing to ensure that shoppers think of you first, second and always as they plan their shopping trips? Do you have a compelling strategy to encourage repeat visits to your store? The way you address this priority can determine whether your pharmacy will still be around in a year, a decade or longer.
Very little has changed in retail, and there is a serious lack of creativity in the go-to-market strategies most retailers use. I want to challenge this! Here’s why this matters: Retailers today focus more on selling what’s on their shelves instead of asking customers what they want to buy. Understanding the customer journey is the first step in addressing this.
For example: the myth about loyalty cards. We’ve been told that these cards are the perfect vehicle to drive shopper engagement and loyalty to our stores. The harsh reality is that loyalty cards are really nothing more than coupon cards. I have a loyalty card for every airline I fly on and for most retailers in my market, just as most of your customers do. True loyalty is something that is earned, not embossed on a plastic card.
Big brands, retailers and solution providers tend to commoditize the shopper in an attempt to justify or validate their go-to-market strategy. This means bucketing shoppers into easy-to-manage groups, such as female head of household, 2.5 kids, medium income, etc.
This strategy overlooks what shoppers really want, and it can actually push shoppers away. These old strategies are doomed to fail, as evidenced by all the retailers who were “too big to fail.” Any retailer who follows these strategies does so at their own peril.
Separate From the Competition
Understanding the consumer journey means identifying what makes your shoppers unique over and above the buckets mentioned above. For example, are they vegan or gluten free? How do they engage in their community? Are they health-focused beyond visiting a gym a few times a month? Do they know the difference between a whole food supplement and a synthetic one and why this matters? Who are their friends, and what are they like?
When you have a more intimate understanding of and appreciation for who your core customers are, you can leverage that to gain a significant and sustainable competitive advantage. This is how you begin to develop real shopper loyalty. Remember that your competitors are most likely overlooking these details. This is their Achilles’ heel and your single-best opportunity to differentiate yourself.
Let’s face it, retail is challenging enough without having to worry about competitive threats. The problem is that most retailers tend to get caught up in the day-to-day operations and overlook what really matters — the shopper — and this needs to change.
I would define this era as being all about personalization. Shoppers want to feel special, they want to be appreciated, they want to be part of a community and they want to be valued. Some online retailers do an outstanding job of personalizing the shopper’s journey for their customers. So let’s examine the strategies you can use to beat them at their own game.
Think about the small local coffee shop or hardware store that is able to compete effectively and thrive against large national chains. Their success can be traced to how effectively they meet the personal needs of their community. This is the model we all must adopt if we want to remain relevant in our customers’ minds.
Give the People What They Want
Let’s first focus on the basics. Shoppers are continually judging everything about your store. Do you have the right product selection, are your prices fair, do you value them as a customer and how do you compare with other retailers, including online stores? The first thing every retailer needs to do is to firmly step into the shoes of their shoppers. Shoppers want what they want, and they want it on their own terms.
Shoppers today do not want to be sold; they want to make the best purchase decision based on their perception and their feelings. This is not something that any focus group or generic shopper marketing study can quantify. This is why it is imperative to focus on your customer’s journey.
Is the Price Right?
We continually hear the “experts” drone on about how price is the only thing that will drive sales at retail. This is simply not true. If it were, then the sales of luxury and decadent products would not be trending up, which they are. Anybody notice the prices of premium bone broth or collagen and medium-chain triglyceride oil-infused products lately? Although promotions are an invaluable tool to drive excitement in a category, nothing compares with giving shoppers an opportunity to trade up to an item that better meets their needs, especially a superpremium item.
For example, there is a huge difference between the ultracheap bottle of vitamin C and the organic whole food vitamin C. If you are what you eat, and if what you eat matters, then paying more for the premium product is a better value if you perceive there is a difference. Placing these items side by side and allowing your shoppers to choose the best option for themselves is how you drive sustainable category growth.
Shoppers appreciate retailers who are willing and able to help educate them about the differences between products. This personal touch can dramatically amplify your sales and help convert occasional customers into loyal evangelists.
Problem-Solve for Shoppers
Retailers tend to merchandise categories by similar items, such as vitamins and minerals, diet aids and sugar-free products. Although this makes it easier for us to keep the shelves full and promote and maintain control over our inventory, it does not make it easier for shoppers to find the products they want. Consider incremental merchandising opportunities for popular items.
Now that you have a good appreciation for who your ideal shopper is, you now need to focus on how they shop your store. The best strategy for this is to focus on their shopper need states. A shopper need state is the problem they are trying to solve. For example, a shopper looking for cold and flu remedies has a cold-and-flu need state, which means they want to easily and conveniently find all the remedies to help them feel better as soon as possible.
Having dedicated sections that address your customers’ top need states will make your store easier to shop and improve the customer journey. These sections should include all the top-selling items to support each need state. Promote these sections as a destination category, which will amplify your mission and is the thing you want to be known for. It helps to define you and differentiate your pharmacy from your competition.
The Key to Customer Loyalty
Now let’s bring these strategies together. At the heart of every strategy is how shoppers compare you with your competition. You want and need to be relevant to your core shoppers. This is what keeps shoppers coming back and is also what converts occasional customers into loyal shoppers.
Shoppers have virtually unlimited choices when it comes to where they shop. What do you offer that is different from the services of each of your competitors, including online competitors? Typically, the answer is something simple that you do better than anyone else. The best way to answer this question is to engage your shoppers and ask them. I don’t mean a generic and impersonal survey — go talk with them in the aisle and get to know them.
Work to build a loyal and engaged community around your shoppers. Consider: If I go into your store and buy something, chances are you know nothing about me or what motivated me to shop your store. Work to build an engaged community outside your store. Social media is a great way to connect and engage shoppers. It is also a low-cost alternative to traditional marketing strategies, only with a much greater reach.
Although most brands and retailers who use social media spend the majority of their time talking at us, you need to engage your customers and converse with them as you would with a close friend. Strive to connect with your shoppers and learn why they chose you over other retailers.
The customer journey begins and ends with an authentic commitment to your customers. True loyalty is earned. Commit to earning the loyalty of your shoppers, and you will gain a significant and sustainable competitive advantage that will keep you relevant in the hearts and minds of shoppers.
About the Author
Dan Lohman is a consumer package goods and natural industry strategic adviser. His company, Brand Secrets and Strategies, provides innovative ideas, actionable insights and strategic solutions to the challenges that brands and retailers face. His “Brand Secrets and Strategies” podcast is a popular natural products accelerator for food startups, healthy brands and retailers.