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Four approaches to brand engagement

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Retailers that take the time to strike up and engage in conversations with existing and potential customers stand out in the IRUK Top500 Brand Engagement Report 2019. For by providing information or inspiration that’s of real value to the people considering buying their products, these traders make it that bit more likely that shoppers will buy. Here, Chloe Rigby outlines four highly-practical approaches that leading retailers are taking as they find new ways to open conversations with customers

1. Put brand experience to the fore

The way that shoppers want to buy can be just as important to them as what they want to buy – and that can vary by generation. Retailers that think through the implications of how their customers want to buy from their brand have come up with some very different approaches to doing business., for example, has brought together a digital-first experience with showrooms in the UK and in Europe, as it looks to show its wares to shoppers in the way that best suits them. Customers who visit the showroom can browse goods almost in the same way as they might online, scanning QR codes to find out more about the item, but at the same time being able to touch, feel and test out a sofa or chair.

Jo Jackson, chief creative officer of, speaking as the company unveiled plans for expansion across Europe, explained its approach. “For us, being a digitally-native brand, online will always come first, but we know a human connection with the brand can be a valuable midpoint in our customer journey. We are doing something different with our physical spaces. They are not shops, they are brand experiences. From being able to touch and feel fabrics, discovering new trends, getting personal style advice, attending a workshop with one of our independent designers, or even playing with new tech we are testing out in the space, these are all steps to build a deeper and more personalised relationship with our customer.”

2. Find new approaches to loyalty

Retailers win return visits and sales from their customers when they reward their loyalty. Top500 retailers have taken a number of different approaches to this. Marks & Spencer, for example, has used gamification in its M&S Sparks loyalty programme. More than 7m customers have now signed up to the scheme, which gives shoppers their own choice of discounts and enables them to earn extra incentives as they engage with the brand. 

Hotel Chocolat, meanwhile, has offered discounts, birthday gifts and other customer incentives in a new VIP Me rewards card that it says will help it to build deeper relationships with its customers. Hotel  Chocolat said in half-year results published in February 2019 that it had seen half a million new customers sign up to the card in the months following its launch.

3. Leverage utility

Features that are innately useful can help to boost shopper engagement with a trader or brand, bringing them back for something they find genuinely handy to have around. John Lewis’ iOS app features a kitchen drawer where receipts for items bought are automatically saved. Amazon customers, meanwhile, can see all of their previous orders when signed into their account – and can reorder an item with a single click. Traders including Clarks and Mothercare provide e-receipts, helping consumers ensure they don’t lose the all important proof of payment, while the retailers benefit from improving their view of the customer data.

4. Use new technologies to answer questions

Retailers that use technology to provide automatic conversations with shoppers enable them to get fast answers to easily-answered questions, while customer service staff can focus instead on callers whose issues are more complex. Both Amazon and Very use chatbots to answer straightforward questions relating to areas such as orders and delivery but shoppers are offered the option of speaking to a member of staff if necessary. Ocado, meanwhile uses machine learning to sort incoming queries so that its contact centre staff can deal with them more easily.

This feature first appeared in the IRUK Top500 Brand Engagement 2019 report. Click here to explore that report in full, and here to explore the Top500 series of reports.

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