Retention in a Recession


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With a recession in full swing, cutbacks are being made. The latest Bellwether report from the IPA revealed that the rate of decline of marketing spend slowed in Q1. However, this followed the biggest fall in marketing budgets for nine years in Q4 last year. But, in an economic downturn it is even more important to spend and use marketing budgets wisely. In the current climate it is easy to think the worst but marketing departments will still have money to spend.

With consumers tightening their purse strings and seeking cheaper alternatives, one of the best ways for marketers to spend their reduced budgets is on customer retention and development, i.e. focusing on the key customers – the 10% giving you 50% of your turnover.

The discount end of the high street is where this strategy will certainly pay off. With more and more people turning to value retailers, marketers will need to think about how they will encourage shoppers to stay with them when the economy is looking up. These new customers might very well return to their usual shops, so the key action for value retailers is to develop customer relationships in order to keep customers after the recession.

In order to do so, a mechanism needs to be put in place to help them understand who their new recruits are and encourage similar prospects to walk in the door. If there is a loyalty scheme in operation new customers should be incentivised to sign up with the aim of identifying new customer profiles. Once identified, they are available for immediate analysis with two areas key to successful customer development and retention:

1. If some new customers are already walking in the door the retailer can look at who they are, what they are like and where they are from. This will allow them to select ‘lookalikes’ for prospect campaigns to encourage even more people to make the transition from premium retailer to value retailer.
2. They can understand the new customer better in order to develop strategies for retention once the downturn is over. This might be as simple as adding new product lines to the offering or creating incentive barriers to keep them attracted to the retailer.

At the other end of the scale, premium retailers are suffering from customer defection and unless they fundamentally change their pricing structure customers will keep defecting. Evidence of this move try and prevent loyal customers seeking out cheaper alternatives has started to emerge. Last year Tesco introduced a range of discount brands aimed at discouraging shoppers from going to value alternatives such as Lidl and Aldi; in the run-up to Christmas M&S held two one-day sales slashing prices in store by 20%; and Waitrose has recently re-branded its own label products selling them under a new ‘essential Waitrose’ brand.

Further to this, premium retailers should also be looking to identify, through transactional analysis, whose spend is not dropping. This can be used to drive campaigns to recruit similar kinds of shoppers in a bid to replace lost custom.

Finally, stores should keep in touch with lapsed customers throughout this difficult period in a bid to draw them back again when consumer confidence returns. This is particularly importance since the value retailers will fight to keep them once the economy has recovered.

So, both ends of the retail spectrum have their work cut out for them over the ensuing months as value and premium retailers fight for customer share and aim to keep or win back customers when the recession is over. Most importantly, the customer should not be neglected during this period of financial instability and transactional analysis should be maximised.

Andy Wood
GI Insight
Andy Wood, Managing Director, GI Insight, has over 21 years of experience in the field of database marketing and vast experience in the creation and management of retail loyalty programmes. His particular skills lie in the analysis of data and its application to improving customer communication, turnover and ultimately profit


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