Relationship Woes

Loyal shoppers stay true to retailers despite ups and downs

When added the critically acclaimed blockbuster “The Departed” to its product-notification list several months ago, my friend Sarah was among the first to sign on. Excited, she counted down the remaining days until its online release.

However, on the day she had been waiting for, she received no e-mail fanfare—or any notification, for that matter—that her film was finally available for purchase. Frustrated, she slumped onto the couch.

Later, while she was shaking off her heartache, we discussed her quest to buy a new camera.

“Are you getting it on Amazon?” I scoffed, thinking she had forever tossed the e-tailer aside. “Um, yeah,” she admitted. “I love them.” Wait, seriously?

“They’re really great, most of the time,” she said, like a wounded girlfriend going back for more.

Ron Shevlin, VP of client solutions at Epsilon, a Dallas-based provider of multi-channel, data-driven marketing technologies and services, rationalized this notion for me.

“Just because someone has one fight with a spouse, it doesn’t mean they’ll leave,” he said. “Business-to-consumer relationships are very similar in that they take time to build engagement.”

Shevlin, a former Forrester Research analyst, said that there are two types of loyalty: economic and emotional. “If something comes along with better prices, someone who’s in it for the economic value may jump to another retailer. But not those with emotional loyalty,” he said.

For example, Shevlin explained how a bank recently helped a couple at the last minute when adopting a child in China. “The bank bent over backwards to get them the loan needed to make everything possible,” he said. “Because of that story, they—and I—will never switch banks.”

Similarly, consumers have come to rely on Amazon as a go-to site for research, reviews and product information—even if purchasing isn’t on their daily agenda. Of course, shoppers love avoiding long lines and crowded parking lots, and if an online retailer can cut out the hassle, “Loyal shoppers aren’t going to look elsewhere,” Shevlin noted.

According to a report by Epsilon, consumers who are members of at least one retail rewards program are far more likely to spend in multiple channels.

For example, loyalty-program members spent an average of 14% more on purchases compared to nonmembers this past holiday season. Additionally, almost half of nonmembers did all of their holiday shopping in stores, compared to 22% of loyalty members. Nearly two-thirds of loyalty members shopped online, and 41% ordered from a catalog or through the mail.

Keeping online shoppers satisfied is increasingly important as they continue to spend across different channels. Although customer disappointment is sometimes inevitable, what may be more important is how retailers handle it, Shevlin said. Despite JetBlue’s February flight problems, he remains a loyal customer after the company issued a sincere apology to all fliers.

So while Sarah has yet to buy “The Departed” and still hasn’t received an apology from Amazon, she’s not breaking up with them yet—they’re working through it.

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