How To Connect With Local Customers During The Holiday Season

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This holiday season is certainly one for the books, with new consumer expectations to manage and new fulfillment challenges to overcome. With COVID-19 still going strong, it's without a doubt a tricky time to figure out how to properly "celebrate" the end of the year and bring joy into customers' lives.

But try we must! The holidays are still a time to reflect on the past twelve months and hopefully spread some cheer.

Especially if you are operating a physical retail store, you may have an even bigger role to play in reminding your local audience what's worth celebrating in 2020.

This position creates a unique opportunity to stand out and foster close relationships with customers at a time when many may be feeling more isolated than ever before.

Why you should prioritize local customers this holiday season

2020 has been a challenging year for all of us, but as many trends show, customers are more interested than ever in supporting the community around them.

In fact, according to one study, more than half (53%) of consumers indicated that they'd rather purchase from a local business over a national retailer during the pandemic.

"More than half (53%) of consumers indicated that they'd rather purchase from a local business over a national retailer during the pandemic.

By taking time to nurture relationships with these customers today, you'll be setting yourself up to increase their overall lifetime value. For example, you may introduce your local store to a customer who has previously only shopped with you online. By turning that customer into an omnichannel shopper, you're very likely to increase their overall lifetime value by 30%.

Curated lists to help you shop local:

What do we mean by local?

Depending on the size of your business, local can mean a number of different things.

For instance, if you have multiple stores in one city, maybe local means a particular neighborhood or zip code. If you have only one store, or a single store in cities all across the country, it may mean regionally local or local on a state level. Either way, the tactics you use to build relationships with your community should stem from a shared sense of place.

Depending on what local means to you, you might frequent the same restaurants as your customers, get caught off guard by the same weather, get stuck in the same traffic, or even be neighbors! These sort of localized details can make customers feel connected to your brand, your store, and your team.

How to target local customers

In order to actually put a localized strategy in place, you'll first need to identify your local customers. Figuring out how many customers you have in an area can help you better gauge what initiatives are feasible, what other local partners you can involve, and what kind of budget is needed to bring the idea to life.

There are a few ways to get a sense of your local audience size, especially if you also operate an online store.

First, you can use your customers' billing and shipping addresses to see if they live nearby.

Similarly, you can check your email subscriber list to see if people have included their zip code as part of their customer profiles.

Now that you have a general idea of audience size, you can set goals around acquiring local first-time purchasers, or engaging current customers to purchase again.

5 Strategies for connecting with local customers

Below we've outlined five unique ways to build relationships with your local audience this holiday season.

Whether you're operating just one store, or are replicating a strategy across a whole fleet, the goal is to make customers feel like each store uniquely understands their needs as a local resident, and encourage them to take advantage of your brand’s physical retail presence.

1. Encourage them to book an appointment at your store

In-store appointments are a unique service that enhances a customers’ sense of belonging and makes them feel particularly special. Due to COVID, appointment bookings have surged in popularity for a variety of other reasons, too.

Want to see appointment shopping in action? Learn how Black Mountain Yarn Shop introduced appointment shopping to help maintain in-store safety during COVID-19 by checking out Meet the Business Owners Whose Leap of Faith Led to 10+ Years of Retail Success.

For one, appointments let you, as the merchant, better forecast how busy the store will be and proactively limit overcrowding. For another, appointments offer customers peace of mind and confidence that a trip to the store will be safe and worthwhile.

Plus, launching store appointments has become increasingly easy, with a number of apps available to enable customers to book a time for a visit right on your website.

Offering this type of booking platform on your site reinforces awareness about your brick-and-mortar store (whether customers schedule an appointment or not), and can also help build up your overall traffic capture rate since customers will provide you with their contact details when they book.

If you decide to launch appointments, it's important to also market what a customer can expect to get out of the appointment.

You'll want to answer questions such as:

  • Will the store be open to anyone else during the appointment?
  • What items can they expect to see and try on in-person compared to what's on the website?
  • What additional safety measures will the store be taking? (e.g. temperature checks)
Once an appointment is booked, make sure you follow up with additional messaging so the customer feels confident showing up.

2. Invite them to video chat

One of the most valuable parts of having a store is also having a store team; salespeople who are knowledgeable not just about the products, but also about how those products fit into the local culture.

Especially with customers more hesitant to spend time in public, offering the opportunity to connect over video with a local expert can be a great way for them to still make a "face-to-face" connection without having to actually be in the store.

Your salespeople should feel empowered to use video chats to build a rapport with customers, and view this step as an added bonus to taking their virtual audience on a tour of what's available at the store. Forging trust through these calls between salesperson and customer can lead to higher engagement and reduce fear of buyer's remorse.

Video-chatting can come in many forms, including apps like FaceTime and Zoom. Leaving the platform choice up to the customer is also an excellent way to ensure they don't get stage fright.

Not everyone has the same level of comfort with technology, so ensuring they know how to use the app itself is crucial to a productive experience. Once a customer decides to video chat, it’s important for your sales team to focus more on cultivating a relationship rather than closing a sale.

The sale can come later through further customer attention and special holiday marketing, but the video chat is meant to open the door.

3. Offer gift-giving services

Gift-giving is likely to be especially tricky this year since visiting a store to pick out a gift, or window shopping without a real plan, may not be easy or possible. Which poses yet another unique problem for stores to solve: what does the customer need for this new holiday “normal"? 

Whether it’s gift-wrapping, same-day delivery, curbside pick-up, or curated gift guides, that's where you come in. Think of how you can be the all-in-one gifting option by covering all the gift-giving bases.

Especially if your store is already equipped to deliver items locally, customers should know they can have everything handled directly through you, minimizing the places they have to go around town and the stress that comes along with it.

When it comes to curated gift guides, sales associates knowledge is a vital resource. Give customers an easy way to communicate who they’re shopping for, and offer to send them gifting options over text or email.

Once you've opened up this direct line of communication, it will be easy to confirm all the other logistical details so all your customer has to do is sit back and sip hot cocoa while their gifts are sent out on-time.

4. Include a hand-written note with their order

Speaking of services, if you are already offering things like buy online/pick-up in store or curbside pickup, you can brighten up and personalize any package by dropping a friendly hand-written note or holiday card inside.

On top of being a nice gesture, that note can also serve as a platform for sharing more about your store, your team, or your any promotions. Don't forget to include your own contact info so customers can get in touch with you whenever they need.

5. Send them a gift

If you notice customers are not coming to you, you can also try going to them (digitally). Consider collaborating with a few local businesses and sending your top customers in the area a special offer or discount code to another neighborhood merchant.

This strategy works as a great small gift of gratitude for VIPs, and also creates a virtuous cycle of shopping locally. This strategy can also help open up your business to new customers who may not have considered your products in the past. By local businesses working together, you can all ensure a more successful holiday season for the whole community.

These are just a few ideas to get your mind working on how to breed good will and connection among your customers. Especially now when we are all working hard at maintaining relationships, think of how you can make that part of life a little easier for your audience this holiday season.

This post comes from our friends at Endear and SHIPSI.

It's easier than ever to connect with local customers

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