The passive consumer is dead.
Now, with conscious consumerism on the rise, social responsibility has become a priority for customers, particularly amongst millennials. From the way products are manufactured and sold, to a brand’s stance on key environmental issues, shoppers are demanding transparent, authentic and impactful action from retailers.
Shoppers are also seeking more meaningful alliances with brands. More than simply being sold to, they want to feel emotionally connected with retailers, united over a common purpose.
Alas, as shoppers become savvier and more socially aware, brands that ‘do good’ are more likely to be rewarded with customer loyalty.
Today’s consumers also have a greater understanding of the ways they can make a positive impact through their purchase behaviour. A huge 87% of consumers are willing to give their loyalty to companies who support a social or environmental issue they care about.
The importance of authenticity
Brands’ approaches to social responsibility are under more scrutiny than ever. You need to really believe in the cause you’re supporting, as disingenuous social responsibility initiatives can backfire big time. Savvy shoppers will sniff out bogus efforts, taking their buying power elsewhere and tarnishing your reputation on the way. Don’t just tag social responsibility as a last-minute add-on to your brand – make it an inherent part of your brand identity.
As Emily Collins, Principal Analyst at Forrester, explains, “Consumers are looking for brands to take a stance, but only a few brands have executed it well. And certainly, a brand should not take a stance unless it has strong and established values to back it up. Brands struggle when they are wishy-washy with value-based marketing.”
Keep customers coming back for more
Authentic social responsibility initiatives can engender trust, enhance corporate image and increase engagement, helping you to build a tribe of loyal patrons.
Here are five ways you can incorporate social responsibility into your customer retention strategy, with some real-life examples to inspire you.
#1 Empower customers to make a change with every purchase
Create opportunities for customers to have a direct impact on the lives of others with every purchase they make. Harness the energy of supportive customers, offering them the chance to give back to a shared cause. This empowerment results in positive emotions with every completed purchase, encouraging customers to buy again in the future.
Take global shoe brand TOMS, for example. With their famous one-for-one business model, every product has a purpose. For every pair of shoes, piece of eyewear, pack of coffee or bag purchased, TOMS will make a donation to an individual in need overseas. Since the company was founded 12 years ago, TOMS is said to have donated shoes to 86 million children – an incredible feat!
Following in TOMS’ successful footsteps, premium online sock retailer Bombas operates a similar one-for-one initiative. For every clothing item purchased, a specially-designed item of the same kind is donated to a homeless shelter in the US. So far, over 20 million items have been donated!
These brands are providing value to their customers. People are excited to be part of an initiative where they know they are directly making a real, tangible difference. This facilitates the creation of meaningful connections between brand and consumer, in turn inspiring loyalty.
#2 Offer rewards for sustainable behaviour
Encourage your customers to engage in sustainable behaviour with exclusive rewards they won’t be able to resist. Use these rewards to incentivise future purchases.
Global fashion brand H&M do just this, rewarding customers who engage in their Garment Collection programme with a £5 voucher to use in-store or online.
Fellow fashion giant Levi’s operates a similar sustainability initiative, this time focused on recycling denim. Customers can drop off denim from any brand at any of their US stores or outlets, where it will begin a new life as insulation material for community-oriented projects. In return, customers are rewarded with a voucher for 20% off a single Levi’s item.
Not only do schemes like these inspire purchasing behaviour and increase metrics like customer lifetime value, but the ‘thank you’ gift will help to boost customer satisfaction, increasing the likelihood of brand advocacy. This is a reward that people are likely to spread the word about – perfect for attracting new customers without investing in costly acquisition strategies!
#3 Create a community to unite customers around shared values
Create a brand community, whose members can connect over shared values and common ideals. Give members a voice on your website to remind shoppers that rather than simply buying a product, they are becoming part of a group, united around a shared purpose. Set your brand up as a thought leader in your space to attract conversations, and encourage action by inviting community members to charitable events.
Involving your customers in a bigger cause helps to build strong emotional relationships between community members. This community mindset can make a brand experience more appealing, increasing customer satisfaction and enhancing customer-company identification.
In turn, this creates new value for customers, based around pride and camaraderie. When customers feel valued and connected like this, they’re more likely to maintain their existing relationship with a brand and become advocates.
Bringing together a community of united customers will instil a sense of ownership, establishing strong ties that will make it difficult for them to shop anywhere else. Indeed, creating a sense of belonging is one of the most effective ways to build brand loyalty.
Fairtrade fashion pioneer and online clothes retailer People Tree is harnessing the power of social media to create a united brand community. For example, they encourage people to share their eco-friendly style across Instagram, using the hashtag #lovepeopletree. Not only does this engage customers and encourage the creation of user-generated content, but it helps to create an active community united over People Tree’s core values.
#4 Integrate sustainability into your loyalty program
Weave social responsibility into your customer loyalty initiative. Rewarding customers’ green behaviour with loyalty points can be an effective retention tool that keeps customers engaged with your brand. As customers work towards different program tiers, they keep their custom with you, rather than checking out what the competition has to offer.
For a real-life example, look no further than Canadian drinks brand Good Vibes Juice Co. As part of their commitment to reducing their eco-footprint, their juices are bottled in reusable glass bottles. Customers can sign up to the Good Vibes loyalty program and receive points towards future purchases with every bottle returned. After returning 10 bottles, customers can earn a $5 discount.
UK high street giant M&S provides another example of how social responsibility can be integrated into a loyalty program. Their ‘Shwopping’ initiative rewards ‘Sparks’ club members with 50 loyalty points each time they donate old clothes. The more points customers amass, the more offers, events and deals they are entitled to. Members can enjoy fast-track access to new products, queue-jumps in the M&S sale, and even exclusive events at the company’s headquarters.
#5 Make social responsibility part of your brand’s DNA
Define your brand experience with the ways you’re giving back to the world. This means showcasing your social responsibility efforts authentically across your store, within all content creation. This will lay the foundations for strong emotional connections between your brand and your customers, soon transforming into lifelong loyalty.
Outdoor apparel company Patagonia is an excellent example of a brand really living its values. The brand is firmly anchored in environmental activism, from its products and its company culture to its support of grassroots organisations across the globe. As a company dedicated to environmental causes, its new mission reads: “We’re in business to save the planet” – and this informs every aspect of their marketing strategy.
It’s good business to be a business that does good
Social responsibility can be a highly effective customer retention tool, not to mention a way using your brand power to give back to the world. Integrating authentic and meaningful social responsibility initiatives into customers’ direct experience with your brand gives you the power to stand out in today’s saturated market, connecting with your customers in a way that secures long-term loyalty.
To learn more about the strategies needed to deliver retention at every stage of the customer journey, check out our Shopify Plus Loyalty Bundle, complete with a webinar recording, helpful ebook and handy checklist!