With lucrative back-to-school shopping just around the corner, many apparel retailers are wondering how to capture new sales and engage current customers. A Google news search for “apparel retail” returns countless marketing suggestions on how apparel retailers can maximize sales. Some marketing experts recommend that brands grow their presence on social media sites. Others recommend offering in-store shopping help via smartphones. Aggressive promotions, others say, are the only thing that can attract customers to buy from apparel stores. Although these approaches are attractive for novelty-seekers, our customer satisfaction feedback research shows that most apparel customers are looking a far more traditional form of customer care: Trust.

 

Our current Most Engaged Customers study researched 67 companies in 15 sectors. We established Customer Engagement levels for each brand by using a five-point agree/disagree scale to evaluate customer loyalty/retention, willingness to expend extra effort to do business with a brand, likelihood to recommend a certain company to family and friends, and passion for doing business with a certain company. Overall, we found that 51% of customers are engaged with the brands they do business with. It’s important for brands to have a successful Customer Engagement strategy because customer engagement is tied to important business indicators such as share price and profit growth.

Ten of the companies we studied are apparel retailers. Compared to other sectors, apparel customers are slightly less engaged—49% of them are engaged with the brands they do business with. Our research found that all companies can increase Customer Engagement by creating a compelling offer and providing authentic and consistent customer care. Specifically for apparel retailers, trust is the “hot button” issue that can make the biggest difference for customer engagement—and thereby boost overall sales.

Return procedures influence apparel customer trust levels. Clothing, accessories, and footwear retailers can show customers that they trust them by making it easy to return items. A couple of quotes from our survey participants highlight the importance of the return policy in establishing customer trust:

“My friend returned an item and they asked only basic questions and didn’t ‘grill’ her about the problem. She is a loyal customer also and I was truly impressed by the way they handled the situation.” (Ann Taylor Customer)

“Just is my impression that they want you to be happy. My mom got a shirt for a gift that was an awful color for her. The gals at Chico’s went out of their way to help my mom find something that was just right for her. They were of utmost help even though my mom didn’t have a gift receipt.”

In addition to increasing customers’ trust, boosting employee effort can differentiate apparel brands and result in positive customer satisfaction feedback. When employees “go the extra mile” for customers, they are expending extra effort to make things right. Effort is an important factor for all businesses, but it is especially important in the apparel retail section, as it is the lowest performing dimension of Customer Engagement for this sector.

A strong Customer Engagement strategy for apparel retailers should include a Voice of the Employee program to help leaders cut down on the turnover endemic to this industry. When employees know they could be leaving a company soon, they have little incentive to spend extra effort in helping customers. By learning more about their employees with a Voice of the Employee program, apparel retailers can distinguish their service from competitors and enjoy higher Customer Engagement.

 

[photo: epSos .de]