The retail industry contains various seasonal fluctuations, with some periods far busier than others. During the slower season, which we’re embarking into now, many retailers may face a significant decline in foot traffic and sales.

This is exacerbated today, with tens of thousands of retailers forced to navigate the challenges presented by global economic pressures. Rising interest rates, mounting cost of living pressures, and sky-high inflation have made Australian consumers more cautious and considered in their spending habits. How then can retailers stay relevant?

Ultimately, retailers that have their customers at the heart of their business strategy can alleviate the impacts of slower, potentially more challenging periods. So instead of seeing this slower season as a time to ‘survive’, retailers should treat it as an opportunity to improve customer relationships. One of the most effective tools to achieve this is a CRM (customer relationship management) system.

Enhancing your customer relationships online

In times when business activity may be slower, it is essential to maintain strong relationships with existing customers. After all, it costs anywhere from five to seven times more to acquire a new customer than it does to retain an existing one. Thanks to mass digital transformation in the past few years, successful retailers have been engaging with their customers where they are most active: online – and they should continue doing so. Now then, is a time for retailers to truly focus on incentivising loyalty amongst their existing customer base.

Consistent and authentic online engagement not only gives retailers a chance to update customers on their new products, campaigns or corporate developments, but it also enables retailers to stay top of mind. However, it is equally as important for retailers to demonstrate that they understand and value customers’ habits and preferences. Through a CRM platform, retailers can determine the best channels, timing, and messaging to engage with each customer and target them with automated, personalised marketing. A customer-centric approach makes your shoppers feel understood and valued, and more likely to transact with you as a result.

The power of data

Data, today, is the lifeblood of all successful businesses. Faced with the far-from-straightforward task of maintaining sustainable growth in testing times, retailers must identify ways to get more out of their CRM. If their ecommerce store is the online shop window, a CRM is the equally-important stock room and back office. Data within the CRM is invaluable and, when understood and used effectively, can drive insightful and effective retail strategies.

CRM software with advanced AI and BI (artificial intelligence and business intelligence), like Zoho CRM, allows retailers to collect, store, analyse and visualise data, then market shoppers with specific communications that recognise their habits and preferences. Personalisation today is a must-have for consumers. A CRM system with this extensive data access is more than customer records, it’s a real-time, insight-driven hub that enables retailers to second-guessing into strategy. Ensure your software has privacy and security built in, that you maintain good habits, communicate with your customers about data collection and have a defined, documented and enforced privacy policy.

A unified approach to CRM

Consumers’ needs change rapidly and it’s more important than ever for brands to keep up with these evolving needs and provide shoppers with unified experiences. Without a CRM, a truly unified experience is harder to provide. Better customer experience begins by aligning all teams and processes and ensuring they deliver an exceptional experience to every customer across all stages of their lifecycle. When retailers and their teams approach different channels with different strategies, they create silos and lose the consistency that is so important for omni channel retailers and contemporary shoppers. Crucially, data cannot flow, so retailers cannot determine how to treat different shoppers. This hurts their ability to drive customer retention. 

Retailers must ensure they are using a CRM system that unifies marketing, sales, and customer support teams and provides them with the proper tool sets. A unified approach is built on automation, which removes administrative burdens and allows retailers to spend more time working on their business, driving acquisition and retention and focusing on their longer-term strategy.

While economic pressures are intensifying and peak retail season may feel like an eternity away,  retailers should use this period constructively to master their CRM, segment their customers and devise the data-driven strategies that enable them to turn bad months into good months and good months into great months.

Vijay Sundaram is chief strategy officer at Zoho.