Sometimes it seems that we spend more time thinking about social media than about the buying and selling that are the basic activities of retailing. But in a recent blog and video for museums and cultural centers, Colleen Dilenschneider argues that “content is not king” (quoting Bill Gates) — connectivity is also key.

In the case of a museum, theater or other cultural institution, connectivity means engaging with your audience. Having a significant collection of historic or natural artifacts is not important if you don’t succeed in making anyone want to come see them. In the world of retail, connectivity refers to bringing potential shoppers into the store, and then building customer relationships that extend beyond a single sales transaction.

Why is this important? Because you need to cultivate a relationship in order to build loyalty and the desire to become a repeat customer.  If you only focus on the “content” — in our case, the merchandise and displays — you may miss the many ways that connections can be built.  In order to truly thrive, a store needs to build up a base of regular customers who love the business.

The first step towards making someone come back is of course to make sure that their shopping experience a positive one, starting with a pleasant greeting and ending with a sincere thank you.  Having what the customer wants (or expects to find) in stock is also part of customer service, as my husband and business partner Dean has often pointed out.  Efficient check-out procedures and attractive gift packaging also contribute to making shoppers happy.

Going beyond this to build an ongoing connection can be as low-tech as learning the customer’s name and preferences.  That kind of person-to-person connectivity is golden.  We also use a preferred customer program that captures the customer’s email address and birthday (without the year, of course), so we are able to send periodic directed email blasts, and to invite each customer to come in during their birthday month for a special gift.  Other stores send out gift certificates for customer birthdays, or as rewards to their top customers. Taking special orders for customers, and following up on them in a timely manner, is also a good way to make a connection.  

You’ll want to get as many of your customers as possible to like you on Facebook, and follow you on Twitter and Instagram. Celebrate your customers, with their permission, by using Instagram or Facebook to post photos of special purchases.  Invite shoppers to give you their feedback on products you are considering ordering. Periodically pose a question in your Facebook feed inviting consumer response.  

All of these are ways to make your customers feel connected. Because customers who feel a connectivity want to help make your store successful. Hopefully they will do so by coming in frequently themselves, and also recommending your business to their friends.

Happy Retailing,

Carol “Orange” Schroeder