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Rebecca Hilliard is an eCommerce expert with 12 years of experience working in the eCommerce industry for brands such as Jimmy Choo, French Connection, ME+EM, Mylands and This Works. I now support premium direct-to-consumer brands with their customer retention strategies to drive revenue, loyalty, and business profitability.

We discuss how often brands prioritise customer acquisition over customer retention, missing out on a more cost effective way to grow. Rebecca shares lessons that independent brands can take from the high street names that she has worked with, and the advantages smaller brands have such as being more agile and able to respond to trends.

Rebecca shares the different tools you can use to really understand how your customers behaviours on your website. We then discuss different methods for making your customer feel valued, and how to leverage this in your marketing.

Finally we dig into why customer retention  matters so much, and how to improve it. 

It’s a great, thought provoking episode, and a great one to listen to wherever you are in your product journey.

The Bring Your Product Idea to Life Podcast  – Best Business Podcast Award, Independent Podcast Awards 2023

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Transcript
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Welcome to the bring your product idea to Life podcast.

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This is the podcast for you if you're getting started selling products or if you'd

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like to create your own product to sell. I'm Vicki Weinberg, a product

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creation coach and Amazon expert. Every week I share friendly,

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practical advice as well as inspirational stories from small businesses.

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Let's get started.

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Hello. Today on the podcast, I'm speaking to Rebecca Hilliard.

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Rebecca is an ecommerce expert with twelve years of experience working in the

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ecommerce industry for brands such as Jimmy Choo, French Connection, Me

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and Em, and This Works. She now supports premium direct to consumer

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brands of their customer retention strategies to drive revenue loyalty

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and business profitability. We had a really great conversation

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that focused on the importance of retaining customers versus always looking

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for new ones. You've probably been told that you always have to be

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advertising and looking for new people to buy from your brand. But

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what Rebecca teaches us is that actually there's so much value in retaining

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customers and turning them into repeat customers. I thought this was

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really fascinating, really interesting. And of course it's something we all know, but how

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much attention do we pay for it to it? Becca has some great examples

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for all of us on ways that you can not just attract but also

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retain customers and encourage them to buy from you again and again.

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So, as I say, it's a really practical episode. There's a lot for you to

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think about here, for you to consider and then to go away in action. I

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really hope you enjoyed this episode with Rebecca.

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So hi Rebecca, thank you so much for being here. Hello.

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So can we start? If you please. Give an introduction to yourself, your business, your

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background and what it is that you do. Sure. So I've been working

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in the ecommerce industry for twelve years now. I've worked with brands such

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as Topshop, French Connection, Me and M, and more recently

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this works. I'm really passionate about the customer and great online

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experiences, so helping businesses

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with great products growth or loyalty is kind of my objective,

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if you like. And after working with brands over the years

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in house and in the consultancy capacity, it's definitely clear

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that brands, in terms of growth, want to

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kind of prioritize acquisition when in fact actually

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customer sort of retention. That piece is how you can

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profitably grow and it's far more sort of cost effective. And

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I had my daughter a few years ago, I'd always wanted to be my own

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boss and I was just like, now is the time if I'm

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ever going to work for myself. This is the kind of time. So now I've

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been freelance for a few years now and I'm helping sort of premium direct to

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consumer brands with their customer retention strategy

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and helping them grow through putting strategies together and

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supporting them on their implementation. Thank you. And I

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am so excited to talk about customer retention with you. Obviously

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it's a really important topic. What I'm really curious to know is, obviously you've

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got lots of experience working with some really big name brands. You mentioned Topshop and

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me and M, so like, big brands we all have heard of. So I'd love

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to know a little bit about your experience there and then whether there's anything that

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you've experienced or learned working with large brands that you feel that small

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businesses can learn from and perhaps emulate or do in their

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own way. Sure. So there's definitely a stark

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contrast when it comes to these bigger corporate brands versus the smaller

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ones. Early on in my career, I worked for some big

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high street brands. Typically the environment is a lot more formal.

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They've got set processes and it's very sort of hierarchical.

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And there's kind of what I found. I was definitely in a more junior role

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at that time, but there's a real lack of autonomy. Your roles are often

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very siloed, so days are very similar and it's

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very rinse and repeat. Definitely not as an agile type of

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business, and it takes so much longer to get anything signed off,

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so it's very slow moving. So that's what I've

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kind of found working with those brands. Most of my

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career has been now working with smaller and growing businesses,

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which I definitely prefer. The roles are

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usually a lot more fluid. You're wearing many hats. Even though I was an

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Ecom, I'm helping in the marketing function, sometimes being pulled into

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customer service, which I really like. Smaller brands I

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find a lot more exciting. And you definitely have a sort of broader

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range of responsibilities. You're working across departments I mentioned,

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and you just learn so much. And I'd say

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typically the role and the business itself is more

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agile. You can adapt quickly to different changes, be more

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reactive, and it's just when you're a part of that,

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seeing that business transform over time, it's really satisfying to see

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those results and knowing that you have sort of a greater

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impact and influence in what happens.

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That's really interesting. Thank you. It definitely sounds like there were

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ways in which a small business has an advantage, actually, in terms of being able

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to be a bit more agile, maybe able to implement change a bit

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quicker. When we're thinking about customers specifically. Are there

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any ways in which you think a small business has the advantage? Because I do

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know that as a small business owner, sometimes you'll look at the bigger brands

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who are doing maybe in a similar space to you and you just think, oh

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my gosh, how can I ever, I'll use the words

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compete, whether that's the right word or not, but how can I ever be what

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they are, do what they're doing? So I'd be really interested to know if you

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think there are any ways in which, when it comes to specifically to

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attracting and retaining customers, any ways in which a small business might actually have

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a bit of an advantage. I think it's

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just knowing your customers and a lot of these

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businesses, I think these larger corporate businesses, in my experience, I'm talking

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from my experience, they're putting kind of obviously the sales and

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business objectives, but a lot of them lack putting the customer at the

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really heart of the business strategy. It's very easy to compare

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with anything, but there's so many advantages, as you said, with

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smaller businesses, you can have that humanize

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the brand, be more personable, especially if you're a founder led business

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versus corporate. You can be the face of brand, reach out to your customers, make

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them feel special, make them feel heard. It's definitely advantage.

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I would say that makes sense. I guess what you're saying is you can actually,

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as a small business, you can actually get to know your customers and communicate with

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them on a more personal level. I would say so,

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yes. Yeah, I agree, actually. And I also think there's something about with a

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small business it's almost if you're willing to sort of be the face of your

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brand or share your story, I think there's that as well, isn't there? That I

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think I was having a conversation with someone yesterday about how with a small

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business you may connect to them a bit more because there might be something

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about the founder or the business that really resonates with you. And

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it can be a lot harder to feel like an emotional connection sometimes

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to some of the bigger brands. I agree with that.

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I think what I know and what I've kind of learned is that

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having that emotional connection is so important. There's so many brands

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you can shop for and having that brand story, having those

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usps and whatever your point of difference is, and then delivering

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on your promise, essentially, like the product you're selling works

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and you're delivering an amazing customer experience. People are going to want to buy into

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that and stay with you and stay loyal. Thank you.

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And before we talk more about the customer experience and some of the practical things

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we can think about, what do we need? Because you mentioned earlier that it's important

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to know your customer. What kind of things is it useful to know about your

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customers as a starting point? Because I'm assuming before we go into

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implementation, it's a good idea to think about who our customers

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are. Yeah, definitely. Yes. As I said, I think before

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anything, know who they are, because if you don't, it's just making life

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really difficult for yourself when you don't know your customers, who they

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are, what they like, how they like to shop with you, especially if you have

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in store and online experience, for example, what they

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like and how they like to hear from you, their preferences.

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It just makes your task so impossible. How would you ever be able to deliver

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that experience? So knowing those kind of core pieces of information will

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make your marketing strategy and your retention loyalty

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strategy so much easier to build out. So

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from a small business perspective, you have a lot of things at your

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disposal. So your e commerce platform, a lot of these businesses are on

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Shopify. Great sort of analytics reporting in there to kind

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of understand how customers are shopping with you,

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how they're interacting with your website and their sort of

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KPIs, for example. And you've got a free

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GA4 Suite for analytics as well, which you can integrate your site and

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so much value can come from those tools alone. And

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then you've got other sort of reporting tools such as slightly

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bigger brands, maybe with bigger budget, like Hot Jar, you

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can see heat maps, how people are interacting with your website. You

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can ask along the way, like how satisfied customers are with

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your experience. You've got Triple Whale and sweet analytics

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to really dig into what's happening. But

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usually I say the key things to know about the customer is their demographic,

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gender, age, status and kind

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of maybe income, where they are, so what country, and

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even within the country where they are buying habits, like their preferences, what

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channels they like to buy. And so

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Google, for example, you can really dig into the customer journey,

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what pages they're engaging with, how they're interacting

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with you, and you can really optimize the different touch points there. And

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you can understand through analytics as well their pain points, like what

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are the barriers to purchase on your website. And

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sort of even you're not categorically going to know why a customer doesn't come back

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without reaching out to them. So really asking for their feedback. And then

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you can understand sort of why they stay loyal with you, why they shop with

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you elsewhere or with your competitors and kind of understand their buying

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patterns in more detail. That's so useful. Thank you.

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And I think hopefully it's really reassuring for everyone to hear that you can

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find out a lot about your customer from the tools and things you're already

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using. I know, for example, on Shopify, you can

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see how someone found you as well, whether it's Google, whether it's

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Instagram, where people clicked through from. And I guess that kind of thing

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can really help you get a sense of who your customer is and where they're

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finding you. And then, as you said as well, there's obviously that benefit in reaching

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out to customers. I was having a conversation with someone yesterday who was

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talking about their returns rate and about how their returns rate was quite

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high. And I said, well, have you contacted those

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customers to ask why they're returning? And they said, oh, no, we just accept the

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return. And I'm not an expert in this at all. But even to me I

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thought, well, actually you're probably missing something there because if you ask people why they're

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returning, it might just be they don't understand what the product

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is or maybe there's something about when they get it, they don't know how to

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use it. It could be something so simple and just

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by improving that, you could obviously reduce your returns

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rate but also help your customer as well, because

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presumably they wanted whatever that you had to buy in the first place, they actually

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purchased it. So I think there's a lot to be said for actually

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sort of personally reaching out to people as well. Definitely to get

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that insight as well because it's maybe something to do with your product descriptions or

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imagery. You need video to kind of explain that product more.

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Or maybe if it's a fashion brand, for example, which typically has a higher

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return rate, say, than like a beauty brand, it's something

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there and you can kind of get a sense of really what's happening. And then

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obviously you don't want to be hemorrhaging that money by having to

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process returns. So getting that finesse three feedback is

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really important. Yeah, I think so too, because I was looking at it, like

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I say, I'm not an expert and person I was talking to, they were saying

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to me, why do you think this is? And I was saying, well, I could

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give you so many guesses, pretty good guesses. But actually

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if you take what I think and it's the wrong thing, you might end up

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making the wrong fix and putting your energy in the wrong place. So

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I think it can be a bit vulnerable, reaching out to customers, but I feel

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like they always would appreciate it. People love

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getting feedback. I think they really value that. That

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feedback loop is so important. People love talking about their experience,

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especially if it's like more of a negative one. They want to usually are quite

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receptive to things like that. So it's definitely worth implementing

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into a. Business process, I think so one

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thing when I had my product business, I noticed is that if somebody

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submitted a return which didn't happen too often, and I contacted them and said, I'm

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really sorry you feel you have to return this. Can I make it right? Nine

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times out of ten they then wouldn't leave a bad review. Not saying they would

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have left a bad review anyway, but something I really noticed is I got hardly

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any sort of negative reviews on the platforms I was selling on.

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And I do wonder there might not be a correlation,

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but I also think there possibly could be. There probably

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is. Because whilst for whatever reason, the product

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hasn't been what they've needed or there's something hasn't sat right, you

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reaching out has made that experience more positive

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for them. And whatever it is, you've resolved it or you've helped them to

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kind of get to the endpoint that they want to with that product. So I

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think there would definitely be a correlation there. Or maybe they also just

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want to vent as well. Sometimes when I look at reviews, I just think this

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person was just angry. There's that as

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well. This leads me on really nicely to my

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next question, which is what are some other things that we can do to

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make our customers feel valued and give them a great experience of our

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brands? Sure. So I would say from an online

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perspective, everything needs to be seamless. So from pre purchase,

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so your acquisition channels, so your paid media probably,

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and all the kind of channels which are driving to the website.

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On the website. It's a slick website, it's fast. The UX is amazing,

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especially mobile experience. And then obviously back to

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the data piece, understanding who they are so you can tailor your communications and your

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onsite experience accordingly. So I'd say that's

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something which is really important and then to kind of make them feel

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valued. So humanizing the brand, making it really

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personable and just making everything

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slick, I. Would say that makes sense. So just making sure

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that it's really easy for people to buy from you for your

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processes, that makes sense. Thank you. And what about when

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it comes to marketing our brands? Is there anything we can do there

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to help attract customers, retain customers?

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This is probably a set. This is a two part question. My other part of

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this question is what kind of marketing channels do we need to be when we

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talk about marketing, what kind of channels are we thinking about as

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well? Sure. So in terms of the data piece, the

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first step is just understanding what is going on. Smaller

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brands have that data, so they're really digging into kind of what's happening and then

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you can make really informed decisions about, okay, what are my next steps

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based off what's happening on my website? So I'd say a great

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experience on the website in terms of

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optimizations and I guess making them feel

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valued and unheard and feel special. So onsite

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experience from adding everything to your products,

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to the basket, all of that's really informative, high

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quality content, educational blog post, landing

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page, that kind of thing. Even functionality like loyalty

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programs. Or if you've got a product which is a perfect fit for subscriptions, that

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will be fantastic to kind of get people coming back

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and sort of twofold the data piece as

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well. Like looking at who these customer groups are, you probably have

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a really small group of high spenders who generate proportionately,

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a lot more than everyone else. Tell them

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they're the vips, make them feel special and

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reward them for shopping with you, whether it be a discount or a gift, a

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surprise and then a parcel, for example, as well, or even a personalized letter

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from the founder. I've had a few of those in my shopping experience and

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they just make things that much better. I guess from an

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email perspective, a lot of these small brands are on

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Shopify, so there's great integrations with things like Clavio for email and

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sms, having those automated flows set up in

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the background to reflect where you are on the shopping journey. So

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welcome flow first or second, order a brand

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basket, all that kind of thing. And then you're able to kind of cross sell

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them into complementary products or new products to get them to come

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back and shop. And you're then able on those channels as well

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to talk about your brand story, your usps, why

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you are better in your eyes than your

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competitors. And you can be so hyper targeted with the segment,

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giving them that relevant messaging. And I'd also say sort of

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customer service, the customer service channels via social media. A lot

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of people reach out or email phone if you've got live chat,

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making everything really seamless and helpful there and then

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with the social piece as well, organic social, that

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community brand building and engagement and

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pulling them, sort of growing that community there and turning them into

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customers that's really good. Thank you. I think that's all

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really useful, practical things that people can do, because I think it can

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be hard for a products business to think about how you can build

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like a community almost. And I think the brands that do

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it, do it really well. I've seen examples.

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Some examples I've seen is there's a brand, and I'm not going to name any

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brands that has a Facebook group with customers where they

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get this is what's the new products that are coming out, or here's a discount

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for being in the group and things like that. And I think things like that

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and making the customers feel like a connection with you are just so

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important. Yeah, we're not naming

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brands. There's a very good country lifestyle brand that's very

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famous, a UK based country brand, sort of

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country lifestyle brand are very well known, but they really leverage their

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social community. So Facebook generates a lot of revenue, those

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customers, because they have in person events,

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webinars, they send exclusive discounts and

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activations out to these people. And it's a real money maker

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from what I understand. So it sounds like there's lots of things that

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you could be doing. It's just thinking what would suit you as a business or

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a founder and the amount of time you want to put in.

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Definitely. And

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we spoke a little bit about this earlier. You touched on the fact that one

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thing you specialize in is customer retention.

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So why is it important to retain customers versus always

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looking for new ones? I assume that we obviously all do need some kind

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of new audience finding us. But

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why do you believe that the most important thing is retaining the customers that we

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have? Yeah. So in short, a repeat customer or an

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existing customer is far more beneficial for your bottom line.

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The simple fact is that repeat customers will generate more

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revenue for your business. They'll bring in higher profits, they

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usually will have a higher lifetime value. They're far cheaper

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to support on an ongoing basis than a new customer.

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So many reasons. Marketing efforts for repeat customers

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are more cost effective for you. So those retention things you have

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in place, rather than sticking lots of budget

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into meta as well, they'll buy more over time. They

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usually spend more pet orders. So you've got nice average order values there.

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You've got really positive word of mouth marketing, which is free,

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and they give you what we talked about earlier. So really great

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brand feedback. They'll love to talk in that feedback loop. So they

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can maybe highlight barriers to purchase and just really help

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you make great optimizations on your website.

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Real sort of community and sort of brand advocacy as

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well. And I guess from a commercial perspective, they're a lot

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easier to sell to. You can cross sell, upsell them new product

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launches. So yes, they're a brilliant thing to sort of

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optimize within your business. I'm absolutely convinced.

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Do we know why? Out of interest, you may not know

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the answer and it's absolutely fine. I'm just curious, do we know why people

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are more likely to spend more money with you if they've bought from you already?

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Is there any sort of science behind that? Well,

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I think in simple terms that once you've kind of got a customer, they're bought

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into your brand and then you've got them and then

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you're then probably retargeting them through email, which is

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targeting them through email, which you cheaper than, say,

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spending, I don't know, whatever the cost per click is or

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cost per acquisition numbers are via Facebook or

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Instagram, that kind of thing. But they're going to spend more over time

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with you and you're able to communicate with them.

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They keep having sort of more positive experiences with you.

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They're more likely to come back and if the products that you have are doing

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what you say they're going to do, they're going to keep buying into that and

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your, I guess, human emotional messaging as well.

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In very basic terms, that makes so much sense. And I think I'm just thinking

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of my own buying habits as well. And I think also there is an element

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of you like what you like and you become a bit of a creature of

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habits. So I'm thinking this probably applies to not

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all product categories, but definitely things like food and beauty. If you find

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a brand that you like or a product you like, I think a lot of

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us will just keep buying that same product if it's something

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that works for our skin or something we like to eat or whatever it is.

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And I know that will apply to other products as well, but

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yeah, I guess there is that too. And then when they, I think the brands

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that do it really well, I'm thinking that there are brands that I've been loyal

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to for a long time. And when they launch a new product, I'm like, oh,

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this will be good because the thing I'm already using is good. And

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in very simple terms, I guess there's an element of that as well, that you

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start to trust that brand because the more good experiences you've had, the more

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you're like, oh, my next experience will be good as well because the last ones

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have been. Well, exactly. You've used

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a beauty example there. So I would rather invest in a product I know

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that works. I don't have to faff about with returning it if it doesn't, rather

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than spending, I don't know, 50 pounds on a moisturizer, taking a pun or will

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it work than something I know I already have? So there's

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definitely a lot to be said within what you said there.

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And what are some practical ways? Because like I say, we are all convinced that

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this is what we need to be doing. Obviously, like I say, there's always going

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to be an element of needing to attract more people. Of course there is. But

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when we're thinking about keeping customers loyal, what are some of the things

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that we as small businesses need to be doing in order to do that?

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Because I'm assuming that we can set this in motion right

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from their first interactions with us. Definitely. There's so many

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things that can be done. So day in, day out. Now I'm sort of

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helping brands with their customer retention strategies

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to build that trust, to build that community engagement,

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to drive loyalty and repeat purchase, and ultimately

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to make more money and drive the revenue piece. If we're

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looking at your website, I say you've got a lot of

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data at your disposal there. Ensure your website is really easy to

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navigate. Everything should be sort of clear layout, intuitive

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menus, search should work

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accordingly. Humanize your brand so the brand storytelling, weaving

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your usps throughout the pages on your website

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and personalizing those sort of interactions with the customers

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there. I would say in terms of personalized, making

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this online experience personalized as well. So giving those customers

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data driven recommendations so we know you've bought x,

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you should buy Y because it works really well together. We know you

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like this category, so maybe you might like this

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functionality wise. I've talked about it, but a loyalty program

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works for a lot of businesses and it doesn't have to be discount driven, it

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can be cause driven. So if you're buying

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something, you're actually donating something to charity. For

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example, their subscriptions

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functionalities are fantastic to get that repeat purchase in as

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well. Content is king in my eyes. So creating

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really high quality content from your copy, imagery, video,

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educational content about your product and your

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brand story and I'd say on site as well, making

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customer service your priority. So live chat has been brilliant

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in helping people in real time with their problems

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with email and sms. I would say implementing those flows.

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If you've got Clavio, it's pretty straightforward

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to create different sort of journeys post purchase and

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even pre purchase and to help people sort of navigate their way

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and come back and purchase again with you based on what they've shopped

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with you before, what they purchased with you before, and what they've looked

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at and social. So creating conversations,

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getting those people to sort of buy into your brand

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versus the product, I would say the people

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who are doing it really well aren't selling products. They're

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selling the experience, the brand, on their social channels,

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especially on Instagram. TikTok's, I think a great sort

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of social channel, especially within

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its reach. There's so much opportunity. You see brands just really blowing up

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there because a lot of it's like founder and behind the scenes type

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content, but you're also able to do through that social and community building,

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like events, in person brand experiences as well, to really

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build that advocacy. Thank you so much. I

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think you've given us so many great ideas there. So I guess it's all

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about thinking what works for you as a business and doing what you can to

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make your customer feel special and valued. I guess that's

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part of all of this. Yeah, definitely.

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Well, thank you so much, everything you've shared. Rebecca, I've got one final question, if

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that's okay, and apologies in advance if this is a tough one,

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but what would your number one piece of advice be for a small

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business who wants to do what they can to make their customers feel

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special and loyal to them? That's a big

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question. I'd say in order to do

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anything, you need to know who your customer is. If

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you don't know who your customer is, you don't know how to speak to them.

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You don't know what channel to speak to them on. So I'd say at the

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very core of everything, the foundational step one, knowing that

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data that we talked about earlier in this conversation is key. And then you

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can make really informed decisions about what channels you

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speak to them on, how you speak to them and when to speak to them.

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That's brilliant advice. Thank you so much. Rebecca, thank you.

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Thank you so much for listening. Right to the end of this episode, do remember

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that you can get the fullback catalogue and lots of free resources on my website,

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vickyweinberg.com. Please do remember to rate and review this

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episode if you've enjoyed it, and also share it with a friend who you think

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might find it useful. Thank you again and see you next week.