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10 ways retailers track repeat customers that you can implement now

(MARKETING) Small business owners can use the same identification methods as larger counterparts for their customers – potentially to greater effect.

outside trafficking service retail foot traffic customers

Since their inception, retail outlets have been tracking repeat customers. Some of their methods require large doses of patience on the part of the customer — something you can’t always count on — while others are as simple as entering a 10-digit number and looking for a match. Luckily, your small business can take advantage of these same techniques to ensure customer retention!

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Before delving into the “how”, however, consider a couple of things: the simple methods are often the best — especially in this context — and, similarly, the more effort your customers have to put into signing up for your tracking endeavors, the less likely they are to participate.

How to track your custies

With that in mind, here’s our guide on how to track your repeat customers in the least creepy ways possible!

1. Phone number
Exactly what it sounds like. This is probably the easiest (and most hassle-free) way to track your customers since both you and the customer can enter it (via your computer or the card scanner, respectively), and pretty much anyone regardless of age has one.

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You can also ask for a name along with the number to verify if you deem it necessary—doing so will make it easier to identify new members of a family shopping under the same 10 digits.

2. Email address
A safe alternative for those worried about ending up on a call list. While it takes longer to input and verify, the moral majority of customers will feel safe giving you their secondary email address. The impact on their personal life is minimal, and it’s easy to send a survey their way every once in a while to ensure retention.

Again, you can plug this into your computer or ask a customer to do so if you have one of those fancy touchscreen card readers (and if you don’t, treat yo’self—it’s time to upgrade).

3. Card number
A less-safe alternative for the technologically paranoid. While you can easily corroborate a card number and a customer purchase record, there are two glaring issues: one, your customers may pay cash, thereby negating your process; and two, tightening security restrictions and their accompanying liability risks make this an unattractive option.

Nevertheless, the right software should take care of this for you.

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4. Geofencing apps
If your customers are willing to fulfill two bits of criteria — having a smartphone and downloading your app — then using a customized geofencing app is a quick and easy way to target your repeat customers. Keep in mind, though, that downloading an app may be too much effort for some people.

I’d love to tell you I’m joking.

5. Mobile apps
Kind of the same as the geofencing apps, except with a little more autonomy on the part of the customer. Make sure your app has a QR code and have your customers present said app at checkout.

Still not the best way to appeal to a large consumer base, but a store-specific app is a little less intrusive with push notifications than a geofencing app.

6. Loyalty cards
In a lot of ways, having a loyalty card is the best way to make this system work equally for you and the customer: you reap the financial benefits of customer retention, and your customers get special in-store deals and discounts.

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Again, though, the initial sign-up process and the act of entering a number (or swiping the card) each time they hit the register might be too much of a hassle for some customers. Make sure your employees are really pushing the loyalty card at checkout, and be prepared to dish out some really sweet deals; if your business isn’t financially equipped to do so, you might want to stick to just taking down a phone number.

7. Voucher codes
Similar to the loyalty card approach. You might consider assigning a tag to each customer with a custom 6-digit number or a bar code, though—doing so will remove the annoying sign-up process, and frequent shoppers will likely memorize their respective codes after a couple of subsequent visits.

8. Wifi tracking
Providing your customers with free Wi-Fi accomplishes two goals: it makes you the coolest store on the block (like soccer-mom-who-brought-Gushers cool), and it allows you to track your returning customers’ MAC addresses (less to do with Gushers, but equally cool).

If you’ve got the right software, you might even be able to broadcast deals or incentives on the wifi login page.

9. ZIP code
“Postcode” if you aren’t in the United States. Ask customers to give you their ZIP codes, then enter their answers into your work station — it’s as simple as that.

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You can stop the buck there if you’re simply trying to gather regional statistics, or you can ask for their name (first and last would be preferable) to match it with their ZIP. Even though there’s an extra step here, asking for a ZIP code is arguably less personal than asking for a card number or the like.

10. Facial recognition
Not exactly the least obvious answer here, and definitely not the least expensive. If you want to go for facial recognition, you’ll need to fork out for the appropriate software and hardware. This approach will probably work better for small businesses with a few high-profile clients than it will for those with a steady daily stream of customers.

Accompanying 1984-themed “Big Brother is Watching” posters will likely be sold separately.

You’ve got options

The way you approach customer identification will depend on a variety of limiting factors — your budget, your desire to protect your customers’ privacy, your company culture — but at least one of these techniques should work for your business, regardless of size or technological limitations.

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Best of luck to you in your omnipresent endeavors, everyone.

Jack Lloyd has a BA in Creative Writing from Forest Grove's Pacific University; he spends his writing days using his degree to pursue semicolons, freelance writing and editing, oxford commas, and enough coffee to kill a bear. His infatuation with rain is matched only by his dry sense of humor.

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