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10 ways big retailers track repeat customers (and your small biz can, too)

(MARKETING NEWS) Did you know that small business owners can use the same customer identification methods as larger counterparts—and potentially to greater effect?

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outside trafficking service retail foot traffic customers

Earning repeat business

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

#TrackCustomers

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.

Business News

Hobby Lobby increases minimum wage, but how much is just to save face?

(BUSINESS NEWS) Are their efforts to raise their minimum wage to $17/hour sincere, or more about saving face after bungling pandemic concerns?

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Hobby Lobby storefront

The arts-and-crafts chain Hobby Lobby announced this week that they will be raising their minimum full-time wage to $17/hour starting October 1st. This decision makes them the latest big retailer to raise wages during the pandemic (Target raised their minimum wage to $15/hour about three months ago, and Walmart and Amazon have temporarily raised wages). The current minimum wage for Hobby Lobby employees is $15/hour, which was implemented in 2014.

While a $17 minimum wage is a big statement for the company (even a $15 minimum wage cannot be agreed upon on the federal level) – and it is no doubt a coveted wage for the majority of the working class – it’s difficult to not see this move as an attempt to regain public support of the company.

When the pandemic first began, Hobby Lobby – with more than 900 stores and 43,000 employees nationwide – refused to close their stores despite being deemed a nonessential business (subsequently, a Dallas judge accused the company of endangering public health).

In April, Hobby Lobby furloughed almost all store employees and the majority of corporate and distribution employees without notice. They also ended emergency leave pay and suspended the use of company-provided paid time off benefits for employees during the furloughs – a decision that was widely criticized by the public, although the company claims the reason for this was so that employees would be able to take full advantage of government handouts during their furlough.

However, the furloughs are not Hobby Lobby’s first moment under fire. The Oklahoma-based Christian company won a 2014 Supreme Court case – the same year they initially raised their minimum wage – that granted them the right to deny their female employees insurance coverage for contraceptives.

Also, Hobby Lobby settled a federal complaint in 2017 that accused them of purchasing upwards of 5,000 looted ancient Iraqi artifacts, smuggled through the United Arab Emirates and Israel – which is simultaneously strange, exploitative, and highly controversial.

Why does this all matter? While raising their minimum wage to $17 should be regarded as a step in the right direction regarding the overall treatment of employees (and, hopefully, $17 becomes the new standard), Hobby Lobby is not without reason to seek favorable public opinion, especially during a pandemic. Yes, we should be quick to condone the action of increasing minimum wage, but perhaps be a little skeptical when deeming a company “good” or “bad”.

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Business News

RIP office culture: How work from home is destroying the economy

(BUSINESS NEWS) It’s not just your empty office left behind: Work from home is drastically changing cities’ economies in more ways than you think.

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An empty meeting room, unfilled by work from home employees.

It’s been almost six months since the U.S. went into lockdown due to COVID-19 and the CDC’s subsequent safety guidelines were issued – it’s safe to say that it is not business as usual. Everyone from restaurant waitstaff to start-up executives have been affected by the shift to work-from-home. Even as restrictions slowly begin to lift, it seems as though the office workspace – regarded as the vital venue for the U.S. economy – will never truly be the same.

Though economists have been focusing largely on small businesses and start-ups, we are only just beginning to understand the impact that not going back into the white-collar office will have on the economy.

The industries that support white-collar office culture in major cities have become increasingly emaciated. The coffee shops, food trucks, and food delivery companies that catered to the white-collar workforce before, during, and after their workday, are no longer in high demand (Starbucks reported a loss of $2 billion this year, which they attribute to Zoomification). Airlines have also been affected as business travel typically accounts for 60%-70% of all air travel.

Also included are high-end hotels, which accommodate the traveling business class. Pharmacies, florists, and gyms located in business districts have become ghost towns. Office supplies companies, such as Xerox, have suffered. Workwear brands such as J. Crew and Brooks Brothers have filed for bankruptcy, as there is no longer a need to dress for the office.

In Manhattan – arguably the country’s most notorious white-collar business mecca – at least 1,200 restaurants have been permanently lost. It is also is predicted that the one-third of all small businesses will close.

Additionally, the borough is facing twice as many apartment vacancies as this time last year, due to the flight of workers no longer tied to midtown offices. Workers have realized their freedom to seek more affordable and spacious residence outside the city. As companies decentralize from cities and rent prices drop, it isn’t all bad news. There is promise that particular urban white-collar neighborhoods will start to become accessible to the working class once again.

Some companies, like Pinterest and REI, are reporting that their shift to work from home is in fact permanent. The long-term effects of deserted office buildings are yet to make themselves evident. What we do know is that the decline of the white-collar office will force us to reimagine the great American cities – with so much lost due to the coronavirus, what can now be gained?

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Business News

2020 Black Friday shopping may break the mold

(BUSINESS NEWS) Home Depot states their new plan for deals and discounts over two months, in place of a 1-day Black Friday event.

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Men shopping in an empty aisle, Black Friday to come?

Humans change and adapt – that’s just in our nature. Retail stores have struggled to maintain their sales goals for years as more and more people move to ordering online. Online prices still seem to be within customer expectations and often come with free shipping. Additionally, people that may have preferred to shop in an actual brick-and-mortar store have changed their shopping habits dramatically in 2020; it’s hard to social distance and be safe in crowded stores or in small aisles. Black Friday may be next to change.

Amazon and other big box store’s online ordering platforms have simplified getting what you need delivered right to your front door. According to Statista, “Amazon was responsible for 45% of US e-commerce spending in 2019 – a figure which is expected to rise to 47% in 2020.”

Retailers count on the holiday season, specifically Black Friday deals (the day after Thanksgiving), to bring in up to 20% of their annual revenue. It’s hard to just remove that option completely. But considering the times of social distancing, wearing masks in public, and especially avoiding large crowds, the tradition of Black Friday will need to look different this year.

It will also be interesting to see what supply chain disruptions from early 2020 will have the most effect this shopping season. We saw predictions in March that said the United States would see the biggest disruptions in about six months. Black Friday falls right on that timeline.

Home Depot has announced their plans to go ahead and give the deals over a two month span, starting in early November through December (both online and in stores with the possibility of adding some special deals around the actual Black Friday date) to help encourage a more steady stream of shoppers versus so many packing in on the same day.

The home improvement chain has actually seen a great sales year. This is likely due to people working from home and being interested in doing more home projects (and possibly having a bit more time to do them as well). As of May 2020, “The Home Depot®, the world’s largest home improvement retailer, today reported sales of $28.3 billion for the first quarter of fiscal 2020, a 7.1 percent increase from the first quarter of fiscal 2019. Comparable sales for the first quarter of fiscal 2020 were positive 6.4 percent, and comparable sales in the U.S. were positive 7.5 percent.”

Home Depot, along with many other retailers like Walmart, Target, and Best Buy have confirmed that they will be closed on Thanksgiving Day, which may not be new for all of them but has always signaled the kickoff of the holiday shopping season.

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