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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.

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Business News

Corporate-franchise relationships: How has COVID affected them?

(BUSINESS NEWS) Being a part of a franchise has made sense for a long time for both the corporation and the franchisee, but the long stretch of COVID is adding complications.

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A franchise cup on a wooden table.

Americans love a franchise. We love knowing that every Dunkin Donuts iced coffee will taste the same as it did 3 states away – and every McDonald’s snack wrap will meet our expectations.

Franchises rose in popularity after World War II, and the corporate-franchise relationship since has generally been a happy one – that is, until COVID-19.

What’s their relationship?

Franchises are easier to start than a small business from scratch. You receive a business playbook and brand loyalty from corporate – if the business at large is doing well, chances are your franchise will mirror that. No need for independent advertising!

From the franchises, corporate gets an upfront fee and ongoing royalties. (For a McDonalds franchise, that’s $45k and 4% of monthly gross sales, respectively.)

Basically, it’s win-win. Both parties are happy.

Pandemic strain

The pandemic has shrunk margins across most industries, and the chain hotels, restaurants and services have been hit hard. As a result, corporate is adding more costs for franchisees, such as big cleaning bills and promotional discounts to bring back some revenue during COVID.

However, with corporate still taking the same amount from the franchises every month, these newly instated policies threaten to drive some stores into the ground – and franchisees are fighting back.

“I get that franchising isn’t a democracy,” said a Subway franchisee, who objected to the unprofitable “2-Subs-for-$10” promotion that corporate was pushing for. “But at the same time, it’s not a dictatorship.”

What I see here is corporate greed at work; they need to keep their margins up in a sinking economy, so they’re looking to the pockets of their franchisees to make up for that lost dough.

The pandemic has not been easy on any business (with the exception, of course, of Amazon, Facebook, and Tesla, which is a whole other story). However, that’s the draw of being connected to corporate – you are tied to something bigger than your individual store, and will thus stay afloat as long as they do. It’s a big reason why many opt for starting a franchise as opposed to starting their own, independent small business.

I’m glad to see individuals fighting back against corporate policies that don’t benefit them. They held up their side of the bargain – let’s see if corporate can continue to hold up theirs.

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Business News

What to do if you think you have been wrongfully terminated

(BUSINESS NEWS) Being fired hurts, but especially if you were wrongfully terminated. Here is what you can do if you need to take action.

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Stressed man staring at computer after being wrongfully terminated.

While there are plenty of ways an employer can legally fire an employee, there’s also a long list of unethical and illegal methods. If you suspect you’ve been wrongfully terminated from your job, it’s imperative that you fight back.

Common Signs of Wrongful Termination

Research shows that around 150,000 people are unjustly fired every year in the United States. That’s more than 410 people per day – roughly 17 people per hour. Here are some common signs that you’re a victim:

  • Violation of written rules or promises. The vast majority of employment is known as “at-will” employment. This means you may be fired at any time for any reason (so long as the reason is not illegal). However, if there’s a written statement or contract that implies job security, then you’re probably not an at-will employee. Review all of your employment documents to see what sort of language exists around the topic of termination.
  • Discrimination. It doesn’t matter if you’re an at-will employee or not, employers can never fire someone based on discrimination. It’s illegal – point blank, period. If you suspect you’ve been fired because of your color, race, gender, nationality, sexual orientation, disability, age, religion, or pregnancy, discrimination could be to blame.
  • Breach of good faith. Employers are known to breach good faith when they do things like mislead employees regarding their chances for promotions; fabricate reasons for firing; transfer or fire an employee to prevent the collection of sales commissions; and other similar situations.

Every situation is different, but these three signs are clear indicators that you have a potential wrongful termination claim. How you proceed will determine what happens next.

How to Respond to a Wrongful Termination

Emotions tend to run high when you’re fired from a job. Whether you loved the job or not, it’s totally normal to run a little hot under the collar upon being wrongfully terminated. But how you handle the first several hours and days will determine a lot about how this situation unfolds. Now is not the time to fly off the handle and say or do something you’ll regret. Instead, take a diplomatic response that includes steps like:

1. Gather Evidence

Wrongful termination cases are usually more complicated than they first appear on the surface. It’s important that you focus on gathering as much evidence as you possibly can. Any information or documentation you collect will increase your chances for a successful outcome. This may include emails, screenshots, written contracts and documentation, voicemails, text messages, and/or statements from coworkers.

On a related note, remember that your former employer will be doing the same thing (if a claim is brought). Be on your best behavior and don’t let your emotions get the best of you. Avoid venting to coworkers or firing off short, snappy emails to your former boss. As the saying goes, anything you say or do can and will be used against you.

2. Hire an Attorney

Don’t try to handle your wrongful termination case on your own. Hire an experienced lawyer who specializes in situations like yours. This will give you a much better chance of obtaining a successful outcome.

3. Get Legal Funding

If you’re like most victims of wrongful termination, you find yourself with no immediate source of income. This can make it difficult to pay your bills and stay financially solvent in the short term. An employment lawsuit loan could help bridge the gap.

As Upfit Legal Funding explains, “Wrongful termination lawsuit loans provide the necessary financial assistance they need to reach a settlement. This funding helps cover basic living costs until the plaintiff is able to get assistance from their settlement.”

The best thing about these loans is that you only have to repay them if there’s a successful outcome. In other words, if the claim gets thrown out or denied, you owe nothing.

4. File the Proper Paperwork

Work closely with your attorney to make sure that your complaints and claims are filed with the appropriate regulatory agencies (and that you meet the required deadlines). Depending on the type of claim, there are different groups that oversee the complaint and can help you move in the proper direction.

Adding it All Up

Getting fired is serious business. And while there are plenty of legal reasons for being terminated from a job, it’s worth exploring what’s actually going on behind the scenes. If it’s found that your employer stepped out of line, you’ll be compensated in an appropriate manner. This won’t typically help you get your job back, but it can provide some financial rectification.

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Business News

Everyone should have an interview escape plan

(BUSINESS NEWS) A job interview should be a place to ask about qualifications but sometimes things can go south – here’s how to escape when they do.

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interview from hell

“So, why did you move from Utah to Austin?” the interviewer asked over the phone.

The question felt a little out of place in the job interview, but I gave my standard answer about wanting a fresh scene. I’d just graduated college and was looking to break into the Austin market. But the interviewer wasn’t done.

“But why Austin?” he insisted, “There can’t be that many Mormons here.”

My stomach curled. This was a job interview – I’d expected to discuss my qualifications for the position and express my interest in the company. Instead, I began to answer more and more invasive questions about my personal life and religion. The whole ordeal left me very uncomfortable, but because I was young and desperate, I put up with it. In fact, I even went back for a second interview!

At the time, I thought I had to put up with that sort of treatment. Only recently have I realized that the interview was extremely unprofessional and it wasn’t something I should have felt obligated to endure.

And I’m not the only one with a bad interview story. Slate ran an article sharing others’ terrible experiences, which ranged from having their purse inspected to being trapped in a 45-minute presentation! No doubt, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to mistreatment by potential employers.

So, why do we put up with it?

Well, sometimes people just don’t know better. Maybe, like I was, they’re young or inexperienced. In these cases, these sorts of situations seem like they could just be the norm. There’s also the obvious power dynamic: you might need a job, but the potential employers probably don’t need you.

While there might be times you have to grit your teeth and bear it, it’s also worth remembering that a bad interview scenario often means bad working conditions later on down the line. After all, if your employers don’t respect you during the interview stage, it’s likely the disrespect will continue when you’re hired.

Once you’ve identified an interview is bad news, though, how do you walk out? Politely. As tempting as it is to make a scene, you probably don’t want to go burning bridges. Instead, excuse yourself by thanking your interviewers, wishing them well, and asserting that you have realized the business wouldn’t be a good fit.

Your time, as well as your comfort, are important! If your gut is telling you something is wrong, it probably is. It isn’t easy, but if a job interview is crossing the line, you’re well within your rights to leave. Better to cut your losses early.

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