Today’s shoppers are relationship-driven, favoring brands that bring value and meaning to their lives. Products have become increasingly commoditized as their availability has swelled; shoppers now carry the world’s product catalog with them anywhere they go through the smartphones in their pockets and purses. Imagine having that many products available to peruse and buy — instantly — back in the days of Sears and J.C. Penney catalogs.

Retailers and brands can’t compete on catalog size and convenience alone. Relationships and experiences are now key differentiators in the modern era of shopping.

To get to the bottom of what consumers really want in this landscape of mass commoditization, we conducted new research through a 6,000-consumer survey and an evaluation of 1.4 billion ecommerce site visits. We compiled our findings in the new Shopper-First Retailing report.

We discovered three key components that make the shopper relationship more meaningful and relevant:

  • Personalization

  • Loyalty

  • Values

Here’s a quick preview of how retailers and brands can bring these three strategies to life.


Grow relevancy with personalization and AI


In the quest for understanding customers better and building more substantial customer relationships, personalization —  via machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) — is already having a measurable impact.

While just six percent of digital shoppers click AI-powered product recommendations on ecommerce sites, those same shoppers account for a staggering 37% of revenue. This alone demonstrates the outsized impact personalization can have on driving purchase behaviors.

Personalization can take many forms beyond “you might also like” recommendations, both digitally and in-store: personalized search results, localized product suggestions when exploring a retailer’s app, and store associates using a shopper’s past purchase history to offer new items to try on. Additionally, personalization works for generating long-term customer loyalty: 84% of shoppers who took advantage of personalized offers said they’d like to receive them again.

However personalization is put to work, it makes the shopper’s experience more relevant and tells shoppers, “We’re listening.” In an environment where 64% of consumers say they don’t feel retailers truly know them, that level of listening is important.


Drive loyalty, win shoppers


Loyalty programs have evolved from the days of accruing hundreds of points to earn impersonal perks. Best-in-class loyalty programs aren’t just about earning rewards; they are about thanking your best shoppers with unique experiences and service. In some cases, these loyalty programs cross into membership territory, proving to be so valuable that customers would be willing to pay for them. Case in point: Amazon now has 100 million Prime subscribers.

In our mystery shopping study, nine of the ten top-scoring stores had clear evidence of a loyalty program displayed throughout the store. Sixty-six percent of shoppers overall said they’d be more likely to buy from brands and retailers that offer a loyalty program. That number jumps to 72% for Millennials and Gen Z and 68% for Gen Y.




Integrate values with marketing


Values-centric messaging is increasingly part of a brand’s appeal. Through involvement in local communities, charitable donations, and sustainable practices, retailers and brands can use their marketing to align with who shoppers really are and what they care about.

In our survey, 45% of customers said they’d be more likely to buy from a brand or retailer that donates a portion of its purchase proceeds to charity. Among Millennials and Gen Z, this number jumps even higher to 55%.


Searching for inspiration? Lifestyle apparel brand Life is Good donates 10% of all net profits to the Life is Good Kids Foundation and links to the foundation throughout its ecommerce site. Everlane promotes “radical transparency” as a core business value, openly sharing details about product labor costs, water recycling efforts, and more. In addition to donating all proceeds from its Charity Pot lotion, Lush has hosted in-store demonstrations to support animal welfare and sustainability.

It’s no secret that retailers and brands now face a massively changed — and challenging — landscape. New rules apply. To compete and win every generation of shoppers, departments and executives must come together with one goal in mind: to put shoppers first. Giving the shopper relationship meaning is core to that mission. For more insights on how to build meaningful relationships with your target audience, download the Shopper-First Retailing report.