This interview is part of our Moving Forward Blog Series, where we ask major brands how they’re adapting to changing consumer expectations from a loyalty perspective post-pandemic.
Grocery is a retail area that has always been challenging.
In fact, just 1% of consumers said that they were loyal to a single retail grocery location.
Add on top of that rapidly changing consumer behavior due to COVID-19 and things get even more difficult for grocers.
So, how can grocery brands build a loyalty customer base post-pandemic?
We caught up with Emily Mikus, Director of Loyalty & Shopper Marketing, The GIANT Company, to find out what her company’s plans are from a loyalty and customer behavioral perspective.
Founded in 1923 in Carlisle, PA, The GIANT Company has 186 stores (inclusive of GIANT, MARTIN’S, and GIANT Heirloom Market) in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia.
Here’s what Emily had to say about:
- What’s most important to grocery shoppers post-pandemic.
- How consumer behaviors have changed and how to address that.
- What her team is doing from a loyalty perspective.
Jim Tierney: How have customer behavior and expectations changed during the pandemic?
Emily Mikus: We’ve seen our customers exhibit a shift in what’s most important to them, with customers now prioritizing health and safety in much greater way than ever before. The result has been a behavioral trend resulting in fewer visits, but bigger baskets when visiting.
We’ve also seen an increase in engagement with e-commerce, both in terms of pick-up and delivery. In some cases, we also saw some customers begin shopping at other stores that they may not have normally shopped pre-COVID, particularly those with smaller footprints and less traffic, to mitigate risk and exposure to the virus.
Jim: Consumers have found new behaviors during the pandemic. How do you think these new behaviors will impact The GIANT Company now and after the pandemic?
Emily: New behaviors afford us the opportunity to connect with families in new and/or different ways. One such example is the increase of cooking and baking at home since the pandemic. In response, we have placed even more emphasis on meal solutions than ever before.
We’re dedicating more equity to meal solutions both offline (like in our circular) and online (like posting videos of our Nutritionists sharing meal ideas and tips).
At The GIANT Company, we’re continually seeking ways to deepen our relationships with customers. One way we’re doing this is by providing relevant solutions that help families connect at home.
Jim: Listening to your customers is a top priority. How has that changed, if at all, during the pandemic?
Emily: The importance of listening to our customers hasn’t changed, but how our customers choose to engage and share feedback with us has.
As customers sheltered-in-place, we saw digital engagement spike more than 40% compared to the pre-COVID timeframe. In response, we expanded the number of team members dedicated to responding to our customers in social channels to ensure all customer feedback was noted and addressed as quickly as possible.
We remain dedicated to listening to our customers and leveraging the insights our customers share with us to find ways to elevate our offerings and meet their ever-evolving needs, now and in the future.
Jim: Having loyal customers is always important for brands. As brands slowly emerge from the pandemic, what are your customer loyalty goals?
Emily: Our customer goals have not changed all that much and we remain acutely focused on customer engagement and retention. In addition, the importance of connecting with our customers and letting them know that we are about more than just selling food and household items is greater now more than ever.
We have made a commitment to meet the needs of how our families live now and that means understanding and connecting with them personally and adjusting to their changing needs during a pandemic.
Jim: How is The GIANT Company responding to consumer behavioral changes and how can the brand leverage these changes to attain greater loyalty?
Emily: We have been fortunate to have a very loyal customer base throughout the pandemic, so expressing our appreciation for their loyalty is of utmost importance.
For example, we were hearing from customers concerned about their points expiring, so in April, we announced that we were extending the life of CHOICE points earned during that month; any points earned in April would be good through June 30, giving customers an additional 30 days to use them.
We have also adjusted plans in the back half of the year to prioritize ‘reward and retain’ strategies, with a significant emphasis on personalization.
This is important for us because while our customers have remained loyal, their shopping behaviors have changed, and we need to be able to quickly recognize and adjust to their changing behaviors.
The personalization strategy we have within GIANT Choice Rewards allows us to do this, fostering connections that are relevant and meaningful.
In response, we’ve seen the gap between spend levels of loyalty-engaged vs. non-engaged customers widen significantly during/post-COVID, further validating the payoff of a strong loyalty program.
Jim: Are there any specific changes or updates you’re planning to make to your loyalty program?
Emily: We’re focused on continuing to educate our customers about the changes we made to our program last October, which provides customers the flexibility and choice to use their points in ways they deem most relevant for themselves – whether it be for discounts on fuel or savings on grocery purchases.
As stay-at-home orders were announced and the price of fuel dropped, we saw customer interest in Grocery Dollars increase, especially as some face financial strain or hardships; yet, we have opportunity to continue to spread the word on this relatively new redemption option.
I’m excited to share that customers will soon be able to utilize Grocery Dollars on online orders (pick-up or delivery) in addition to in-store purchases in the near future.
Jim: What is the most important thing retailers can focus on for the rest of 2020?
Emily: Adaptability and ensuring the health and safety of the shopping experience.
We are constantly learning new information about COVID-19, and the most important thing retailers can do is be nimble, continually adapting and finding ways to continue to serve consumers as needs evolve, demand shifts, behaviors change and necessary limitations or restrictions come and go.
Doing so will yield stronger customer loyalty, both short term, and long term.
Jim: An attractive loyalty program can be a key differentiator for a brand. How can a loyalty program spark engagement and increased revenue as the country slowly re-opens?
Emily: Offering a loyalty program that offers personalization and customization will help retain existing customers, build personal connections, and increase customer lifetime value.
Offering a loyalty program that is also flexible enough for customers to take advantage of whenever, however they engage with your brand will provide further differentiation from the crowd.
So, how can grocery retailers continue to find success post-pandemic?
According to our 2020 premium loyalty data study, 60% of consumers would be willing to sign up for a premium loyalty program in the grocery category.
So, the first step is making sure you have a great loyalty program in place that your customers are aware of.
Then, as Emily discussed:
- Show your appreciation to your loyal customers.
- Commit to understanding your customers and act accordingly through empathy.
- Rethink your loyalty program structure to accommodate challenges your customers face.
- Listen to your customers’ pain points and address them.
- Continue to communicate the best aspects of your loyalty program, especially if any changes have been made to it in the past 12 to 18 months.
If you’re interested in being a part of this series, or if you just want to learn more about premium loyalty programs, contact us here.