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Birthday Wishes and Beyond

Birthday Wishes and Beyond

Loyalty programs yield personal touches and repeat customers 

With plenty of local retailers and e-commerce options, your customers are inundated with stores they can patronize for party supplies. This is what can make it seem difficult — now with the Internet more than ever — for independents to retain and grow a loyal customer base.

Offering outstanding customer service and in-demand inventory are just a couple key aspects in ensuring your customers are leaving satisfied, but customers need extra incentive to return when matters of location, convenience and pricing vary from shop to shop.

Everyone wants a loyal customer base, but it’s important to ask how you, as a retailer, are loyal to your customers when they’re outside of your store.

Offering loyalty programs can build personal relationships with customers by offering specials, such as discounts around their birthdays and anniversaries, savings on products they frequently purchase, and it lets them know you appreciate their patronage by staying connected. Providing special discounts makes the customer feel special — and drives them back to the store.

Making it viable

Many retailers that Party & Paper Retailer has spoken with have voiced concern with adding another marketing expense to their bottom line, but there are plenty of cost-effective options to choose from when implementing loyalty programs.

When deciding how these programs can be put into effect in your store, you may not know that many resources may already be at your fingertips. For example, simply keeping a sheet by the register for customers to provide contact information, then entering it into Excel, or keeping a filing cabinet organized by contact and/or customer information is another alternative.

These strategies will work if you’re willing to exert more time than monetary investment. However, another cost-effective way to easily streamline this process is by incorporating customer relationship management (CRM) systems into your P.O.S. system. By doing so, you’ll be able to reach your customers in more ways and via more individualized avenues.

Party & Paper Retailer was able to visit with Jason Kennedy, the marketing communications manager from CAM Commerce Solutions, which “develops, markets, installs and services highly integrated P.O.S., ERP and Payment Processing solutions for small to medium size retailers,” Kennedy said.

He also explained the wide range of information that CRM can track, update and notify the retailer about: “CRM gives retailers the power to see things like regular/repeat purchases (sales), where customers are coming from (customer addresses), even birthdays/anniversaries (customer info),”

Birthday and anniversary records are particularly promising to track because it adds a personal touch — an interaction that builds a relationship with your customer by honoring their special day in your store.

“Leveraging the birthday as a promotional tool is a great way to get a customer back into the store with very little investment,” Kennedy said.

Heather Rounds, store buyer for Smart Kids Co. in Greenwich, Connecticut, said she is seeing a 40 percent return rate for customers in her store. Rounds implements a marketing-savvy birthday loyalty program, all while staying cost-effective by using the CRM software tied into her P.O.S. system, CounterPoint, in tandem with Excel.

“Parents sign up on the form in the store. We enter (their information) right into our P.O.S. system, CounterPoint. … The children basically get entered as a customer but are tagged as a birthday club member, which means they’re a child.”

Prior to the beginning of a new month, Rounds begins corralling customer birthday information two weeks before it begins. Then, using Excel and Word programs, she stamps and addresses each card — adding a personal touch by decorating with stickers — and each child receives a $5 gift certificate.
Rounds said this marketing technique has been a huge drive for return traffic at Smart Kids Co., and noted, “It’s probably one of the most successful things that we do.”

Other ways CRMs maintain loyalty

“Retailers who leverage CRM — whether it be for birthdays, loyalty programs or other means — see a considerable uptick in customer satisfaction as well as organic growth in revenue from regular customers,” Kennedy said.

Ann Mulkin, owner of The Paper Factory in Fredonia, New York, sees this organic growth by tracking purchases on-spot.

Mulkin uses one CRM system called POWERpass, purchased through Ideation, Inc. in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Customers have the option to sign up for a free card that tracks their purchase history. When they make a purchase, Mulkin and associates swipe the card, enter their purchase and when their combined purchases (past and present) total $50, they’re given a $5 coupon in return.

Plus, Mulkin explained, the program prints the gift card from a separate terminal so customers do not have to wait for their savings — they even have the incentive to continue shopping that very moment.

“Customers get excited when they get the coupon because it’s immediate gratification and you don’t have to go home and wait for an email,” Mulkin said. “We’ve been using this program for probably 15 or 16 years and it’s been a very good program for us.”

Some CRMs also offer the option for retailers to create product-specific sales tracking for individual customers.

“Within our RetailSTAR CRM module, you can create a Club or Loyalty Program based around a specific product group in your store,” Kennedy explained. “It’s easy to create a ‘Birthday Club’ list where customers are rewarded for purchasing birthday-related supplies such as balloons, themed decorations or cards.”

These product-specific club cards can also help to move inventory in a particular category quickly.

Be ready to redeem

As an independent retailer, you of course have the option to implement and carry out expiration dates on these offers. But, isn’t the purpose of these programs to encourage customers to return in the first place?

Both Rounds and Mulkin avoid enforcing these expiration dates, as they’re glad to simply welcome the customers — and their sales — back.

Mulkin said her faux-expiration date of 60 days is simply printed because of her CRM program, but she even lets customers’ savings accrue over time. But,

“If people have them, they can use them another time,” Mulkin said. “Some people save them up and we let them use as many as they want whenever they want … It gets them to come back into our store.”

Rounds agreed: “Our attitude is if someone is willing to hold onto it for any length of time, we’ll take it back — it means they are coming back to our store for a reason.”

— By Leigh Jajuga, Assistant Editor

Originally posted Monday, Jul. 6, 2015