How to Connect with Customers and Build Relationships In-Person and in the Virtual World

Get closer than ever to your customers. So close that you tell them what they need well before they realize it themselves.  ~ Steve Jobs

Connecting with your customers and building a relationship with them is a powerful way to create customer loyalty to your brand. Before COVID-19, experiential retail had been a way to immerse your customers in an emotional experience with your products. (Think of Apple, Ikea, and Build a Bear.) But now that we must stay six feet apart – or avoid meeting in person – how to do we connect with customers virtually?

Experiential Retail – Connecting In-Person

Back when we could invite customers into our stores, smart businesses wanted to do more than display their products for customers to come in and buy them. They did something called experiential retail, which was giving customers an immersive experience.

Customers were invited to try out products, attend events, watch videos and listen to music. That wasn’t all. The experience was meant to have customers seeing, hearing, and touching what the business wanted them to buy.

Think of Cineplex Odeon Cinemas. You don’t just go there to watch a movie. At some locations, you can buy food and drink for during the movie, sit in a lounge (if you meet the age requirement) and enjoy an alcoholic beverage before the show, or play arcade games if you arrive early.

At Catfe, you can do more than look for a possible pet. In the lounge area, you can check out their collection of cats, and if you find one you like, you can adopt the feline for a fee. While you’re there, you can enjoy drinks, snacks, and merchandise with a cat theme.

Shopping is much more exciting when it’s an emotional experience. These experiences are still possible, but slightly changed during the pandemic. Businesses have limitations on how many customers to have on site at a time, and everyone is asked to maintain physical distancing from each other.

Connecting with Customers and Building Relationships Using Emotion

Emotions are an important part of building relationships with customers. Much of this connection can only be achieved in person by using your tactile senses when you try out the product. As the pandemic continues, the question is whether this in-person experience will be the same.

Build A Bear is another business which is experiential retail. At this store, you aren’t just buying a stuffed animal. A child can watch the creation of their toy, from choosing the animal that they would like, to watching as it gets the stuffing for its insides.

Like watching a member of the family come to life, the child can also choose what voice message they would like the animal to have. Then they can choose clothes and accessories (glasses, hat) to dress up their new toy. By the time the toy reaches the cash register, the child will have already started to build a relationship with the merchandise. The certificate that goes with the stuffed animal is the final touch to make this creature another member of the family, and not just another toy.

Ikea also connects with its customers on a deeper level. It’s not just a furniture store. In the showroom, customers can walk into kitchens, living rooms, and bedrooms to try out the furniture and imagine themselves in a room surrounded by these Ikea products.

These items aren’t just furniture. Each piece has a name. When your desk, chair, or bookshelf has a name, it’s that much more personal, more human, than a desk or chair with just a model number. To round out the experience, Ikea has a café … because everyone likes to eat. The family can make a day of looking at furniture and then eating. You’re not just shopping, you’re spending time with family.

Creating Strong Connections in the Virtual Photo creditWorld

Experiential retail seemed to be the trend of shopping in the future. At the Apple store, you can try out your product before you buy. At Lush, you can decide if you like what happens when you toss a bath bomb into water. It’s fun when you can try before you buy.

As pandemic continues to rage around the world and cities continue to impose restrictions, the next concern is whether we can connect with customers in the same emotional way. If customers cannot come to our stores, if it’s not safe for them to touch and feel and experience the products, can we get the same results with virtual selling?

Could businesses rely on technology to build those relationships with customers and make sales without actually being there with the customer? We have the good old telephone to make calls. In addition to calling customers, businesses can also reach out through email and virtual meetings on platforms like Zoom.

Social media also has an important role in building those connections. Businesses are posting videos about their products on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and YouTube. These posts use humour, curiosity, and surprise to tell customers about their products in creative ways. Some videos are straightforward, showing you the features and uses of a product. Others are unexpected, using skits or a scenario to showcase a product.

Watching a video about making ice cream with an ice cream maker isn’t as immersive as watching the food being made in person and then tasting a sweet sample. But it is still possible to connect with customers in the virtual world and provide them with a somewhat immersive experience.  

Summary

Experiential marketing and virtual selling are two ways to connect with customers and build relationships with them. Customers want the opportunity to try out your product before they buy. Provide them with these opportunities through social media posts, online communication, and best of all, experiences in the store. Give customers a memorable and fun experience!

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