The pandemic may have created plenty of shopping chaos. But Brand Keys' latest loyalty ranking shows an important lesson: It's not enough that consumers know a retailer's name. They must also have at least some sense of what that brand stands for.
"Companies that can turn themselves into real brands -- and not just names that are familiar to people -- are doing well," says Robert Passikoff, Brand Keys founder and president.
He tells Marketing Daily that the 25th annual Customer Loyalty Engagement Index shows how some brands sailed through the COVID-19 stress test by enhancing brand-to-consumer emotional engagement and meeting customers' expectations.
The survey, which analyzes 844 brands in 94 categories, finds that 11 brands dominate in meeting both challenges. Besides Amazon, Dick's and Trader Joe's, Zara, H&M, Mattel, Zappos, T.J. Maxx, REI, Whole Foods and Athleta are ranked highest.
And while Best Buy, Home Depot, FedEx, Barbie, New Balance, Macy's and Target had lower engagement scores, they aced the "meeting expectations" component.
Those with the lowest scores -- in other words, not engaging sufficiently with consumers and seen as falling short of expectations -- include Payless, Under Armour, JCPenney, Kmart, Staples, J.Crew, United States Post Office, DSW and the Gap.
Passikoff tells Marketing Daily that brands that can do both create six times the levels of loyalty as those that don't, "which means [consumers] are six times as likely to give that company the benefit of the doubt in tough times."
He says the pandemic also further ratcheted up customers' expectations, and they expected retailers to smoothly navigate the confusing world of closing, reopening, sanitizing and enforcing social distancing. They wanted more contactless options. And they wanted more comfortable ecommerce choices.
Notably, he says that out-of-stock problems, while vexing to shoppers, didn't automatically translate into loyalty declines.
Passikoff says the big takeaway for stores is hardly surprising: "Awareness is not enough. You have to stand for something. It doesn't matter if you call it brand purpose or personality, but people need to know more than what you sell. Everyone knows Duane Reade and CVS are drugstores. But CVS has become a brand, and people have a better idea of what it stands for -- and that builds loyalty."
Brand Keys bases its loyalty research on a survey of nearly 76,000 consumers, with 40% interviewed by phone and 60% online.