Keep Your Customers Close: Retention Is Top Retail Tactic In 2021

This is the year of retention -- especially among digital brands, according to “The Year Of Covid The Customer,” a study by CommerceNext, sponsored by Yotpo. 

Of the digital firms polled, 80% will be pursuing retention first, followed by over 60% of “incumbent” retailers and almost 70% overall.  

Traditional direct-marketing wisdom dictated that economy recovery was the time for acquisition, but that might not be the perception this year.  

Second on the tactics list is omnichannel marketing, an activity for which incumbent brands apparently are playing catch-up — they outpoll digital-first marketers on this one. 

Digital-first companies also outpace the incumbents when it comes to acquisition marketing, at a score of 60% versus 52%.  

Further down the list are brand marketing, customer experience management, mobile optimization, cause marketing, cross-border/international ecommerce and privacy/security/compliance.  



Incumbent retailers are more likely to be working on CX, mobile and cause marketing. When it comes to mobile, digital-first respondents are several percentage points beneath them, perhaps because they have already optimized mobile.  

Email is used by 90% of all retailers for retention and is their top channel for that purpose -- with the number hitting 95% among digital-first brands and less than 90% for incumbent retailers. Organic social is second.

Digital-first firms far exceed the norms for customer service and support, content creation (e.g., blogs, newsletters) and somewhat for personalization and targeting.  

Roughly half of the firms surveyed use customer-data management and have loyalty programs. 

Digital-first retailers are also more likely than others to conduct community-building and creation, surveys and subscriptions. 

Retention dethrones acquisition as the top priority. 

The respondents were also asked what they are doing to encourage customers to share more data or to opt in to receiving more information.

The leading tactic, utilized by 80% of digital-first brands, is incentive programs, promotions or contests. Barely more than 50% of incumbent retailers are using them.  

But email collection programs in stores are second overall, at about 60%. Strangely, at least 55% of digital-first firms use them, along with almost 65% of incumbent retailers.  

These tactics are followed by loyalty programs and SMS collection programs.

Almost 50% of digital-first outfits message the benefits to the customer (with more relevant offers and products), topping off the average, which barely exceeds 30%.  

Here are a few more insights:

  • Almost 60% of retailers engage in SMS
  • 75% of digital-first brands think of customer service a retention tool
  • Over 50% use user-generated content (UGC)/reviews (57%) and personalization (56%) as tactics
  • CommerceNext surveyed 104 retailers in June 2021 

Of these, 33% were digital-first, 29% wholesale manufacturers selling direct (e.g., Nike, Sony), 24% traditional DTC brands with brick-and-mortar outlets (e.g., Victoria’s Secret, JCrew), 6% traditional multi-brand retailers (e.g., Walmart, BestBuy, Target), 6% digital-first multibrand retailers (e.g. Amazon, eBay, Wayfair) and 3% comprised of other.  

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