The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has forever changed the way consumers shop – and retailers have had to adapt to a surge in interest in the internet as a primary channel of trade.

However, while globally entrenched retail events like Black Friday and Cyber Monday characterise November and the pre-festive season rush, businesses will be only too aware of the need to sustain and build loyalty.

Leading independent customer relationship management company LoyaltyPlus says customer loyalty will be a top consideration this year.

LoyaltyPlus has over 25 years of experience in the development and application of cutting-edge programmes and partnerships – and its leadership in helping businesses ensure their customers remain loyal to their brands while optimising all touchpoints and customer experiences.

While loyalty is always important, in 2020, as markets feel the pressure of COVID, it is even more critical to business continuity. Due to the pandemic, business owners are acutely aware of the need to accommodate a rapidly changing industry.

Several changes are identified by Thinkwithgoogle.com, like the fact that retailers are now dealing with a far more tech-savvy and knowledgeable clientele.

The days of people wandering into stores and blindly following the advice of retailers are long gone. Today, customers use the internet to research products and services to ensure that they get the very best deal possible.

As LoyaltyPlus explains, there is little room for deception, for quick ‘too-good-to-be-true’ deals. Today’s consumer understands there are social media channels and mobile devices and platforms that can be used to ensure that they get the very best deal possible.

Industry experts agree that COVID has thrown the gauntlet down for brands as they compete for new customers and repeat business. They specifically need to review and re-evaluate their supply chains, delivery to market and the customer experience.

LoyaltyPlus emphasises that COVID means shoppers are scrutinising brands a lot more intensely than before.

Customer experience counts for a great deal more today, and that is why businesses need to focus more intensely on direct-to-consumer and omni-channel sales strategies.

Another challenge with operators trying to ‘normalise’ the new normal is that they need to offer as much as possible for the festive season and ‘get into the spirit’ of the season, despite the difficult trading conditions.

Factors such as tight economic conditions and social distancing may be front-of-mind for retailers, it cannot impact the holiday shopping season and experience.

It is not only what happens in store that counts, it is just as important that customers receive that ‘warm and fuzzy feeling’ online.

Loyalty programmes are fundamental to helping drive customer experience and ensuring business survival, but they will not compensate for poor service or product says Knowledge@Wharton.

Retailers need to look very long and hard at how their loyalty programmes work, what value they offer, whether or not they are attached to the plethora of digital communication channels or not, how they enhance the customer experience and ultimately if they strengthen the brand or not.

Anything short of being a superb value-add for the customer and one that helps customers to source and secure the very best service or product, will simply not last in today’s data-and customer-driven economy.