Do your customers love you?

New research reveals that the majority of consumers are in less committed relationships with their favourite retailers than ever before, with only 8% of them feeling ‘devoted’ towards a particular retail brand.
The research was conducted by Professor Ron Rogge from the University of Rochester in the USA. He looked at retail customers using seven core relationship criteria: recognition, rewards, reciprocity, reliability, respect, trust, and communication.
Using these criteria, he was able to create a model based on Sternberg’s ‘Triangular Theory of Love’ (see diagram above).
Sternberg's theory focuses on three key components of a relationship:
(1) Intimacy (willingness to share information with a retailer)
(2) Passion (brand enthusiasm)
(3) Commitment (brand loyalty)
The types of relationships analysed range from ‘empty’ (the least desirable), through to ‘liking’, ‘casual’, ‘romantic’, ‘compassionate’, and ‘devoted’ (the most desirable).
The study found that, at their most loyal, consumers fall into the ‘devoted’ group and are enthusiastic, passionate, and committed to a retailer. In addition, devoted customers are the ones that are most willing to share personal information, opinions and desires with their favourite brands, and are least likely to defect to competitors.

What does 'devotion' mean in a business context?
'Devotion' is obviously the most favourable category for retail brands. The research found that 91% of customers that fall into the ‘devoted’ group would recommend the brand to others.
This compares to only 9% of customers in a ‘liking’ relationship, 21% in a ‘casual’ relationship, and 37% in a ‘compassionate’ relationship.

What can retailers do to create 'devoted' customers?
The research findings provide valuable insight into how retailers can tackle the challenge of driving a deeper relationship with customers. With only 8% of consumers currently falling into the ‘devoted’ category, retailers need to find ways to expand this category across their customer base.
The study found that consumer interest in loyalty programmes remains high in terms of encouraging spending, with 75% of shoppers stating that they would be encouraged to shop more with a brand if it had a loyalty programme.
But the research suggests that loyalty goes much deeper than traditional reward programmes. Retailers also need to understand the key drivers that build the more loyal relationships. After all, loyal consumers will purchase more frequently, spend more money, and become greater advocates for the particular brand.
The research suggest that to inspire more ‘devoted’ relationships, retailers should do the following:
Foster brand advocacy: 91% of devoted customers would recommend a retailer to others, demonstrating the importance of creating and maintaining devoted customer relationship.
Create stronger rewards programmes: though consumers in liking and casual relationships have lower expectations around rewards, 75% of UK consumers would buy more if they were better rewarded. This emphasises the power of using personalised rewards that ‘surprise and delight’ customers to move them towards a more devoted state.
Take time to understand customers’ needs: 63% would buy more if retailers used their data to understand their customers’ individual needs and requirements better. By doing this, retailers can encourage the intimacy required for a devoted relationship.
Build respect and trust amongst consumers: 54% would buy more if retailers treated them with more respect, and 51% would buy more if they trusted brands more. Trust is key to securing the commitment that exists where there is devotion.
Communicate better: 51% would buy more if brands communicated with them better. This highlights the importance of using better communications and engagement strategies to create the reciprocal sense of passion present in a devoted relationship.
According to Professor Rogge: “The study represents ground-breaking work in understanding the key components of brand loyalty. Our analyses suggested that the same seven basic types of relationships emerged for both brand and close relationships. In fact, a majority of respondents approached their relationships with favourite brands in a very similar manner to how they approached their close relationships.”
“Therefore, developing a strong and devoted relationship with a brand might not be so different from developing a strong and caring bond with another person, suggesting that people might buy with their hearts. This is exciting work, as it not only allows us to better understand and track the various types of brand loyalty, but it will also provide retailers with critical insights into targeting the needs and desires of specific classes of consumers in order to promote greater loyalty.”

Professor Ronald D Rogge is Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Rochester, New York, USA.
For more details about Sternberg’s ‘Triangular Theory of Love’ visit: