A loyal customer base is aspirational for all retail businesses. It means security, and gives businesses a foundation on which to grow and expand.

In the current economic climate, retail businesses face more of a challenge than ever before when battling for customer loyalty. Younger consumers in particular are demanding more from the brands they choose, and with the prevalence of so-called ‘cancel culture’, years of loyalty-building can be undone by a single ill-timed social post.


When I founded The Shirt Society, a subscription-model menswear business, I knew that its success relied almost exclusively on building a loyal customer base – one that would stand the test of time. Asking customers to subscribe to a monthly product from us is, naturally, a real test of loyalty.

Matt Bird, Founder of The Shirt Society

With the pandemic putting further strain on the retail sector, and in particular the physical high street, loyal customers are no longer ‘nice to have’, but fundamental to survival. At The Shirt Society, it’s been a steep learning curve figuring out what works. Here’s a few things I’ve learned so far.

Who are you, anyway?

In 2020’s climate, selling great products just isn’t enough. True loyalty comes when a customer ‘buys into’ the entire identity of a brand: its ethos, mission statement, look and feel. One of the most important things retailers (whether online-only or physical stores) should consider is what their brand ‘stands for’.

At The Shirt Society, we spent time really getting to know our target customer, building our brand after extensive consumer research into what made them tick. We ensured all of our team were aligned on brand values, communicating these in everything from the design of our platform and packaging, to the tone of our social content. Working out what you want your business to be associated with is the first step to ensuring that customers are invested in your brand – crucial to developing loyalty.

Increasingly, it’s difficult to discuss brand values without mentioning sustainability. In the retail sector, customers are extremely conscious of a brand’s sustainability credentials: consumer loyalty towards a brand can be dictated by this. According to a 2019 Forbes report, 62% of Generation Z prefer to buy from sustainable brands, even if this means spending more. With this group entering the workforce this year, you’d be unwise not to get your business’ position on sustainability ironed out.

Whether it’s installing recycling bins in store, or tightening up your comms to ensure you’re offering a lifestyle, not just a product: establishing a clear brand identity is essential to hitting the loyal customer jackpot.

A collaborative process

The world of retail is changing. In terms of fashion, the previous ‘top-down’ model was abolished with the rise of Instagram. Gone are the days where High Street brands took their cues from elite designers: the process now is far more of a collaboration between retailer and consumer. Because of this, it’s essential to create an ongoing dialogue with the customer, to inspire loyalty and prevent losing touch with rapidly changing demands.

Today, consumers expect almost instantaneous communication from the brands they engage with. With the market fiercely competitive, this can be the difference between a customer staying loyal or switching to another brand. If your business model relies on physical stores, it’s even more important to ensure that you have a social media presence and a team that can respond to any queries promptly – and not just during store opening hours either.

Similarly: feedback is key. Find out what your customers are thinking at every opportunity, and don’t be afraid to make changes in response. At The Shirt Society, we’re always adapting our products in line with our customer feedback; we recently introduced casualwear following the shift in working styles during the pandemic.

Opening and maintaining a regular dialogue with customers is fundamental to maximising loyalty between them and your brand.

Keeping it real

If the big tech companies have taught us anything, it’s the importance of transparency. Like never before, customers expect honesty from the brands they shop with – and don’t like it when this is not the case.

Speaking from personal experience, I’ve found that being totally honest with customers when we make a mistake helps to add integrity to the brand. People like vulnerability, particularly in the retail sector which for so long was dominated by large conglomerates. The more you can demonstrate that your company is made up of real people, the more likely you are to build a customer base that is loyal to a business.

Ultimately, it’s an extremely tough climate for those operating in the retail sector right now. If nurturing a loyal customer base was important before, it’s essential for survival in the post-pandemic economy. Easily identifiable brand values, combined with a regular and transparent dialogue with the customer, is a great place to start building that.