How others in a store or restaurant look and act helps determine whether a customer will come back for future visits, a new study shows.
The presence and behavior of other consumers is just as important to brand loyalty as customer service, said Clay Voorhees, the study's co-author and assistant professor at Michigan State University.
"We're sizing up other customers all the time," Voorhees said. "Customers want to be around people they relate to, and the effect that the image of other customers has on loyalty was surprisingly dramatic."
The research studied the customer loyalty of more than 800 people in three settings – a clothing store, a sit-down restaurant and a theme park. Loyalty increased when the participants viewed other customers as similar to themselves.
When shopping or out to eat, Voorhees said consumers are looking at those around them and asking "do I feel like they're the same type of person as me?", "do they look good?" and "how do they behave?"
"These factors increase the likelihood of people returning to the store," he said.
Companies that incorporate these elements into their marketing efforts could increase loyalty by 30 percent, according to the research, the first comprehensive examination of the role of other customers on customer loyalty.
Voorhees said most companies today have become good at customer service and managing their employees.
"The next frontier is how to better manage their portfolio of customers," he said. "This might give them the advantage for increasing customer loyalty."
The study, co-authored by researchers at Iowa State University and Texas Christian University, appears in the current issue of the Journal of Retailing.
Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based freelance business and technology writer who has worked in public relations and spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter. You can reach him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @cbrooks76.