Customer Centricity: A Primer for Retailers


Retail ShoppingHello and welcome to my blog. Over the last three years, technology has transformed commerce in ways we wouldn’t have imagined a decade ago…for consumers, retailers and vendors alike.  This has kept those of us in the retail technology advisory business very busy. I thought I would take a few minutes to visit and update a post I shared back in 2012. This blog and it’s parent site is a great place to find thoughful posts on how retailers can better engage, influence and inspire their best customers.

So, lets start with the basic premise that delivering a customer-centric retail strategy is essential for keeping customer, gaining market share and enhancing profitability.

At the center of that strategy is the realization that the disruptive forces of technology have changed retail as we knew it and that the consumer is in charge – ably armed with social, local and mobile technologies. Savvy retailers are finally starting to master their new reality, cutting through the hype and deploying the best new customer-facing and associate-facing solutions, supported by enhanced business practices.It is pretty clear that everyone from the world’s most prestigious department and specialty stores to big box electronic giants, has some flavor of customer centricity on it’s mind. Customer centricity puts the customer at the nexus of retail strategy and it is the logical evolution of retail resulting from years of depersonalized store formats and inattention to customer satisfaction. Retailers have finally realized that they can no longer simply depend upon cost cutting and optimization of their supply chain to provide sustainable competitive advantage. Instead, industry leading retailers are implementing strategies and tactics that improve top line sales, increase associate productivity, while delivering a better customer experience built on a relevant dialogue with their customers.

Today’s connected consumers expect the brands they shop to intimately understand their needs and to be served consistently across all channels (e.g. in­-store, online, social media, kiosks and consumer mobile applications). They want their Omni-Channel shopping experience to be personalized, relevant, convenient and enjoyable. They are demanding more from the stores they patronize, because they have access to more information than ever before and use mobile devices and the web to learn, shop and communicate in new ways. Furthermore, the recent recession has taught them new budget discipline, making consumers less willing to compromise and more likely to defect to another retailer if an associate provides better service or more options.

Retailers need to change to succeed in this new reality. To keep customers and gain market share, they need to connect people, insight and customer relationships in new, innovative ways. Retailers need to use all the touchpoints available to them to learn and understand more about their customers’  distinct needs, wants and desires. Doing so will enable retailers to deliver customers a personalized differentiated experience and new forms of communication through the consumer’s  preferred channel. If they are going to execute successfully on this new agenda, retailers will need to integrate the entire retail operation, enterprise to store with a comprehensive solution. that addresses three key objectives:

  • Increase customer insight and brand communication using data analysis, business intelligence tools and multi-channel marketing with a sophisticated personal offer capabilities.


  • Empower associates to personalize the experience and build relationships with customers using a combination of outreach tools (call, text, email, etc.) and in-store clienteling and loyalty tools. Extend that capability beyond the store using consumer facing mobile applications and online personalization technology.


  • Provide management with real-time access to key performance and behavioral data in order to improve their decision making, assortment and business building activities.


Successfully deploying a thoughtful, disciplined and repeatable customer centric strategy can be a challenge, but if executed well, will reward a retailer with virtually immediate sales lift and improved customer lifetime value.

What is Customer Centricity?

Like so many catch phrases today, the term customer centricity is often misused, and has become the rally cry for any decision or activity that impacts the customer. In an attempt to differentiate their businesses, few retailers grasp the fundamental operational and cultural shift necessary to achieve real enterprise-wide customer centricity.  Customer centric retailing requires the traditional retail model to be turned on its head. Instead of executing strategies against a portfolio of products to induce customers to buy  ̶ true customer-centric retailers focus on a portfolio of loyal customers and provide products and services that meet their distinct individual needs.  During the boom-boom days of retail, it was a field of dreams — ‘if we hang it they will come.’ Today, that simply does not work. A winning customer-centric strategy requires the development of enterprise-wide practices focused around taking absolute responsibility for a customers satisfaction throughout the entire want it, buy it, use it experience.

It is however important to note that customer intimacy and truly personalized communication can’t be accomplished without knowing their communication channel preference and having access to extensive customer knowledge and product feature information. Fitted with the right tools and insight, retailers have was is needed to build relationships that bring together individually articulated customer preferences, lifestyle information and product knowledge to create high-value solutions for their customers.

Unfortunately most retailers are reactive and tend to think in terms of point solutions and quick fix solutions. Most have never developed the required all­-encompassing customer engagement methodology that will ultimately align the corporate and marketing vision with in-store execution of those best practices that improve customer service. Most often retail store-level employees  ̶  those who are most directly engaged with customers  ̶  are isolated. They don’t have the customer and product information they need  nor do they have the operational sales support tools required to meet ever demanding customer expectations. The result is unpredictable service levels, unrepeatable customer experiences, dissatisfied customers and diminished store performance.


A Technology-based Customer Infrastructure

Underlying any customer-centric initiative is some type of customer-focused technology platform. At its center, is data that provides a 360-degree view of the customer. This multi-dimensional customer, transaction and product repository may be aggregated (or accessed in real time) from numerous existing enterprise data sources including POS transaction systems, product inventory, merchandising and e-commerce. Once the master data is available, business intelligence and campaign management tools at HQ and clienteling, loyalty and product recommendation tools at store-level, transforms this underlying data into actionable knowledge.

Using workflow tools and mobile applications, customer preference and lifestyle information is collected during each customer interaction, improving customer insight and increasing responsiveness to ever more personalized and relevant corporate and store level communication. Leaders are investing in sophisticated enterprise-wide solutions, enabling management to access loyalty, marketing and campaign management tools to analyze and segment data. Armed with these, marketers can identify new multi-channel sales campaigns and deliver personalized offers directly to customers or prompt associates to take specific actions with those individuals.

There will always be many technical considerations to make this technology infrastructure a reality but this is one of Clientricity’s key areas of competency.  The underlying infrastructure must be secure, easily integrated and flexible enough to meet the constantly-changing needs of the retailer and consumer. In-store solutions must be highly intuitive, responsive and transportable on existing hardware as diverse as PC/POS terminals, kiosks, mobile tablets, phones and PDAs.  Finally, the technology must have extensible multi-channel architecture, allowing retailers to meet their consumer needs online or via a customer’s own smart phone.

The Retail Customer Centricity Playbook

The overarching objective of customer centricity is to create a value proposition that is unique and not easily repeated. Given with the right strategy, tactics and customer engagement tools, retailers can now gain a 360­-degree view of their customers. More importantly they can  build a learning relationship based on individual preferences that cannot be easily replicated by other retailers.  What follows is a list of things that retailers should think about.

  • DEFINE: Start by defining institutionalizing your organizations operational best practices. The goal is to ensure consistency across the brand, whether it is an in­-store and online experience. Think about the customer journey and optimize for maximum value.


  • UNDERSTAND: Use tools to analyze and segment your customers’ buying behavior. Within the data, look for opportunities to create personalized value propositions and promotions targeted to specific customers using favored channels. Leverage structured enterprise data and unstructured “Big-Data” to enhance the efficacy of the analysis.  Deploy real-time dashboards and reporting tools that are accessible throughout the organization.


  • TAKE ACTION: Deploy technology such as clienteling, loyalty and assisted selling tools to sales associate with easy to use POS, PC, and handheld tablets and other mobile devices. Invest in effective change management to transform the organization and teach your team how to use the customer profile data, preferences, lifestyle information and transaction history during client interaction. Provide all users with access to key product information.  Approximate what the perfect sales associate would do with information and express those workflows through intelligent self-service technologies and smart phone apps. Be sure to synchronize all activities  across all channels in order to generate increase traffic, conversion and average transaction size


The disruptive impact of technological change will continue to make retail ever more competitive. Brand differentiation and relevant customer communication and improved services levels across all touchpoints are the natural defense to that competition. Implementing a customer centricity solution that incorporates clienteling, loyalty and campaign management solutions ensures a seamless, interactive environment where customers can shop over multiple sales channels delighted by associates empowered to deliver an extraordinary customer experience.


Introducing Clientricity

Social Clienteling & Customer Centricity

Welcome and thanks for visiting my updated blog. Challenges often lead to change and 2011 was a year of unparalleled transformation…for consumers, retailers, and vendors alike. It was the year that retailers acknowledged that the consumer was in charge – ably armed with social, local and mobile technologies. In 2012 savvy retailers will learn to master their new reality, cutting through the hype and deploying the best new solutions and business practices. The democratizing effects of consumer technology have fundamentally redefined retail business models and time-honored management principals. Mobile consumers are demanding real-time product information, relevant communication, peer commentary and personalized in-store experiences.

Every day, retailers watch the efficacy of traditional marketing, merchandising and service methods erode as consumers defect to multi-channel competitors that engage and inspire with new innovative omni-channel approaches. This consumer led innovation is forcing retailers to explore an array of social, local, mobile and loyalty solutions targeted at consumers and the associates that interact with them. While “social experiments” abound, at the top of 2012 wish lists are mobile associate selling tools and consumer facing applications. Soon tablets and other mobile devices with digital shopping applications will be ubiquitous for associates and consumers alike. Retail as we knew it will never be the same…

In my 30 years as a retailer, retail technologist and clienteling, loyalty & CRM expert, there has never been a more exciting time. It’s been rewarding for me to see how an idea and technology that I envisioned and developed for my own small retail business in the mid 1980’s has grown into a significant segment of the global retail technology industry — and I had the opportunity to start and lead Retaligent to become the segment’s early recognized leader and the springboard for what happens next. I founded Retaligent in 2005, spinning-off my earlier developed mobile retail clienteling IP from Symbol Technologies and its predecessor, ImageWare Technologies. The journey has been nothing less than incredible. Over the last six years I have had the opportunity to work with some of the world’s top retailers including Saks Fifth Avenue, Hugo Boss, Ralph Lauren, Giorgio Armani, Calvin Klein, Grupo Sanborns, Hudson’s Bay Company, Harrods and others.  In late 2010, we reached a new milestone. Working with Microsoft’s Worldwide Dynamics team, and their global partner ecosystem, I lead the team that developed and brought to market Charisma 1:1, the next generation Clienteling, Loyalty and CRM solution. Earlier this year Retaligent Solutions was acquired by Raymark, a globally recognized retail technology provider, headquartered in Montreal. The transition has given me the time to survey the industry on a global level, meeting the best and brightest from leading companies in retail, retail technology and online/mobile commerce. I had the opportunity to advise leading innovative companies in the UK, Silicon Valley, New York, and the Southeast. Like the proverbial Phoenician trader, I’ve gained unique perspectives and insights, influenced in part by deep retail industry knowledge and the collective wisdom of tomorrow’s retail innovators.

Just a few months ago, I decided it was time to jump back in and re-apply my vision, entrepreneurial energy, executive experience and unbridled passion for retail technologies to yet another endeavor. To that end, I launched Clientricity, LLC. a customer-centricity advisory that leverages a network of industry luminaries and my unique retail and technology domain expertise. Clientricity does two things well. First, it provides mid-sized and larger retailers with customer engagement strategy services, solution design and implementation/change management consulting. Clientricity also provides retail industry technology vendors & investment firms with an array of services ranging from solution strategy development,  industry insight, market planning,  management consulting and retail clienteling, loyalty, CRM social,  mobile product road-maps and other subject matter expertise. You can learn more about Clientricity by clicking on the Consulting Services tab above. This RetailTechExec blog contains a compilation of some of my published prior work, including videos, white-papers, brochures, newsletters, editorials and articles that I have authored. You will also find my most current thoughts related to retail Clienteling, Loyalty, Social, Mobile & CRM. You may want to start by reviewing a March 2011 post called “Customer Centricity:  A Primer for Retailers.” With frequent guest articles and original content, this site brings together the brightest minds in retail Marketing, Operations, Merchandising, eComm/mComm and IT. We will share real-world lessons, strategy and insights related to implementing transformational retail customer-centric solutions. Whether you are a retailer or a technology provider, I hope you find the posts valuable and I welcome your comments and perspectives. Take a moment to sign up and I will send you a periodic compilation of the “best of the best” related to the topics above. If you passionate about retail customer engagement, in-store and omni-channel best practices you may also want to join my LinkedIn Group, The Clienteling, Loyalty and CRM Retail Forum. You can follow me on Twitter at @RetailTechExec and @Clientricity. Again, let me thank you for taking the time to visit and if you think I can help you in any way, I’d enjoy hearing from you. Best regards, Bryan or

The Business of People…

It seems that lately, my conversations with both retailers and retail industry technologists arrive at the same basic question. “With the explosion of hot new technologies, which of these will really provide value?” Obviously retailers are concerned about the disruptive consumer-based apps that are about to dramatically impact their businesses — but for most retailers, the decision on which social, local, mobile, loyalty, clienteling, digital marketing or CRM solution to pursue is seldom guided by a well-defined customer engagement strategy.

So, how does a retailer cut through the noise? My recommendation: start by going back to the basics…

Retail is about people. Knowing people, solving their problems and taking responsibility for their satisfaction throughout the entire want-it, buy-it, and use-it experience. Finding ways to create that satisfaction and delivering engaging customer journeys is the foundation of a well- executed customer strategy. It’s about knowing who you want to be and what will differentiate your business. I’ve identified over 150 retail best practices that can differentiate your customer experience and drive profitability. While it may sound heretical, it’s not about the technology… it’s about the people! Start by selecting a half dozen best practices/initiatives that matter most to your customers and have the greatest likelihood of improving the business. Find the “easy wins” and build upon those with future initiatives.

Consider how any new initiative is likely to impact corporate KPI’s. Retail math is pretty simple. Revenue = (Traffic) x(Conversion) x (Transaction size). While everyone knows that these KPI’s determine the health of a retail business, it is amazing to me how often technology decisions aren’t first run through these KPI filters. Any online or store-level solution is likely going to affect one or more of these metrics. Analyze and identify how the solution is going to move the metrics and consider the investment based on those projected results. Just because everyone else is jumping onto the latest hot trend, doesn’t mean it fits your customer strategy or the KPI’s that matter most to your business.


Select/build solutions with functionality that maps to the desired practices and strive for little or no “friction” in adoption. Inducing a sales associate to use a new tool can be a formidable task if there is even the slightest mismatch with established workflows. Most consumers won’t try new technologies or download a retail app unless there is immediate perceived value in doing so. Be clear on which behaviors you trying to influence and bring multiple disciplines together in gathering requirements. Always build or buy technologies that are intuitive and designed from the user point of view.

With the customer in mind, I would like to share a recent article written by Will Roche of Microsoft. Mr. Roche has spent his career working with some of the worlds largest retailers and technology vendors. I think Will really understands the intersection of technology and “people-centric” issues. With his permission, I have included it below.



The Business of People…

Guest Post by Will Roche – Retail Solutions Executive, Microsoft Dynamics

It is interesting how we use words like customer and consumer to refer to people who purchase goods and services from our companies. I recently heard the term “B to P” vs “B to C” which really caught my attention. The quest to have a closer more relevant relationship with people who purchase goods and services from us is about understanding human behavior. I can see how retailers are chasing the hype of social networking, mobility and such things as clienteling to get ahead of competition not really understanding the core drivers. At the core people
generally behave on fairly predictable terms so it is important to understand what levers you have as a retailer to drive these behaviors and to whom you choose to do it with.

I use this example often when I talk about observing customer centric initiatives (maybe it should be people centric?) with retailers. I have a grocery store close by which a number of years back spent a lot of money re-inventing themselves as a high end food competitor. One big problem was they thought they could automate service and bypass employee costs via automation. As I walk into this store I am immediately presented with the option of joining their “loyalty card” program via a nice looking kiosk. I walk by as I am not interested in spending my time typing on a computer. As I enter the start of my shopping experience with my shopping cart I am immediately presented with a wall of  “personal shopper” devices that I can use if I had a “loyalty card” and the desire to figure out what they were for?

Entering the fresh produce area there is a large flat screen with someone talking which I can’t quite understand and frankly not interested in hearing. As I choose some fresh produce I see that I have the opportunity to weigh and print out a label which can be scanned at the checkout. Interesting, why would I want to do that I ask myself?

As I go through the store I see additional attempts to add value such as touch screen devices on certain isles to locate a product I could not find. Usually it was out of order or when usable difficult and frustrating to navigate.  To cut to the chase of this experience, when I went to finally checkout I was forced to go through a self-checkout because there was only one lane open for full service and it was full? I am not sure whether the thought was how to improve service or just cut costs for employee’s, but in either case I dreaded going to this store even though they did a reasonably good job merchandising their products and providing the products I wanted. I actually would drive a few miles out of my way not to go there. Consequently I never really saw any traffic at this store and they are no longer a brand in business.

Morale of this story is to understand what real value means to the people you want to serve!

Technology is a wonderful thing and provides many improvements to our lives and even how we purchase things. Understand though that technology is a tool and as retailers you need to first understand and know who your customers are and what makes them tick as it
pertains to your offerings. So before running off and buying some expensive new gadget for your stores, think hard about how it will help drive your core mission and value proposition. You should never waiver from this; it is easy to get caught up in the latest “shiny thing”. However as a person that has spent over thirty years in technology for retailers I do have some insight that I would like to share.

The first is data. You cannot know your customers without data. Not being a local corner store and with constant turnover of employees you cannot depend on (for the most part) long established personal relationships to drive value if you are a typical chain retailer. Data
about your customers and more importantly what you do with this data is critical to the development of relevant relationships with the people you serve. Most everything in this world fits into Pareto’s Principle – The 80-20 Rule. Twenty percent of your customers will or should statistically provide 80% of your profit. So your first mission is to understand who these people are and manically treat them special. How do I know how to treat them special? Part of that is what makes you unique and is required for you to be in business, the other is to have predictive analytic tools that can help you sort and model out signal indicators helping to pinpoint those human behaviors you wish to influence with that twenty percent. This is the real “secret sauce” and you need to really look hard at the many options you have as a retailer in this area. Many companies want to sell you large complex storage eating monsters, you don’t need that! What you need is a comprehensive solution that acts as an engine using this data in many ways and channels to better serve the people you have chosen to have a relevant relationship with. This engine is typically called CRM. CRM is the repository and delivery mechanism of customer information which allows you to operate real time with your customers providing consistent and relevant experiences.

Let me use this example. You have a Facebook page with many people signed up. You know certain affinities about those chosen twenty percent on your Facebook site. You could for example make an offer on Facebook to one of these special people creating a coupon on their
phone for redemption at their favorite store. When they arrive the sales associate using their clienteling application connects with the phone offer pulling up all the data on this customer along with the coupon to really create a “I know you” experience. This engagement should be a well thought out sales process and executed consistently throughout your organization. By the way, executed well friends of this person will see on Facebook (if he/she elects) that they bought this item and had a great experience. Make sense?

There are many business processes and technology tools including, emails, events and texting that also are part of this comprehensive system, but one fact needs to happen. You need to increase the frequency of visitation and dollars spent per visitation by that twenty percent or all of this is money for technology is down the proverbial toilet. If done well making sure you have metrics and a feedback loop to your process you can then expand to a new frontier, the 70-30 rule.

Will can be reached at


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Dimensionalizing The Shopping Experience

 With 2-D Barcodes

I am sure you have noticed the accelerating pervasiveness of QR Codes in magazines, billboards, TV, T-shirts and of course retail.  It’s being touted as the “virtual bridge” between the physical world and the internet, but too often in the US, execution does more to disenfranchise customers than engage them.

 Let me explain. Many large retailers and the vendors that supply them (think bigger boxes) are starting to label their products with 2-D codes in hopes of converting smartphone wielding customers at the point of decision. Unfortunately, in the US at least,  the user experience is seldom worth the effort because scan results can be slow and generally lead the user to a smaller, harder to read version of the vendors existing website. What a loss of opportunity!

 In Asia, QR codes have been the rage for a couple of years and the experience is becoming more  enticing and innovative. One study claims that 90% of all Japanese consumers have “shot a code” in the past year. 

In Korea, Tesco wanted to become the #1 retailer without opening more stores. This is a market with hard-working time-starved, commuting  consumers who dread shopping. So, Tesco created life-like retail environment on the walls of the subway stations, where commuters could “shop” by scanning  codes of pictured items and have them  delivered that same day.

Following this campaign, online sales increased dramatically (Nov 2010 to Jan 2011). Through this campaign, 10,287 consumers visited the online Tesco (recently renamed Homeplus) mall using smartphones. The number of new registered members rose by 76%, and online sales increased 130%. Currently, Homeplus has become No.1 in online market and is a very close 2nd offline.

By comparison, US adoption is slower. A ComScore study released last month said that 6% of US mobile shoppers scanned a QR code in June of 2011.  These users tend to be relatively affluent, under 45 years old and more often than not, male.  I’ve attached Comscore’s results to the left. Most surprisingly, a total of 64% of users claimed to have scanned inside a retail or grocery store. That 9.2M people scanning retail codes in a single month… not a bad start.

  (Click to Enlarge)

What will it take for QR codes to reach critical mass? Real consumer value! Using the technology in creative ways that make the consumer want to interact with the brand and learn more about complex product offerings. I saw Mick McCormick, EVP of Global Sales & Marketing for Columbia Sportswear speak at last weeks 2011 Summit. McCormick demonstrated a few QR code-driven videos that were improving in-store conversion on technical  apparel by as much 500%!  Based upon that kind of  sales improvement, they have plans on using QR codes across all of their product lines.

During the presentation, one apparel vendor expressed frustration with retailer hessitancy in allowing coded tags within their stores. McCormick’s advice was clear – deliver relevant content that drives the retailer’s objectives (e.g. conversion) and avoid redirecting consumers to vendor landing pages.  For retailers, the brand experience is everything. Redirection to potentially thousands of vendor sites undermines that objective. 

ClickGenie, a mobile QR startup in North Carolina has an interesting approach to managing this problem. They have developed a hosted solution that simplifies the content management from disparate vendors. This is accomplished by customizing a number of pre-approve templates that are branded to match the retailer’s desired user experience. Vendors simply upload content and the environment is controlled and branded by the solution, using generally available smartphone QR readers.  Additionally, the solution enables other retail-specific workflows like consumer wish lists, product recommendations and real-time offers.

See the recent Apparel article or scan the QR code below to learn more about ClikGenie.    

The mobile revolution is in it’s infancy and in the not too distant future all of us will be using new technologies like mobile NFC  and QR to learn more about the products we buy and hopefully, to simplify our lives.  





Posted Date: 8/19/2011

ClikGenie Video

Leverage the QR Craze to Engage Shoppers

By  George Hoffman

Apparel retailers and brand owners looking to open a mobile channel for virtually unrestricted customer engagement on the selling floor and beyond, need search no further than QR (quick response) bar codes and their own imaginative merchandising practices. The increasingly ubiquitous checkerboard-like bar codes have become a staple at such big box venues as Home Depot, Lowe’s and Best Buy where they enable smartphone delivery of information on retail products ranging from potted plants to high-def TVs.

Apparel businesses are likely close behind, and those that launch early will gain a competitive advantage, especially with the young, tech-savvy demographic so coveted by clothing retailers. In 2011, the smart play for apparel retailers and brands is to set business objectives for QR bar codes and develop merchandising strategies to achieve them.

Opening the door to two-way engagement  

If you’re like most retailers, chances are good that increasing interaction with customers will rank high among your QR business objectives. According to a recent Forrester Research Study, 66 percent of retailers stated their number one objective for investing in mobile technology was to increase customer engagement.

But QR codes alone will not create an engaging customer experience. It’s how you employ the technology that will determine its success. The opportunities to engage in-store shoppers via QR codes are limited only by a retailer’s or brand’s creativity. The code opens a two-way channel that can accommodate video, chat, text, images and virtually any other type of messaging. Providing additional product information is one obvious potential QR use. Helping shoppers to accessorize is another.

In each case, imaginative merchandising will be key to increasing sales…

Click Here to Read the Full Article.

George Hoffman is president of ClikGenie, Inc., a QR merchandising solutions firm based in Charlotte, N.C. Reach him at

Social Coupons and the “Bubble Effect”

While I don’t pretend to be a social coupon expert, I have been a troubled observer of this growing phenomenon for some time. As Rocky Agrawal said in Monday’s widely circulated post, the model simply does not make sense. 

There are all types of economic reasons why this model is poised to fail, but that is not what troubles me most. I am most concerned about the long term “destruction of value” that this tactic promotes.  Let me explain. Jack decides to buy Jill something nice for Mothers Day, perhaps a $75 massage.  Miraculously, ping,  a $17 Swedish massage coupon appears on his iPhone.  Its an incredible deal so  he buys it, gives it to Jill, and everybody is happy…right?

Well, not really…  First, the spa probably wasn’t doing well in the first place, which explains why it was so desperate to “buy” a customer.  Now the spa is so overwhelmed that it was almost impossible for Jill to get an appointment. A month later she finally has her massage, from a service provider who has been losing $30 on every customer since Mothers Day! Maybe the quality of the spa’s service hasn’t degraded yet, but customers are tipping less and I am willing to bet that it won’t be the kind of extraordinary experience that builds long-lasting loyalty.  Maybe Jill comes back, maybe she doesn’t… but neither she nor Jack will pay anything close to $75 for her next massage. Furthermore, those loyal customers that have been gladly paying full price are now feeling cheated.  Apparently, it was worth less! Eventually this retailer, and others like it,  complete their death spiral and go out of business. 

In some ways the “irrational exuberance” of social couponing was predictable, much like the dot com and real estate bubbles. Consumers and investors get excited by opportunities where the cost to value equation is dramatically in their favor. But, long term, that imbalance is simply not sustainable. No retailer can lose money on every customer but hope to make it up in volume. That is simply mortgaging the future. Eventually it has to collapse. 

But the collapse doesn’t hurt just that retailer. It hurts all of us. The pervasiveness of deeply discounted couponing is changing consumers perception of value and driving down margin for many reputable retailers in competitive categories. It’s very similar to the dynamics of the current real estate market. Why would a buyer pay “retail” for my home when my neighbor or his banker is willing to sell a comparable product at a distressed sale price? Ultimately, value is destroyed because a few ill performing merchants are willing to canabalize themselves in a futile effort to survive another month or two.    

Retail excellence and corresponding financial success comes from delivering real value not the lowest cost. Retailers need to identify those products, services, activities, behaviours and customer experiences that differentiate them from their competitors in a way that supersedes price.  Create a learning relationship with your customers, become the destination of choice in the category… and you’ll have customers for life!

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Demystifying the Luxury Customer (Guest Article)

     I was recently speaking with a good friend and former client at two well known Italian luxury brands. We got onto the topic of the roles and responsbilities of a luxury CIO and how it differed from the traditional high-street retailer.  Having worked the luxury segment in IT and CRM for many years, she had some very interesting stories to share. Luxury  is simply different, perhaps more so than many of my readers realize. So, at the end of our conversastion I asked her if she would like to share her perspective as an IT executive on the inside, supporting  two of the worlds most demanding retail brands, catering to the difficult to reach, “rich and famous” customer.  

The article that follows highlights some of the considerations that luxury retailers must incorporate into their Clienteling and CRM strategy.

Demystifying the Luxury Customer

     In my years working as a VP of Information Systems within luxury fashion retail I have often been at the center of CRM vendor intrigue.  The luxury client is a customer few understand and fewer still know how to reach.  They can’t be induced by traditional retailing techniques. Loyalty cards, promotional savings, free gifts are simply ignored, or worse, damage the brand. This leaves most  marketers wondering, “How do you reach this client?”  My answer is emphatically — by building a Customer Centric organization.   By effectively and creatively utilizing BI and CRM analytical tools in conjunction with consistent clienteling activities, with an enterprise-wide customer centric philosophy, a luxury retailer can begin to connect and build loyalty with their client. 

     The key to reaching the luxury client is to really know them, their lifestyle and shopping behavior.  However,  success is based on how you use that information and how relevant the channel and messaging.  Every customer has a unique value equation that must come into balance before they buy.  The mass market customer  generally buys based on “need” and is motivated by savings and incremental offers.  The luxury client buys because of “want” and is willing to pay a premium for an experience. 

     Let’s take a minute to examine the lifestyle of the luxury client.  We already know their income bracket is high, but what else do we know?  They are social, aware of their status, often busy (perhaps too busy to even shop during regular hours), uncompromising and specific with style, they value quality and service over quantity, are event or experience driven, and value trust at the hands of experts.  Knowing these “soft” characteristics and combining them with “hard” purchase behavior provides the retailer with the data to personalize, influence and delight their customers.  Armed with this customer knowledge and the analytical detail provided by CRM and BI tools, the purveyor of luxury products can sustain a relevant profitable relationship with their exclusive clientele. 

     Let’s look further.  As I mentioned, they are social and event driven. So, why not create social shopping events like an invite a friend (new shopper) luncheon or a charity fashion show (forgive me, I am in luxury fashion). These are fabulous ways to bring in existing clients and add their closest friends to your roster of customers.   While a sale will not necessarily cause the luxury client to shop, selecting pieces that their trusted associate believes is “just right for them”  is often irresistible.  In home shopping and approval shipments to top customers has been proven to build exceptional loyalty.  Since a luxury client is looking for a shopping experience built on convenience and trust, the relationship you build with them must be one that welcomes them in to your company’s “family”.  Their associate becomes their friend, their confidant who knows them and knows what is best for them.  This level of customer intimacy requires capturing and leveraging information at every customer touch point and making that knowledge accessible to all constituents across the organization.

     A great place to start is to ask questions and LISTEN to their story.  Know your local social event calendar and know their personal interests and events.  Knowledge is power particularly in luxury.  Think out of the box when analyzing their shopping behavior and look for the patterns that will guide your next move.  Every decision your luxury client makes tells you something about who they are.  Every piece of information, from how often they shop, with whom they choose to shop, what pieces they buy, to when they buy helps you create a picture of “your client”.  Build and continually revise your client “profile” to remain current with an ever changing world and how our world affects your client.  The foundation for approaching luxury clientele is the same as it is for all customers.  It is your response to the data you uncover that is different.  The key success factor is to gain a deep understanding of whom your client is and what they value.  Analyze your successes and failures and always be willing to adjust your strategy to connect with an ever changing clientele culture.

     The author, Genine Fargnoli is the former VP of IS  and Director of CRM at Georgio Armani. She previously worked in Program Managment for  Gucci Group NYC. She can be reached at

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Welcome to Bryan Amaral’s Blog

Welcome and thanks for visiting my new blogspot. I’ve created this site to share and connect with all my friends and colleagues in the retail industry. Many of you know me as the Founder & CEO of Retaligent Solutions and may have been wondering where I have been for the last couple of months. There have been quite a few changes at Retaligent and I hope to be sharing some of that story with you in a future post.

Anyway, I believe this site will be a great way to complile and tweet interesting content that I come across every day. It also provides a venue to share my personal thoughts and my expertise that comes from being a 30 year retail veteran with 20+ years of developing and marketing innovative technology solutions for retailers. I hope you will find some of the posts valuable and I welcome your comments and perspectives. Take a moment to sign up and I will send you a periodic compilation of the “best of the best” related to the topics above.

While customer centricity is getting a lot of attention at the moment, I’ve been deploying customer centric solutions and consulting services since the early 1990’s. I thought you might enjoy seeing some of the videos, white papers, brochures, newsletters,  editorials, and articles that I’ve authored and that have been published about my work over the years. You will see that the concepts behind great retailing haven’t changed too much– we just have more mature and accessible technology that ensures that multi-channel best practices can be executed consistently.  Take a look at some of this content and see where it might help you in understanding and redefining the new retail reality.

Again, let me thank you for taking the time to visit and if you think I can help you in any way, I’d enjoy hearing from you.

Best regards,

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