As Black Friday and the rest of the holiday season approaches, the amount of insight marketers receive is increasing; they receive tips to optimize emails, streamline ecommerce check-out, ensure returns are seamless, and much more. While the number of people shopping online during the holiday season continues to grow, the fact is that customers still enjoy going out and shopping in stores. National Retail Federation studies show that 57% of customers plan to shop in a department store this weekend. In addition to the emails, flashy signs, and holiday rush, how can brands keep their customers excited and stress-free? (I love Walmart’s happy Holiday Helpers, who keep me calm and buying!)
An additional way to keep customers’ stress level down is through employing aspects of in-store clienteling. This is a broad marketing term, yet for this blog we are speaking about clienteling as providing the store associate with information about their customer from the brand’s marketing database. Now, the in-store associate is empowered and knowledgeable as they interact with a customer face-to-face. What clienteling does is share relevant customer information to improve engagement, in the same way data is shared to an email platform for personalization and targeting, or to a web personalization tool, to social, to digital, or to any other channel. Segment, lifetime value, number of purchases, categories of purchases, next best offer, gift with purchase (GWP), loyalty status, and any other marketing offers or current special treatment are provided to the associate to enable them to make the customer’s shopping experience as stress-free as possible.
An example of how an associate can use information to reduce stress: Imagine a customer, Kevin, comes into your store on Black Friday with a Christmas list of items for his wife. One of the items on the list is a new sweater, because her old one is worn out. Kevin knows that his wife wants the exact same sweater, but the only characteristic he can recall is that it’s gray. With access to Kevin’s information – clienteling - the associate can easily look up Kevin’s purchase history, and find the exact sweater he purchased last year. The associate can then tell Kevin if the item is in stock, and can guide him to where it would be in the store. Kevin leaves the store stress-free with the exact item his wife wants, and didn’t have to waste any time fighting the Black Friday crowds.
Other functions of clienteling include:
- Data capture about an individual customer
- Conduct outbound marketing based on a customer’s stage in the lifecycle
- Location technology for preferred customers who opt in
- Customer look-up
Challenges to Overcome
From an associate’s standpoint, this sounds like the perfect scenario – they will have access to data that they can use to keep customers happy to (hopefully) reduce stress for the customer while making themselves more efficient. From a marketer’s perspective, it can be a little trickier, especially this time of year. Here are some things to consider when undertaking a clientelling project:
- Shopping environment - Clienteling is optimal in a relaxed environment where there’s dialogue, for example customers come to browse, and typically spend more time in the store. In an environment where customers are quickly in and out, clienteling – data capture - might be frustrating
- Training - Clienteling incorporates an element of technology. All store associates know how to use a POS system, so clienteling can be an extension of this. Good clienteling is part of the purchasing process. If associates are not familiar with technology or not employed long enough/don’t have structured training, the effectiveness of clienteling can be impacted.
- Customer Data – To empower clienteling, you need to have a rich customer profile that can be shared. Depending on the design of your clienteling program, your customer data will dictate the breadth of your clienteling opportunity.
- Technology – Clienteling does leverage technology, with integration of different platforms and sharing of data. To enable clienteling, there are commercially available clienteling apps and platforms, or you can design your own to meet your specific needs. What we would stress is that you lead with strategy and conclude with technology when setting out to implement clienteling.
When retailers are hiring seasonal employees, and putting a freeze on their marketing databases, clientelling may seem out of reach. But consider the future possibilities:
In the case of clienteling’s preferred customer approach listed above, Kevin, a participating preferred customer with a program app, walks into the store with his smartphone in hand. The app triggers an alert on the nearest associate’s handheld device, telling her that Kevin, a preferred customer, just walked in the door. On her device, Kevin’s profile is found. The associate walks over to Kevin, greets him by name, and asks what he is looking for this morning. He gives her his Christmas list, and the two are off to find the gray sweater for his wife.
In this scenario, Kevin feels like a VIP, and walks away a very happy, not stressed, customer. When clientelling is done correctly, every customer can feel like a VIP. Use this Black Friday to study the relationships between your customers and associates and see where improvements can be made for next year. Although clienteling may seem out of reach right now, keep it in the back of your mind to reduce your holiday stress as you plan for next year.