March 26, 2019

Conversations in Retail: 4 Customer Experience Trends Heard Over and Again

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Image of Shoptalk 2019 stage

Having been to Shoptalk for the past 3 years, it’s been amazing to have had a first-hand view of how the retail scene has transformed. 2017 represented an inflection point for the retail industry as they began to embrace new technology and thinking about consumer expectations, and going beyond traditional brick-and-mortar paradigms. This year, we’ve seen that change being wholeheartedly adopted, and the desire to drive innovation seems fiercer than ever.  

Here are a sample of just some of the most interesting conversations  we heard at this year’s conference:


Charlie Cole, Chief Digital Officer, TUMI

“You can’t think of a single view of the customer as a strategy. A great single view of the customer allows you to implement strategies that get you to your goal”

No one said it better (in my opinion) than TUMI’s Chief Digital Officer, Charlie Cole. While you can have all the data you want about a customer, it’s not that data in itself that’s useful. The magic lies in leveraging that information into something actionable, something that furthers a tangible goal for your organization—whether that’s improving the quality of your customer support, or curating tailored promotions or product recommendations based on your customers’ unique personality.

Image of Tweet of a quote from Charlie Cole, TUMI, about how customer service is about people, not tickets

TUMI, for example, uses Gladly as their customer service platform, to pull the customer data they have across their various systems of record into a single view for their customer service representatives. In the first 5 seconds, TUMI representatives can understand who the customer is (their name, where they’re from, what their product preferences are) and anticipate their needs (based on their last purchases or their last interactions).

 

Chris Phillips, GM, Stitch Fix

“Celebrate your data scientists”

The idea of personalized service has come up over and again at Shoptalk in the past 3 years. But this year, there’s been a renewed focus around better leveraging customer data to do that.

At a panel session, Stitch Fix GM, Chris Phillips encouraged attendees to “celebrate their data scientists”. According to Chris, Stitch Fix is leveraging the customer data they get (through avenues like their style quizzes and customer behavior) to transform the way people find what they love with the brand. “We leverage data to build a retail experience (around) the way people want to shop. Our products are created for them, curated for them, and personalized for them.

To personalize their customers’ journeys effectively, companies are realizing that they need to understand who their customer is, and then deliver tailored messaging based on that. That means knowing who their customers are shopping for, what they’re shopping for, and when they’ll be ready to convert. And to do all these things at scale.

And to add to that, that personalization needs to carry through from the first contact all the way through to after the purchase. Think about all the times you got a targeted ad for something (based on a search you might have done, or an abandoned cart) that comes weeks after you’d gone ahead and purchased it from their store. Or gotten promotional emails about turkey basters, when what you’d bought from them was a Vitamix. Brands today are looking to tighten their strategy around personalization, so they know what they should be reaching out to you with, and when.


Elaine Kleinschmidt, Executive Vice President, WD Partners Inc.

“The battle between bricks and clicks is officially past tense”

Both traditional retail and direct-to-consumer (D2C) brands are rethinking their approach to the physical store. While motivated by vastly different factors—for traditional retailers, the focus has been on reducing the number of stores, but optimizing their space and layout, while D2C brands are venturing into the physical space as they look for new ways to reach their market post the ‘digital saturation’ point—the end result has been that today’s physical store is seen less as a warehouse for inventory, and more of an ‘experience center’, to help customers get an idea of what their brand is about, and the products they have.

Nordstrom, for example, has been experimenting with smaller footprint concept stores, each about 3,000 sq ft. These stores, have no inventory, but instead offer services such as curbside pickup, alteration and tailoring services, and a style bar where customers can get fashion help from an in-store stylist.

And for D2C companies looking to expand their customer base from the online space, besides investing in their own physical stores (often via Instagram-friendly pop-ups in trendy neighborhoods), many D2C brands are turning to traditional retailers to help stock their brands in-store. Online, subscription-based hair color company, Madison Reed, for example is sold at Ulta stores, as well as their own Color Bar locations in California and New York.

“When people see you somewhere, it is very different than (an) online-only advertising campaign,” according to Madison Reed CEO, Amy Erret. “You become real. It gives efficacy to the online channel.”

And as brands continue to develop their online and physical stores, they’ve started to realize that to be successful, their strategies around one cannot function independently of the other. From how to think about pricing, to the layout of their stores, and even how managers are evaluated, a brand’s online strategies can have an unintended but significant impact on the physical store.


David J. Katz, Executive Vice President, Chief Marketing Officer, Randa Accessories

You have to sell to Amazon because that’s where the customers are”

Brands today also have a clearer strategy around working with the online juggernaut, Amazon. Rather than just compete with Amazon, brands are starting to view the online marketplace as a potential marketing channel, and a good place to test specific product lines against the market quickly.



By collaborating with Amazon, brands not only have control over how their products are presented—the accompanying copy and images—but also enjoy access to the sheer critical mass of customers that use Amazon for their purchases. In fact, it’s also an avenue for customers to discover brands on they may not have heard of or thought to look at.

But while there are clear benefits to leveraging Amazon, retailers are still wary of the fact that a partnership with Amazon means they lose access to valuable customer data (which still stays with Amazon), and from being able to deliver a more personalized experience to their customers.

It’s a balancing act for brands as they calibrate their strategy around Amazon, and the other online marketplaces.


Even in its fourth year, Shoptalk continues to be a great space for retailers and brands to come together to inform and educate themselves about the industry, and learn from one another. This year was no different, with a lot of exciting new ideas and initiatives coming from brands—both established and new—that’s left us all curious to see what retail and Shoptalk is going to look like come 2020.

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