It has been an unprecedented year for the retail industry, but the National Retail Federation (NRF) will continue with its annual Big Show. This time around, it is a virtual event, and once again, the KIT team will be in attendance. NRF2021: Retail’s Big Show – Chapter One offers a virtual Expo for retailers to connect with the industry. The event starts on 12 January 2021, and to discover more about how KIT Clienteling tools can help get your business back on track in these challenging times, register here to schedule a meeting with one of the team.

Echoing what has been said by many, 2020 saw turbulence across all retail sectors, and as a direct consequence, we witnessed how customer behaviour became ever more unpredictable. Designated ‘non-essential’ retail closed their doors but those with online stores had the opportunity to continue driving sales and to move even closer to their customers by giving them the best experience possible.

Avoiding the ‘Old School’ approach

Bombarding known and opted-in customers with promotional offers is one way of maintaining visibility. For some, this approach had already become viewed as ‘Old School’ and certainly not how brands want to see themselves represented. Indeed, 2020 had been decreed as the year that retailers became more experiential. It was also the year that the ‘theatre of retail’ would come to the fore and unleash its creativity. By April, via a nervy February and March, survival became the keyword throughout the industry. Even so, some were already starting to get ahead of the game.

Retailers that had latched on to the need for a more personalised experience had already introduced Clienteling into stores. Store Associates had transferred their ‘little black book’ onto digital devices (tablets and mobile phones), possessing tools that that enabled them to deepen the relationship between the customer and the brand. Invitations to special events? Previews of new product ranges? Curating sets of products that meet the preferences and interests of the customer? All available with a touch, swipe, or a pinch on the screen.

Savvy retailers knew that by having Clienteling tools readily available and implemented, once stores were closed, they could maintain and further their relationship with customers. Communicating through emails, social media messaging and video calling, they could retain front of mind – in a non-bombardment way. Sharing, commenting, and recommending via all types of social media kept the brands and customers close. Guiding and helping the customers to navigate the online store (to find that elusive product) and helping get that perfectly timed delivery or kerbside pick-up. Remote associates, operating as if standing alongside the customer in the store, can maintain intimacy and engagement through the tools. As customers continue to receive the same high level of service from a remote associate, this will only continue to develop confidence across categories and price points.

The next level of Clienteling

Whether a brand, operating its own stores and being fully vertically integrated with your manufacture, or a retailer of multiple brands, putting its own unique and consistent spin on the experience that the customer receives is differentiating. This approach can range from offering access to live (and virtual for the time being) catwalk shows and product launches. Or it could be providing the latest news, updates, or even building and organising communities. Getting close to the customer (whether physically in the store or remotely using communication apps) means that your brand will continue to be integral to their life.

Where can this lead? Well, Boston Consulting Group is already talking about ‘Clienteling 2.0’ and the use of Machine Learning to curate suggestions. But this technology is already available. Further steps using AR and VR are around the corner, and with the arrival of 5G, yet more possibilities are sure to emerge.

The capabilities that can be unleashed through technology are becoming close to limitless. But the ability to remain close to your customers, wherever they are, is there. Brands will differentiate themselves by the type of experience that they give to their customers. Customers will differentiate the brands by the value they put on the experience personally.