Archive for the 'CRM' Category

Macy’s drops out of the Plenti program

Macy’s was one of the charter members of the Plenti loyalty program, where shoppers could earn points by buying gas at Mobil, renting a car from Alamo, and so forth. Here’s a quick RetailWire comment about the move, which rightfully places the spotlight on Macy’s own Star Rewards program:

As a Macy’s shopper, I was confused by the purpose of the Plenti program and wasn’t sure of the benefits. I wasn’t necessarily interested in some of the other brands participating in the program, and it “muddied the waters” of the Star Rewards program. I’m sure that I wasn’t alone, and Macy’s is right to focus on revamping Star Rewards with more personalized, data-driven rewards for its best customers.

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The “upselling” opportunity depends on training

From a recent RetailWire discussion, here are my thoughts on the volume opportunity of “upselling.” As usual, the issue depends on the kind of retailer we’re talking about:

Upselling can’t work everywhere — in a mass merchant or discounter, for example, where associate training is more focused on “process” like running the registers or restocking the shelves. But there are plenty of specialty stores (and even department stores) that need to make upselling part of associate training in the first place. Filtering out candidates during the hiring process if they are uncomfortable engaging with customers is the obvious place to start, followed by extensive role modeling after the hire.

Who does this the best? I’d argue that Nordstrom has always made it part of the company culture. In the shoe department, for example, associates are trained to bring out three pairs if the customer picks just one to try on. It’s a simple lesson for other stores to learn, if they’re willing to try.

Does “customer service” still have a meaning?

I’ve long maintained that “customer service” is in the eye of the beholder, especially depending on the type of retailer or website being visited. This is more true than ever in today’s “omnichannel” world, and here’s a recent RetailWire comment on the topic:

Customer service is part of (but not all of) the customer experience. The entire experience includes the store’s “silent salespeople” (store atmospherics, design, etc.), the interaction with e-commerce, the pricing strategy and above all the merchandise.

Meeting or exceeding customers’ expectations for “good service” depends on the type of store, as other panelists rightly point out. Good customer service in a high-touch atmosphere like Nordstrom is far different from what the Target shopper expects: Merchandise in stock, easy to find, and easy to pay for quickly. But getting this right is only one piece of the puzzle for any retailer.

Stagnant growth of loyalty programs

RetailWire panelists discussed some new data suggesting that loyalty programs’ growth is slowing at several retailers. Here’s my take on why this may be happening:

Loyalty involves establishing an emotional connection between the retailer and the customer, in order to move that shopper from a state of satisfaction to commitment. But far too often, retailers’ loyalty programs consist of little beyond price incentives. Extra discounts for cardholders may drive more frequency of visit but also encourage bottom-feeding when “loyalists” can apply one sale offer on top of another.

Among many other uses of data science, retailers can do a much better job using predictive technology to tell their best customers about new products of interest — not just when those products are available at the lowest possible margin to the store.

Who is the “chief customer experience” officer, anyway?

There have been a couple of recent RetailWire panel discussions on the topic of retail organization charts. One of the hot issues is the buzz around the title of “Chief Customer Experience Officer.” What, exactly, does this mean? Which operating area does this person run — merchandising? marketing? stores? Isn’t the company CEO in fact the chief “experience”  officer if the goal is to get the entire organization aligned with this concept? In any event, here are some more of my thoughts on the issue:

The place to start is a clear definition of “customer experience.” Is it the type of “high-touch” service expected in a luxury or near-luxury retailer like Nordstrom? Is it the smooth integration of the in-store and e-commerce process into an “omnichannel” vision? Is it the overall branding message of the retailer? And — let’s not forget — the merchandise content is the most visible sign of any retailer’s “customer experience.”

So the entire idea of “customer experience” is a hot buzzword right now (like “omnichannel”) without a clear definition of its meaning. If a retailer can make up its mind about what the concept stands for within its four walls, then it makes the most sense to assign primary responsibility to the C-level executive with the budgeting authority to make it happen.

Loyalty programs: Is time worth more than money?

Recently the RetailWire panel  had a chance to discuss new thoughts about loyalty programs. The article under discussion focused on the value of the consumer’s time, but several of the examples were not specific. The common theme — and a growing issue in rethinking loyalty programs — is how to change the formula from just being price-focused. Here’s my comment:

The examples mentioned in the article are not always about time-saving, but they are consistently good examples of how to delight the customer by exceeding expectations. Some of the benefits are convenience-based, others are based on the idea that frequent customers merit special recognition.

But the common theme is that these are not pricing-based ideas. Many retailers and service providers mistake deeper discounts for true loyalty programs, but price incentives only encourage the customer looking for deals to shop around and cherry-pick. It’s time for more merchants to follow the lead of service providers in rethinking the very meaning of their loyalty offers.

Do loyalty programs work for Gen Y shoppers?

There has been plenty of discussion recently on RetailWire about the nature of store loyalty programs. Most panelists agree with me that most of these incentives really don’t accomplish their aim. The question at hand: Can these types of programs work any better for the Millennial consumer?

As panelists have discussed recently, most stores’ loyalty programs are really discounts by another name. These kinds of incentives will be important to Gen Y shoppers, who outnumber Boomers but do not have nearly the same level of spending power. However, it’s well documented that Gen Y shoppers will also respond to marketers that understand their interest in technology and the emotional connection of community. (“Peer marketing” might be a good way to describe it.) Finally, customized rather than mass media are essential to reaching this target most effectively.


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