Imagine you’re a sales rep trying to sell a toaster to a customer who’s walked through the door. You might demonstrate the easy-clean surface or show the variety of colors. You may even ask them about their needs—what features they liked in their old toaster or how they hope their next one will look on their counter.
Imagine now that instead of having to guess their interests or previous experience with toasters, you had a mobile device with all of this information—the shopper’s previous visits, purchase history, and browsing interests. You can even see that their birthday is this month.
You’re able to quickly identify the right toaster—the slightly fancier model that aligns with their needs—and even offer them a birthday discount at checkout. In retail, this kind of personalized customer experience—called clienteling—can turn one-time shoppers into loyal advocates.
What is clienteling in retail?
In retail, clienteling is developing and using detailed customer profiles to offer the most personalized shopping experience as soon as customers enter your store or land on your ecommerce site. This is accomplished by collecting data from online and in-person interactions—including purchase history, past visits, interests, personal relationships, customer feedback, and birthdays—and sharing it with your sales associates and marketing teams.
The term “clienteling” comes from the word “client,” emphasizing the idea that customers are valued clients, not anonymous buyers. The goal is to provide customers with more intimate experiences that build long-term, meaningful connections with individuals.
When clienteling in physical stores, brands often give sales reps digital devices that allow them to access in-depth customer data on the spot and use it to serve and persuade customers.
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Benefits of retail clienteling
Retail clienteling can increase high-value sales and build a loyal customer base—all by harnessing essential data. Here are the two main benefits of retail clienteling:
1. Enhanced customer experience
By collecting and using customer data, you can provide a more intimate and personalized customer experience. According to McKinsey, retail personalization can enhance the relationship between retailers and consumers. Relevant targeted communications can create lasting customer loyalty and drive revenue growth of 10% to 30%.
By helping you provide personalized service, a robust clienteling strategy can ultimately increase customer satisfaction, boost customer loyalty, increase customer lifetime value (CLV), expand the number of repeat customers, and increase your word-of-mouth referrals. The challenge is to personalize in a way that delivers genuine value and relevance without annoying or violating your customers’ trust.
2. Data-driven decision-making
Clienteling data, when leveraged correctly, paves the way for more retail sales. When your retail store associates can interact with and immediately identify customers, it’s easier to make sales and identify opportunities to upsell—increasing high-value sales and repeat customers.
In the hands of your marketing department, clienteling data can help tailor your marketing campaigns to individuals, leading to more clicks and higher traffic. Meanwhile, your analytics team can use that same data to identify and focus on your highest-value clients, maximizing their spend and helping you to find more audiences to convert to shoppers.
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Main components of retail clienteling
- Detailed profiles
- Product information
- Omnichannel cross-pollination
- Checkout capabilities
- Marketing integration
A successful retail clienteling strategy typically includes the following key components:
Collect as much information as possible to offer your customers the most personal shopping experience. Maintain and update this information in a searchable database, like a customer relationship management (CRM) system.
Maintain a searchable catalog of your products and services so that sales reps can quickly identify relevant offerings or opportunities to upsell.
Brands are increasingly leveraging both brick-and-mortar and ecommerce storefronts—for instance, in 2022, 53% of brands said they planned to invest in tools that allowed them to sell anywhere. This trend has increased the importance of omnichannel clienteling—personalized customer service across multiple channels—which enables sales reps to view all of a customer’s in-store and online data in one place, including customer purchase histories, customer service interactions, and more.
Customers that visit an ecommerce storefront can benefit from buying online by ensuring the product they want is available and then picking it up with a buy online, pickup in-store (BOPIS) policy. Also, inversely, if something you want isn’t available at the retail location, the brand can locate it for you and have it shipped to your address. Shopper loyalty programs are platform agnostic and whether you’ve contacted customer service through a chatbot, email, or went up to a cashier in the past; your ticket will show up in your customer profile with detailed notes. The information gathered from every interaction you have ever had with the brand, no matter if that was in-person, through their website, via chatbot or phone, or even through social media, will be in your customer profile.
Many clienteling programs include all of the data and functionality you need to make a sale. For instance, Shopify POS Go integrates customer profiles, POS software, a bar code scanner, and a card reader into a single handheld device, giving you everything you need to identify and serve customers, look up product information, and accept payments from anywhere on the sales floor.
Customer profiles are a significant marketing asset, allowing brands to tailor campaigns to particular customers and offer personalized contact. With a clienteling-informed marketing department, your business can send customers personalized promotions and targeted offers for products you know they’re already interested in.
Real-life example of a successful retail clienteling strategy
Diane von Furstenberg (DVF)—the luxury fashion brand behind the iconic wrap dress—recently overhauled its point-of-sale (POS) system to accommodate a more robust clienteling strategy. With its former system, data was siloed into multiple platforms that didn’t communicate with each other. To generate a report on a particular customer, sales associates had to access two different systems and cut-and-paste to make a complete profile—a slow and inefficient process.
In response, DVF decided to migrate its ecommerce and POS operations to Shopify POS. “Now I can click on the customer’s profile,” explains Joanna Puccio, assistant store manager at the NYC flagship store. “I can see what a client bought, returned, their typical sizing, color preferences, even notes our staff add to their profiles—Shopify makes it easy to view customer information.”
In addition, DVF adopted Shopify POS Go, a mobile POS terminal that sales reps can use while assisting customers on the sales floor. “We use Shopify POS Go to check in-store shopping appointments, research our clients’ preferences and purchase history, or look up product availability,” Puccio explains. In the future, they can expand the platform to include a mobile checkout, allowing customers to skip the checkout line and pay anywhere within the store for superior customer service.
Retail clienteling FAQ
What is the difference between customer service and clienteling?
Customer service and clienteling both aim to establish lasting customer relationships—but while clienteling uses customer profiles, customer service typically relies only on the real-time information obtained during a given encounter, requiring the shopper to inform the customer service rep of their needs and situation. Anticipating customer needs before they make requests is essential to retail clienteling; doing this well supports an enhanced customer experience. For instance, a brand may preemptively ask you if you need a refill of an item right before you run out or they may provide you with information about product updates or sales before that information is public.
Is retail clienteling applicable to both brick-and-mortar stores and online retailers?
What role does technology play in enabling effective retail clienteling strategies?
Technology has provided a way for stores to collect and store massive amounts of data in one place. With a cloud-based CRM system, an in-store sales associate can update customer profiles for other sales reps, creating a consistent and personalized experience for customers.