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Which Comes First: The Customer or the Retail Store?

You've heard it before, "build it and they will come." But what if you start with "them" and then provide what they are looking for afterwards? That is the strategy being employed by a new breed of retailers who seek to further personalize the shopping experience. First, understand the customer. Then, make products available for sale.

One of these new breed retailers is MM.LaFleur, a Manhattan-based clothing store that focuses primarily on female professionals. As described in the trade magazine, the store offers very little in terms of merchandise on their shop floor. They operate more like a consulting firm, meeting their customers in person, and learning about their needs through questionnaires and the skilled interview techniques and instincts of a personal stylist.

The data collected by MM.LaFleur is used to create "Bento boxes" of suggested outfits and accessories for the customer to receive at home, and either purchase or return.

Unique, Custom Experiences 

This approach may appear to be very different from the traditional retail store style of racks, displays, and inventory, but it points to the ever-growing priority that every retailer must acknowledge – that data is king. MM.Lafleur uses the data they collect to purchase lines of clothing or even individual items on behalf of their customers.

They minimize the risks of return by fully understanding each customer's specific measurements as well as paying close attention to less-structured data like, "I just lost my job, I’ve got interviews, and I want something that makes me feel more confident.”

The customization of the sales process is starting to become a central and essential component of retail in all areas and at all price points. It is not exclusively the domain of luxury boutiques.

The key component is data – collecting it, processing it, and using it to create a tailored experience for each customer. This empowers stores to consistently and cost effectively deliver levels of service at each juncture of every shopping activity, from researching to purchase to returns.

Leveraging Mobile 

For brick-and-mortar stores, the ticket to managing and using data is through mobile commerce technologies. Specifically, native mobile apps for customers, and clienteling apps for sales associates. These provide opportunities for individualized consulting, and for a level of customer intimacy that has generally not yet been experienced in anything other than high-end boutiques. 

The recent purchase by Unilever of the Dollar Shave Club demonstrates that new approaches to selling through Bento-style boxes paired with close attention to personal data, are a serious force in the retail market. 

Stores with an established physical presence and corresponding overhead do not need to view such startups as either invincible or irrelevant. They are very relevant, but what they offer is something all retail enterprises could equally do. It begins and ends with the common denominator – collectible, useable data.

The idea of placing the customer's needs before those of a retailer is not new. It is the essence of customer service. However, the notion of doing this before purchasing inventory is new. But that is the new theatre of commerce. 

It is powered by data, driven by customers, and delivered by those with the foresight to see that the term "build it and they will come" no longer refers to a store. It now points to a total experience.

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Editor, The Mobile Retail Blog

Editor-in-Chief of The Mobile Retail Blog with NewStore.

Topics: retail store

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