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Bringing Fireworks to Customer Relationships

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Much like fireworks on the Fourth of July, retail relationships either spark and ignite for spectacular results or fizzle and die to disappoint everybody. It’s either, “BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!” or “Fizzle. Sputter. Die.” When a retailer gets it right and connects with me and the products and services I care about, I’m overjoyed. My loyalty grows, and my bond with the retailer’s brand goes deeper. (Think of the bustling Apple Stores in 2008 when most malls were ghost towns.) But if the retailer treats me poorly — or simply isn’t listening — all bets are off. If my first-time experience with a brand isn’t all “BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!” I may never come back. J.C. Penney is one to keep watching as it works to refresh its identity. Many people in my demographic have a long-standing brand loyalty with J.C. Penney. After all, J.C. Penney is the retailer that helped us put together a reasonable back-to-school wardrobe or a moderately priced teen “dream” bedroom. (My teen dream bedroom included a glassy-eyed rattan frog trash can that still sits in my office today.)

Consistent brand experiences As retailers of all sizes seek to innovate, connect and personalize the way customers experience their brands, they can rely on new high-performance analytics (HPA) to help create consistent and meaningful brand experiences. Today’s teen girl might spend hours designing the color scheme for her personalized bedroom or the right outfits to start school in the fall. Unlike me with a paper catalog by my side, she does it online — leaving a valuable data trail in her wake. High-performance analytics help retailers tune in and capture the trail of critical information that can encourage a first-time customer to become a lifetime customer. Or, a retailer can ignore those signals and, in effect, hand that customer and their lifetime of purchases over to an eager competitor who is willing to listen. When a retailer doesn’t listen and doesn’t respond appropriately, it can end the relationship. Retailers run the risk of going from riches to rags in short order.

Following subtle signals Used strategically and discretely, technology can help retailers enrich relationships with customers. For example, I know my husband, and I know his preferences. But because of his Facebook merchant “likes,” I was able to choose the perfect gift for his birthday, and he was delighted. For a retailer, though, the opposite effect is just as possible. If the subtle signals offered through channels like social media aren’t followed with finesse, the customer might “unfriend” — or worse, “block” — the retailer altogether. Technology helps retailers develop moment-of-truth relationships with customers who are standing in a store researching a product on a smartphone. By using technology to interpret key data about me while I’m standing in the store aisle debating an immediate purchase, a retailer can either save the sale right then and there or botch it and send me out the door. Technology can’t replace the people in a retail environment, but technology can heighten a retail employee’s sensitivity to what makes customers tick. Technology like HPA gives retailers rocket fuel without having to be rocket scientists. HPA can help a retailer sense my propensity to make one buying choice vs. another, and help front-line retail employees know how a certain offer may light the fuse and inspire me to buy. Retail isn’t rocket science, but when retailers get it right with customers the relationships they inspire can be as spectacular as fireworks racing across the summer night sky. BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!