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Small details make retail a big success

Last week I chaired a panel at the World Retail Congress in Barcelona. My session was called “Delivering world-class customer service” and I had three exceptional speakers: Marty Wikstrom, founding partner of Atelier Management; Claudio del Vecchio, chairman and chief executive of Retail Brand Alliance; and Andrew Jennings, group managing director of Woolworths in South Africa.

These were all hands-on retailers and their opinions and experiences were as relevant to small independents as to large conglomerates.
Marty, who worked her way to the top at US department store chain Nordstrom, explained how its reputation for customer service was founded on sales associates who thought on their feet. Claudio talked about Brooks Brothers’ philosophy of making the store manager “CEO of the store”, a strategy of yielding control that head office staff was still getting used to, while Andrew simply said that customer service is about exceeding expectations “all the time every time. There is no silver bullet”.

For an hour, the focus was on the emotional relationship between customer and sales associate. Recent Brooks Brothers research showed that sales increase at the point when a customer moves from rating the brand as having good service to great service.

So, my question is: do you offer good service or great service? As always, retail is in the detail. Like the woman behind the till at Marks & Spencer last week, who made sure I put my Switch card away before I left, saying: “I don’t want you losing anything love.” Big brand, personal connection. Powerful stuff.

Juliet Warkentin is content director at online trends analysis business WGSN. Visit

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