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A store of data

The little black book is being replaced by technology that records customers’ buying habits.

Generations of store managers and independent retailers have traditionally relied on the ‘little black book’ to record the names, telephone numbers and addresses of their best customers. But as businesses grow – in terms of customers, stores, online or all three – a leather-bound book may not be the most efficient way of making the most of customers’ information.

Richard Willis, retail solutions director at retail technology provider Torex, which counts branded retailer Republic and luxury brand Mulberry among its customers, says the problem with the little black book model is that the information is not transportable and is lost between stores and other sales channels, and causes problems when businesses become international. “Fashion retailers need to have a global perspective on their top customers,” says Torex vice-president of retail Helen Slaven.

Developments in technology and the advent of ecommerce mean fashion retailers are now capturing customer details through a variety of channels, including websites, online surveys, wish lists and gift lists, EPoS systems, loyalty cards and social media sites. This information can often be quite disparate and retailers are attempting to link it together by investing in customer relationship management (CRM) technology, which helps give an insight into consumer shopping habits.

Customer care

Sam Jackson, chief technology officer at software provider Prologic, whose customers include Paul Smith and Fat Face, says the explosion in web sales has led to growing interest in CRM among mid-market and smaller fashion retailers over the past five years.

Retail systems provider Eurostop serves customers including Superdry and indie Matches. Its sales and marketing director Phillip Moylan says his customers use the loyalty software “because they realise they need to market themselves more and be more proactive with their customers to optimise sales and margins”.

Investing in CRM will help retailers link up all of the customer data they capture across different channels, providing insight into what sells, where and when, who their top customers are and who hasn’t been spending in the past few months.

This can help inform buying and merchandising decisions, marketing initiatives, and allow for deeper engagement between customers and sales staff. “The real issue is around the customer’s journey and the way the different sales channels are joined up, which has been the weaker link in fashion retail,” says Tony Bryant, head of business development at retail and business solutions provider K3, which counts fashion brands and retailers such as Gio-Goi and White Stuff among its customers. “CRM means all of the information collected across the various retail channels is integrated and available at the point of sale. The sales adviser goes from being someone stuck behind a till simply carrying out transactions to [someone] actually engaging with the customer,” he says.

Delivering results

Luxury department stores have been quick to cash in on the technology. Head of CRM at Harrods, Chiara Varese, says Harrods’ rewards card has been intrinsic to the business’s overall growth. “The programme enables us to process key information regarding customer activity in store and understand both their actual and potential shopping behaviours. From this knowledge we can provide our customers with relevant information and incentives, helping us to improve their overall shopping experience,” she says.

Adrian Hado, head of CRM at Aurora Fashions, which owns womenswear chains Oasis, Warehouse and Coast, says the business recognises the importance of customer insight in driving it forward. “We are using it both as a way of gaining better understanding in how customers engage with our brand and to communicate more effectively with them, which in turn increases their loyalty,” he says.

Outdoor retailer Go Outdoors has worked with Prologic to develop its CRM strategy and amassed a database of about 1.3 million customers via its loyalty card scheme, which it uses to inform its buying and merchandising decisions, and to run targeted marketing campaigns. Ed Sygrove, the retailer’s head of IT, says: “We use the information we capture via our customer loyalty cards to monitor how frequently our customers are shopping with us. When we find a customer who regularly shops with us hasn’t been spending for a while, we target them with a promotional email to get them in store.”

Online challenge

Capturing customer data is even more essential for online and catalogue retailers which don’t have face-to-face contact with consumers. Alan White, chief executive of catalogue and online fashion retailer N Brown, which owns etailers including Simply Be and Figleaves, uses software called Speedtrap, which captures page impressions and other information on how consumers shop on a website. “It has informed our buying because we can even see when customers have tried to buy something that isn’t in stock. Physical retailers can’t do this and because we’ve captured this data we can build that demand into our buying,” he says.

But it’s not just department stores, multiples, and etailers that are boosting business by capturing customer data; independents are getting in on the act too. St Albans womenswear boutique The Dressing Room uses a little black book, EPoS system and website to inform its buying and merchandising both in store and online, and to run targeted marketing initiatives. “Our top customers are invited to exclusive events tailored just for them and we have larger events aimed at our full mailing list. We will also contact people that have not spent with us in a while,” says owner Deryane Tadd.

Denim and contemporary independent 3:Eleven Boutique in Hale, Cheshire, is combining its little black book and EPoS system to capture customer details. “It is working for now but it would be better to have an easy system to record purchase histories so we can target [customers] more specifically, personalise emails and keep track of their loyalty,” says owner Georgina Nurse.

“We are looking into setting up an account system/section on our website that would enable our customers to have wish lists and a purchase history so we can target them more specifically and learn more about our customer base.” 

A personalised future

Fashion retailers that have invested in technology to capture customer details are now using hand-held iPads and tablet devices to offer their customers a more personalised shopping experience.

Womenswear retailer East is working with Prologic to develop its CRM strategy, and has introduced iPads into stores for staff to help customers browse, order and arrange delivery from its online collection.

BT Expedite has reported significant interest in its Clientelling software for iPads and tablets since its launch in May. The software is linked to a retailer’s CRM and enables staff to access a customer’s transaction history, wish lists and, depending on the customer’s permission, even social media sites.

Torex retail solutions director Richard Willis says moving to iPad and tablet devices is suitable for both high-end and fast-fashion retailers. “The retailer is able to increase the up-sell potential and increase sales through a personalised shopping experience,” he says.

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