Solving the Personalization Quandary with the Right Clienteling Solution

As seen on RIS News


Clienteling has become one of the key software buzzwords of the past decade. While many technologies segment consumers by region, preferred language or strong sellers, clienteling takes micromarketing to a new level. Focusing on one-on-one sales interactions with a physical store’s best customers, it emphasizes individuals’ needs, restoring the personal shopper relationships eroded by retail globalization.


Clienteling enhances shopper profiles in ways POS data and e-commerce alone cannot. By capturing personal data across channels using tablets and smartphones, it allows the in-store experience to mirror, compliment or exceed that of online shopping. Information regarding top customers is entered into a searchable, retrievable database, including notes, wish lists, preferences, alerts and purchase history. Software tracks data and makes merchandise suggestions much like Amazon. Many clienteling solutions also process returns and aid in the checkout process from the sales floor.


Brands that create personalized experiences by integrating advanced digital technologies and proprietary data experience revenue increases of 6% to 10%, according Boston Consulting Group’s (BCG) “Profiting from Personalization” study. Increases are two to three times higher than for companies that do not embrace personalization. Within five years, personalization will generate $800 billion in incremental revenue among the 15% of retail, healthcare and financial companies that “get it right” the report says.

In-store recommendations and assisted selling are 25X more effective than personalized e-mail promotions.

Source: EKN Research, “A New Store Excellence Scorecard”

But clienteling software alone cannot bring back the local haberdasher who knew just how to press each customer’s cuffs. To be successful, clienteling must involve appropriate infrastructure, databases and analytics capabilities. On the non-technology end, it needs support from a corporate culture with established goals and a salesforce trained in its proper use and customer interface scenarios. And, clienteling systems should be tailored to a company’s needs.


Put the Customer First

Retailers need clear reasons and goals for implementing clienteling solutions. This includes defining “pain points” and scenarios that delight or add value or convenience for shoppers through personalized offers, services or assistance. Sixty percent of companies lack a clear roadmap, and half do not have a clear business case and objective, according to a BCG’s “Profiting from Personalization” report.


Establishing goals requires studying a myriad of shopper nuances and scenarios. Through design thinking, executives can uncover latent, unmet needs and combine insights with analysis of the data behind behavioral and economic drivers. Resulting information can be applied to establish shopper value propositions reflected in products, services, marketing and loyalty programs.


Key goals of all clienteling efforts should emphasize customer acquisition as well as retention. Loyal customers drive 70% of a company’s value, according to BCG. Home products retailer Jonathan Adler addresses retention by targeting customers who have gone over a year without purchasing. When customers are about to “lapse,” the associate who last served him/her invites that shopper in for a free gift or other incentive.


Many retailers use clienteling to augment their online business and/or be more competitive with pure plays by offering information not available online. This is important in a world where consumers do heavy Internet research and in which channels can be interchangeable. In fact, digital channels influence almost 48% of in-store sales, according to EKN Research’s “Deciphering the Customer’s Buying Journey” report.


Today, multiple channels are the lifeblood of Italy-based Furla, which has an online business along with 340 international apparel locations that include stores, franchisees and outlets. Furla wanted to centralize retail and merchandising activities with a single database while maintaining strong attention to local, culturally diverse needs. Using omnichannel software, a cloud-based database provides real-time data on sales, stock and customers across channels and locations. Language, tax and credit card information are tailored by country (read story).

“Using a system that allows us to centrally manage all stores worldwide, while taking into account regional differences, has allowed us to significantly improve the shopping experience,” said CEO Eraldo Poletto.

33% of retailers list store associate training among the top three capabilities that will have the greatest impact on customer engagement.

Source: RIS/EKN, “Third Annual Customer Engagement Study”

Interestingly, many luxury goods suppliers initially spurned e-commerce. This has changed. From 2003 to 2016, online luxury goods sales increased nearly 20-fold to $21 billion (8% of the total), said Bain & Company’s “Luxury Goods Worldwide Market Study.” Still, 40% of luxury brands are unavailable online, said in its article, “The Role of Technology in the Luxury Industry,” highlighting the importance of an engaging in-store experience.


Today, clienteling is frequently used in high end, “VIP” fashion settings. But upscale in of itself is not a necessity. The sales process should be complex and/or require certain expertise. The latter may be the case when products are highly technical, made in a unique way or from unusual materials. Adequate staffing levels are required in order for personnel to spend quality time with guests.


Optimize Senior Leadership

In 2016, retailers devoted 25% of their technology budget to customer-facing initiatives; by 2020, they are expected to allocate 31%, said EKN Research’s report “A New Store Excellence Scorecard.” Despite this increase, not all companies are communicating effectively enough to generate maximum ROI.


Like all technologies, clienteling requires support and input from the c-suite with IT, CMOs, marketing and other executives working together. Dedicated staffing levels must be adequate. Just 15% of companies can be considered personalization leaders, according to BCG’s report “Profiting from Personalization,” and most are tech entities and/or digital natives. “It is a tough, time consuming task, one that requires the collaboration of marketing, IT and others,” said BCG.


Lack of dedicated personnel (74%) was the top reason behind ineffectiveness, said BCG. This was followed by insufficient crossfunctional coordination (61%), inadequate creative processes (57%), lack of talent/knowledge (54%), and cultures that are not conducive to innovation (52%).


BCG studied 50 companies across 10 industries, including apparel. The most successful dedicate 25 employees to personalization and spend $5 million-plus annually on personalization campaigns. They develop cross-functional teams, colocate members and work quickly. These entities run more than 20 personalized communication experiments monthly and develop processes for rapid execution and measurement. Initiatives can be implemented quickly and evaluated in real time.


Recognizing the changing role of the CMO may facilitate some initiatives. Historically, CMOs focused exclusively on marketing. But the growing role of technology in marketing has brought CMOs and CIOs into closer working relationships and broadened the CMO’s responsibilities. L’Oreal is a prime example of a company that has realigned corporate brass to meet changing needs across business areas, including in-store and digital. In 2014, it appointed the first chief digital officer to its executive committee. The CDO leads digital strategy and innovation across divisions and brands, ranging from content marketing, personalization, data and e-commerce. Over the past four years, L’Oreal has recruited 1,000 employees with digital backgrounds.


In L’Oreal’s stores, a POS solution provides associates with real-time cataloging, inventory, customer and loyalty information. A mobile POS component lets salespeople stay on the floor helping customers, increasing cross-selling and upselling. Despite successes, some retailers are still struggling, particularly when it comes to connecting personnel and processes. While 60% of retailers have a department responsible for customer engagement, only 18% of them have a comprehensive strategy and tactical approach to deploy it, according to EKN Research’s “A New Store Excellence Scorecard.”

60% of retailers have a department responsible for customer engagement, but only 18% of them have a comprehensive strategy and tactical approach to deploying it.

Source: EKN Research, “A New Store Excellence Scorecard”


Build Nex-Gen Data and Analytics Capabilities has become the gold standard for personalization. It pioneered the use of customer data to continually tailor interactions and create powerful feedback loops. This involves accessing and processing large amounts of disjointed data ― including customer, transaction and third-party information — on an ongoing and reliable basis. But garnering data from internal and external sources and developing appropriate machine learning algorithms can be challenging.


The biggest challenges with personalization are gaining insights quickly enough (40%), having enough data (39%), and inaccurate data (38%), according to Adobe’s “Design: The Not-So-Secret Strategic Weapon.


Creating the required data asset can be time-consuming and expensive. Fortunately, over the past decade, many retailers have invested heavily in CRM solutions. Systems gather customer information to create 360-degree profiles involving size/style preferences, past purchases, birthdays, wish lists and other events. Personalized interactions can occur digitally and in stores.


But lifestyle data must be captured and processed. Then, it needs to be used in ways that are useful to salespeople and that let the retailer create personalized offers, communications and experiences. Data can shape the strategy of marketing campaigns. And, it may help underscore the CMO’s most vital role: representing the psychology of the shopper to the executive team.


Even with an advanced marketing team and solution set, getting shoppers to fork over personal information is exigent. “It’s increasingly difficult to get customers to share information,” said Leland Kass, VP of marketing and press, Jonathan Adler.

“It’s even more challenging to get a customer to give their mailing and e-mail addresses. As a customer, I understand both sides of the struggle. But that information is worth its weight in gold to companies who want to personalize campaigns.”

One way Jonathan Adler attracts new customers — and obtains lifestyle data — is through co-hosting events with best shoppers’ favorite charities or other brands and inviting guests to bring friends. The grassroots component and intimate setting fosters more personable interactions.


Deploy Differentiating Software

Clienteling software requires a uniform commerce platform and predictive analytics to integrate and analyze pertinent product and shopper data across channels. It should also include tools that facilitate upselling and shopper convenience, such as mobile POS, real-time inventory availability, and endless aisle capabilities.

Other tools can be optional. They should align with the company’s goals, brand, culture and target customer. They can also delight shoppers and facilitate the customer experience. Here are some examples:


Suitsupply. Amsterdam-based Suitsupply’s clienteling solution makes all customer information available to associates, in-store receptionists and call centers in one database. “Whoever you are talking to can access previous purchases, preferences, measurements and key personal information,” said Martijn van der Zee, marketing director. “They are expected to pick up from the last conversation so we can provide a unique, personalized experience.” Suitsupply, which operates worldwide, complements clienteling with in-store digital signage that displays “insider information” from social media channels and stores along with online reviews and company sales data. Twice annually, its Box Office by Suitsupply personal styling function sends out personal selections from new collections. Salespeople also use the application to communicate with customers via Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp.


• Jonathan Adler. In addition to targeting customers one-on-one, the retailer uses clienteling data to compliment lifecycle campaigns, which divide customers into several groups. “We’re trying to address communication from a broad standpoint, then from a one-on-one connection,” said Leland Kass, vice president of marketing and press.


Barney’s New York. Its downtown Manhattan flagship complements clienteling with in-store beacons that share targeted content with consumers as they shop. Content includes videos, look books and designer interviews from its editorial site “The Window.” Customers who opt in also receive personalized notifications when they near items in their mobile shopping bags or wish lists. “The customer experience runs parallel in importance to the design, product and historic location,” said COO Daniella Vitale. “We want the customer to feel anything is possible when they walk in.”


Saks Fifth Avenue. The luxury department store chain’s clienteling tool allows salespeople to access a shopper’s purchase history via a virtual closet that shows images of every item previously bought. The tool notifies associates when an order is ready for pickup, when new merchandise from a favorite designer arrives, and can alert consumers to in-store promotions. It also provides real-time data on in-stock merchandise and displays styles that may be unavailable in stores. Mobile POS lets employees check out customers via a hand-held scanner.

Just 15% of companies can be considered “personalization leaders.”

Source: Boston Consulting Group, “Profiting from Personalization”


Invest in On-Going Associate Training

A tool is only as good as the hands (and minds) that use it. This makes effective training paramount. In fact, 33% of retailers list store associate training among the top three capabilities that will have the greatest impact on customer engagement, according to the Third Annual RIS/EKN “Customer Engagement Study.” But clienteling is even more complex, the training process involves much more than teaching employees which buttons to push.


While seasoned salespeople are invaluable, it may be hard to pry them away from their “little black books.” This makes it difficult for an associate to serve a customer whose favorite salesperson may have called in sick. And, when information is not centralized and shared, it is hard to measure progress and share best practices.


“They may be booking appointments, but nobody knows how effective they are, such that significant improvements cannot be measured or achieved,” the Luxury Institute said in “7 Rule-Breaking Moves Needed to Flourish in the Most Perplexing Luxury and Retail Market Ever.” “The failure to provide relationship building technology and/or use it effectively is a huge lost opportunity few luxury brands recognize.”


Salespeople also need to learn under what circumstances to use clienteling to avoid repulsing customers. “The wrong approach tends to be seller-centric,” said the Luxury Institute article. “Technology can hinder clienteling if salespeople emphasize the tech over the customer. If there’s no human value added, those bells and whistles ring hollow.”


Training on the physical use of technology should be ongoing. Once they learn the basics, employees should have a direct hotline they can call anytime they have problems — without having to consult management. Hotlines can be staffed by the retailer or a third-party provider.


Employees should be motivated and rewarded for successfully achieving clienteling goals (e.g., capturing a certain number of e-mail addresses or other information). This is particularly important in non-commission environments.

$800 Billion Expected incremental revenue — over the next five years — personalization will generate for the 15% of retail, healthcare and financial companies that get it right.

Source: Boston Consulting Group, “Profiting from Personalization.”


Closely Monitor Success Metrics and Adjust Efforts Accordingly

To maximize ROI, retailers must measure all clienteling results. When goals are unmet, they should return to the drawing board, review the process and make changes. Almost 60% of companies struggle to effectively measure a campaign’s impact, according to BCG’s report “Profiting from Personalization.” This limits their ability to learn from customer feedback and make adjustments.


The testing process starts with defining, collecting and publishing key performance indicators. This is followed by a testing roadmap that helps retailers understand the impact of changing major components. Important areas to test include: product recommendations, discounts and specials; sales scripting and engagement protocols; and content, frequency and channels of communication.


By analyzing scan data created by clienteling solutions, managers can evaluate workflows, associate productivity, product performance, and clienteling’s overall effect on sales and customer service. For example, if customers frequently request information on a product but rarely purchase it, the item’s positioning or overall importance may require evaluation.



In many ways, technology has been responsible for de-personalizing the retail experience. Electronic ordering and instant communication, for example, took what was once a local business and made it global, while the Internet has allowed consumers to locate and purchase items from people they never see. But clienteling technology may be closing the loop. It may also help reinforce one of the fundamental rules of commerce: the customer always comes first.

“Technology can hinder clienteling if salespeople emphasize the tech over the customer. If there’s no human value added, those bells and whistles ring hollow.”

Source: Luxury Institute, “7 Rule-Breaking Moves Needed to Flourish in the Most Perplexing Luxury and Retail Market Ever”


Requirements for Clienteling Success

Every major business initiative requires a detailed assessment that examines the project’s impact on internal processes, technologies, strategic goals and costs. One objective of the assessment is to identify granular and high-level requirements that are essential elements in the project’s game plan. Managing and addressing these requirements is critical to success.



  • Develop clienteling solutions tailored to the specific retail environment.
  • Apply design thinking to uncover latent, unmet needs and combine insights with analysis of data involving customer behavior and economic factors.
  • Ensure there is appropriate — and adequate — corner office support with cross-functional involvement from IT, marketing, the CMO, creative and other pertinent functions.
  • Train personnel on the technical and nontechnical aspects of clienteling software.
  • Continually test, monitor and apply clienteling results.



  • Use a CRM solution to gather customer information and generate 360-degree profiles involving size/style preferences, purchasing history, birthdays, wish lists and other events.
  • Employ clienteling solutions with mobile POS so customers can be checked out on the sales floor.
  • Use real-time inventory visibility to check merchandise available across physical and online channels.
  • Align clienteling with the store’s brand position by incorporating information on loyalty programs, special events, home delivery services and any other perks the shopper expects.
  • Tailor clienteling software by pairing it with instore beacons, outside marketing communications and other add ons that enhance the customer experience.


Five Pillars of a Collaborative Supply Chain

  • Customer-Centric Approach
  • Next-Gen Data and Analytics
  • Differentiating Software
  • Ongoing Associate Training
  • Closely Monitoring Success Metrics


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