High-end fashion brands have been replacing decades-old clientelling methodologies (e.g., black books and handwritten index cards) with iPads and customer management systems that provide employees access to customer information on-the-go. Mobile technology enables store associates to both offer the right product or service to consumers at the right time and to transfer customer ownership into a centralized database instead of storing it in the employee's head. In high-end retail environments, where a one-on-one shopping experience is the norm, arming individual sales associates with mobile devices can help increase sales.
Across the spectrum of fashion retailers, there have been major changes in the use of customer-facing technologies in-store. In 2012, J.C. Penney attempted to have roaming employees with hand-held payment devices, but failed due to a lack of adoption from consumers who were too ingrained in queuing up at a centralized payment area, as well as a lack of employees for consumers to spot.
However, Nordstrom Rack, the discount-priced retailer of Nordstrom's past-season merchandise, leverages similar hand-held payment processing technology with great success. Different type of customer you say? Perhaps. But what about Kohl's? While still using traditional cash registers, it's recently introduced electronic LCD price signs that are controlled by the company's headquarters, making constant price changing much more efficient. No more hoping that employees will remove all of the old price signs and replace them with accurate and current ones a few times a week.
Now, the time may be ripe for fashion retailers to consider how geolocation technology can play a role in creating an improved in-store shopping experience for consumers. Using new low-cost technology such as geolocation via Bluetooth Low Energy (also called or BLE) iBeacon technology, fashion retailers can simulate higher-end clientelling activities for a low-end price point.
When a consumer carrying an iPhone pauses near one of the tiny (1 inch x 1 inch) smart beacon receptors, many resulting events can be triggered. First, a call can be made to a centralized database to determine if this is a preferred or frequent customer. In addition, an employee can be signaled at their cash counter or on a mobile device that a shopper has lingered near a certain display or rack. Third, the employee could be given details about the product to help them describe it to the consumer in an appealing way. Fourth, this information could be combined with a customer's purchase history to script the discussion around their preferences. "I see you like bright colors" may sound like a generic statement, but it's not when made using a specific customer's buying history data. Another example: "I see you're focused on quality materials. This is made with a combination of pure wool and silk."
Gaining an understanding of newly emerging mobile technologies and combining it with finessed customer relationship management strategies is something that's now within reach of any fashion retailer.
MJ Crabbe-Barberis is the principal business consultant for Infor Epiphany CRM, a provider of business application software.