The 2021 Retailer Preference Index: Who's winning and why. David Ciancio, Global Head of Grocery discusses the 2021 U.S Retailer Preference Index (RPI): Grocery Edition with the lead author of the RPI, Erich Kahner. They unveil key insights and discuss who is winning and who is best positioned for the future.
In the first episode of Customer First Radio, Dave Clements, Global Head of Retail for dunnhumby and David Ciancio, Global Head of Grocery for dunnhumby kick off the series by discussing what it means to be a truly Customer First business, share which retailers and brands today embody a Customer First mindset, and examine how Customer First materialized during the pandemic with retailers.
In my last post, I posed five questions to retailers to help them determine whether they're ready for a customer-first mindset. Now, I'd like to challenge the retail basics that seasoned retailers were trained on, and suggest instead a new customer data science approach.
"Retail is detail" is common industry wisdom, and it means that achieving success is subtle and difficult. Success in any field demands practice and experience, and so it is little wonder that many senior retail and brand leaders and managers have vast years of involvement, and that most have grown up through the business in progressive steps.
Accordingly, business decisions are heavily based on experience, and more often on personal memory of choices and executions and how a thing has traditionally been done. As Chris Foltz, director of operations at Heinen's Fine Foods, told me, "Our industry, and our company, was very opinion-based, albeit expert opinions. We realized early on that we needed data on customer needs, customer satisfaction and customer buying behavior to improve our decision-making. As we adopted this metric-driven approach, I believe we prioritized our investments and effort to deliver a better customer experience."
These are a just few of the things that most retailers absolutely know for sure:
- We must acquire new customers in order to grow our business.
- Price-sensitive and "cherry picker" customers are not profitable. The competition is welcome to them.
- Customers are different in every region of the country. There are also differences between urban and suburban shoppers.
- Loyal customers are already giving retailers most of their spend in the categories offered.
- Weekly flyers and promotions always drive footfall and sales.
- After all these many years in the business, we know what customers want.
Why What We Know About Customers Just Ain’t So
The old axioms are no longer factual because customers themselves have dramatically changed, in their needs, expectations and experiences. Separating fact from fiction—and business truths from myths—will change how the business sees itself and how it will make decisions. The following are some of the new truths of retailing in the 21st century:
- Expanding share of wallet from customers who are already "loyal" can better optimize growth.
- Loyal customers need more love and investment than new customers.
- Retaining loyal customers and reducing churn among "opportunity" customers can drive more growth than acquiring new customers.
- Price-sensitive customers are often more profitable than other segments because their basket mix includes more private label products or higher-margin portion sizes.
- Behavioral "buy-o-graphics" and intended trip missions matter much more than demographics or geographics.
- Customer segments are typically distributed variably within geographic regions or zones, but all customer types exist in all stores.
- Store clusters built upon customer dimensions are more useful to operations and execution than store groupings based on geographic zones or volumetrics.
What We Know for Sure Can Fit on a Post-It Note
Agility in retail can only be maintained by understanding customers and using data in all available quantitative and qualitative forms. Here's a personal story to illustrate:
A perception-based research tool measured one retailer's progress against factors that customers themselves had said are most important to them. Before the first customer perception report was published, I set out to learn how the customer ranking compared to the rankings that the senior decision-makers would assign.
The regular weekly senior team meeting brought together many of the wisest and most seasoned leaders in the business. After briefly introducing the research methodology, I asked the team to list what factors they thought customers would list as important, and in what order they thought customers would place them.
Not surprisingly, each merchant tended to rank factors in their department higher on the list than those for other parts of the store. Although little agreement was reached, a compromise ranking was eventually defined.
Comparing our list to the customers' list revealed spectacular differences; leaders had listed most of the same elements as did customers, but in completely the wrong order. That day, the team experienced a true epiphany—they realized that "we didn't know what we didn't know."
The lessons learned were:
- Humility gained in discovering that "we don't know what we don't know" empowers the customer-first journey.
- To become more relevant to customers, we must become fact-based deciders and activators.
- Using customer data well creates true consensus and inclusive action.
In summary, “In God We Trust” ... all others must bring data.
David Ciancio is global customer strategist for Dunnhumby, a pioneer in customer data science, serving the world's most customer-centric brands in a number of industries, including retail. David has 48 years' experience in retail, 25 of which were in store management. He can be reached at email@example.com
Most companies attempting to drive customer loyalty fail miserably—and few so-called customer-centric companies generate sustainable customer loyalty that drives measurable business results. Why? Because they get three key principles completely wrong, right from the start:
- Loyalty is about the company acting loyally to its customers, not vice versa.
- It is about a loyalty approach, not a loyalty program.
- Loyalty is about the store, not only about the CRM.
1. Loyal to Customers
We start to act loyally to customers when we understand them to a level of detail that ensures that we remain responsive to changes in their behavior, relevant to ever-changing customer needs and rewarding in the way we treat customers.
Acting loyally is about adopting a loyalty mind set of managing customer segments as strategic business units (aligning with how we think about a category management strategy as managing categories as strategic business units). This context demands change that is both incremental and transformational—evolution, but with a bit of manageable revolution.
What customer loyalty is, and is not:
- Acting loyally (responsive, relevant, rewarding) to our customers; not about customers being loyal to us
- An overall approach throughout our business; not a proposition or program
- Earning customer loyalty; not thinking that customers should become loyal
- Collaborative partnerships to win customers together; not tolerant of internal conflict between areas of the business or with suppliers
- Transparent; not opaque
- Driving sales and cash margin; not customers being responsible for percent margin
2. Loyalty Approach vs. Loyalty Program
We demonstrate loyalty to our customers by taking a loyalty approach wherein we commit to rewarding and delighting our customers with products and experiences that meet their wants and needs.
- We call this putting customers first—when we decide on priorities and actions based on insights from our customer data.
- By doing so, a retailer becomes an even more prominent choice in the customer's consideration set. This is not a tactic; it is a long-term strategy that makes the customer the focal point of our business decisions and objectives.
The loyalty program is an important element within a loyalty approach, as the key source of the data that enables customer intelligence, and as the channel that enables us to talk to our customers personally. I call the loyalty program the "little l" in loyalty, with the loyalty approach as the "big L."
But a loyalty program is not required to act in a loyal way to customers. Here's how to think of "big L" loyalty:
A loyalty approach, simply put, embeds customer insight throughout the retail organization to enable better, faster decisions and thereby increase sales and profit sustainably. Best-in-class practitioners have seen an incremental sales uplift in the early stages of a loyalty approach of between 1% and 2% and later stages between 3% and 4%, quarter over quarter and year over year.
3. Loyalty Is About the Store, Not Just the CRM
As I used to say to my retail colleagues, "If the store is lousy but we deliver brilliant targeted CRM, the store will still be lousy."
Even if the personalized CRM is perfect, customers need to perceive that tangible changes have been made in the store itself before they will respond by giving more of their custom. We must put customer insights into action within the "hardwiring" of retail practices—pricing, promotion, assortment, adjacencies, new products, the checkout experience and so on.
In a previous article, I shared several examples of being loyal to customers in store by simply making the shopping experience easier—setting the yogurt section by customer need rather than by brand blocks, for example, and by setting product adjacencies according to how customers shop, rather than by how items are sourced in the supply chain.
3 Ways to Activate a True Loyalty Approach
- Make better business decision by putting the customer first. Everything is better when you start with the customer. Start with the data you hold on customers—understanding how they shop and behave, what is important to them and how they engage with your business. This insight will identify a number of opportunities for better decisions using the data.
- Improve the customer experience by using data-driven insights to improve your retail offering, such as assortment, pricing and promotions. Use insights to connect you to your customer through the store. Think of the mantra "data to insights to actions"—this is how improved like-for-like sales growth and customer loyalty is delivered.
- Transform the organization using customer-driven insight to help you better understand, anticipate, measure and continually respond to your customers. This is realized through empowering, aligning and equipping your people with relevant insights, values, goals, strategies and actions.
David Ciancio is Global Customer Strategist for Dunnhumby, a pioneer in customer data science, serving the world's most customer-centric brands in a number of industries, including retail. David has 48 years' experience in retail, 25 of which were in store management. He can be reached at David.Ciancio@dunnhumby.com