Donald Trump, sworn in as the 45th POTUS on January 20, 2017, reiterated time and again that his mission is to ensure “America First” is the context for every decision, every negotiation, every policy, every executive order, every day. We will see in four years how that turns out.

However, it did remind me of the golden rule in retail, that I believe will help guide brands and organizations through these tumultuous times: “Consumer First”. All retailers give lip service to the almighty consumer and the notion of ‘customer service’ has been taken for granted to the point where it now stands for something the opposite (read: negative) to what it was intended (there should be a concept word for that like onomatopoeia is).

Putting consumers truly first has become a much more intricate, sophisticated and analytical endeavor than it used to be. Back in the day, if the attention and focus on the consumer was authentic, driven from the founder and/or CEO and was steeped into the fabric of the culture, then that was enough for it to permeate throughout home office and across the country (or globe) in every store and within every associate. Nordstrom did a magnificent job of this, even as they grew, and are still close to the gold standard of the old guard retail establishments today.

Today and into tomorrow, that may not be enough. It certainly is a terrific and necessary step, but understanding the consumer has never been easier yet more complex than it is in this era of data aggregation and consumer behavior analysis. There is enough data available to be able to highly customize and personalize the assortment, the messaging and the experience for each individual consumer lifestyle niche, if not (the actual holy grail itself) each individual consumer. The winners will be those who know how to best aggregate the data, analyze it and then leverage it to effect the change in approach needed for the organization.

In addition, a friction-less consumer service amongst all channels is today and tomorrow’s definition of consumer service as consumers demand a seamless shopping experience regardless if they are purchasing online in their jammies at home, waltz into a physical store or order from their car on their smart phone. The coordination and logistics need to be flawless and the experience needs to be efficient and memorable.

Big Lots has certainly leveraged consumer data to create a model consumer ‘Jennifer’ and she dictates every move made by the organization from assortment to marketing strategy, to brand messaging to e-commerce to store design. They dig deep for insight and patterns to be able to provide her what she needs just when she needs it. This sophisticated approach to branding is not necessarily new, but the tools and information that is now available to paint that picture is unprecedented in terms of quantity and quality. This relentless and obsessive focus has led to 10 straight quarters of same store sales growth.

Zara possesses the fast fashion industry leading model when it comes to “Consumer First”. Every week or so, there is a conference call amongst all store managers across the network so that they can relay actual and current consumer feedback about the assortment, what is missing and/or what needs to change (button placement, styling, color). Zara home office aggregates all the data and then put it into action, often delivering new merchandise based on the comments within 3 weeks. That is their key to success.

With the number of technological solutions collecting an enormous amount of data, not only in store but online and beyond, the consumer should never feel left out by anyone at anytime. And if they do, those retailers will be left out in the cold – like some parts of Siberia.

 

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