Who's Afraid of the Big Idea?

Who’s Afraid of the Big Idea?[
**]By George Kiley

Retail offers a fantastic window into the changing customer culture of our times, and the fundamental need to re-think business from the ground-up.

Over the past year, I’ve spoken to many wonderful people on the fore front of changes in the retail landscape. I now want to share my findings and how I believe they can provide a platform to rethink the way we approach business far more broadly.

This book is all about the questions you must ask and answer to succeed in the business of putting customers first.

Copyright 2017 | George Kiley | Shakespir Edition
Cover Artist Abigali Quiroz


My work in retail has introduced me to many great thinkers, innovators and go-getters. I wish to thank the countless people who dedicated time to help make this book possible. In over four years, I’ve spoken to many wonderful, knowledgeable and creative people on the fore front of changes in the retail landscape. I now want to share my findings and how I believe they can provide a fantastic platform to re-think the way we approach business far more broadly.

In a world surrounded by technology, moving at an ever-increasing pace, I fundamentally believe that face to face conversations matter and provide the most effective way to drive positive change. To unlock mind sets, I designed workshops, video documentaries and podcast interviews in an honest, open, intimate and inquisitive way.

All primary research shared was undertaken by One Connected Community (OCC) and partners between July 2016 and July 2017.

The opinions I express on creating effective commercial conversations through mastering human communication; contextualising and framing ideas; and sharing the nature of the work that you’re doing, and the power of the ideas that inspire it; are all my own.

Table of Contents


Chapter 1. Introduction

This book will help you achieve

[What happens when you listen to what people say

Chapter 2. Engage and Entertain Customers across all Channels


What retailers say

On mobile

Customer recognition and personalisation

Social media

Digital in-store experience

What retailers can learn

What everyone else can learn

Chapter 3. Omni-channel from the inside


What retailers say

People, process and technology

Team work

What retailers can learn

What everyone else can learn[++

Chapter 4. How to Leverage the Store for Improved Customer Experience


What retailers say

Bridging channels; and redefining the role of the physical store

Data, tools and technology to drive personalised customer service in-store

Staff and cultural mind-set

What retailers can learn

What everyone else can learn

Chapter 5. Social Shopping: Benefit from the Rapidly Growing Intersection of Retail and Entertainment


What retailers say

Give and take

Command and control

Is ‘success’ direct sales?


Data capture

What retailers can learn

What everyone else can learn

Chapter 6. The GDPR and Personalisation


What retailers say

Data, consent and the customer

Trust, personalisation and profiling

Technical and cultural adjustments


What retailers can learn

What everyone else can learn

Chapter 7. Conclusions

What have we learned?


About the Author

Chapter 1. Introduction

Before we start let me explain my ambition. I intend to help you think in new ways, explore new visions, and discover new ambitions which will help you ignite enthusiasm and curiosity among your customers and colleagues.

This book will help you achieve

p<>{color:#000;}. To understand the of importance of customer context

p<>{color:#000;}. Making obscure knowledge accessible

p<>{color:#000;}. Mastering human to human communication and showing genuine interest in other people

p<>{color:#000;}. Seeding a valuable idea is the most impact an individual can have

p<>{color:#000;}. Not to just create communications but create a new philosophy for doing business

p<>{color:#000;}. The significance of rapidly evolving Social Shopping and UGC (User Generated Content)

p<>{color:#000;}. An understanding of the opportunity the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) brings

What happens when you listen to what people say

I love the work of BBC documentary maker Louis Theroux. Louis helps the world’s most eccentric, unfortunate and extraordinary people to openly and honestly share their story by talking to them.

When I started One Connected Community (OCC), I hoped to apply the same approach to complex business challenges. What happened next is outstanding.

I began by looking at the retail industry. I started with retail because it’s people intensive, customer facing, easily relatable and going through a period of significant upheaval. In this way, it’s the perfect place to observe broader customer and business trends. What’s more, British retail is a benchmark for other industries, so the lessons learned would benefit a wider audience.

Among much learning, I quickly realised our Louis-inspired honest and story-led approach to research really helps to break down myths, reveal truths, ignite curiosity and inspire new ways to take on challenges (with much broader implications than I could have imagined). I discovered the ‘Big Idea’ is still very much alive.

Existing on the front line of evolving customer expectations, retail offers a fantastic window into the broader changing customer culture of our times, and the fundamental need to re-think business from the ground-up.

My research takes me in many different directions. From the challenges and opportunities of personalised marketing in the world of high-end fashion, to empowering store staff with multi-functional tools in supermarkets, to making the most of mobile platforms in shopping malls, to the new EU data regulation which impacts all retailers.

On this journey, something was starting to spark. At the heart of all this upheaval are two big ideas: Changing customer culture and the changes in organisational culture needed to keep-up to date (including people, technology and processes).

I learned that in our crazy attention-grabbing modern economy, it’s increasingly important to deliver crisp, powerful content. I learned attention is a truly precious commodity and you never want to give someone an excuse to zone out. I learned the flood of digital communication has increased the value of human connections. I learned igniting curiosity is a truly valuable tool for ensuring audience engagement; while inspiration is the principal force that tells the brain what to do with a new idea. And I learned, if mastered correctly, all the above, can be extremely powerful in your business and personal life.

In short, I learned the challenge, and opportunity, for all of us begins and ends with our ability to better understand our audience, identify with them, and give them something in a crisp, powerful and human way that ignites curiosity and inspires them to take the next step.

Through examining customer culture with a retail lens, I begin to analyse the typical differences between B2B (Business to Business) and B2C (Business to Customer) thinking. But I show that they are now one of the same thing. It’s all about how to communicate effectively – whether your customer is Mr Smith buying a new pair of jeans (B2C), or Mr Smith a professional looking for a technology supplier (B2B).

This book then is about questions you must ask and answer to succeed in the business of putting customers first: what follows is not a manual but an exercise in thinking. It essentially covers two things. Firstly, the way key decision-makers within British retail really feel about changing customer culture, and its impact on their organisational and technical thinking. Secondly, what I’ve learned from these observations, and why I believe it can be applied to help frame everyday conversations in a way that inspires trust, motivation and lasting relationships.

Ultimately, I wish to persuade you: To give your customer that something extra that can turn information into inspiration and how you can begin your own journey of transformation.

The best way I can make this argument is to share with you my own learning journey of the past four years, a period that completely changed my understanding of why customer-first thinking matters, and what it might become.

This book is designed for people working in retail, as well as everyone else with a passion for business, who are dissatisfied with the status quo and optimistic about new possibilities. If by the time you have finished reading this book – you aren’t a little better equipped to meet business situations, then I shall consider this book to be a failure so far as you are concerned. As the great aim of education is not knowledge but action – and this is an action book.

If you wish to get the most out of this book, I suggest you stop frequently in your reading to think over what you have read. Ask yourself just how and when you can apply each suggestion. Read with a pen in your hand. When you come across a suggestion that you feel you can use, write it down. Taking notes from this book will make it far more interesting and easier to review rapidly.

Each chapter covers a fundamental challenge and opportunity from the transformational world of British retail during the last year. Within each chapter, I breakdown a topic into four distinct sections 1) Background; 2) What retailers say on the matter; 3) What retailers can learn from our findings; and 4) What the wider community can learn from our findings. The final chapter draws together my conclusions, and suggested key takeaways.

Chapter 2. Engage and Entertain Customers across all Channels


During the last ten years, there has been a major shift in customer behaviour – largely driven by the transformational impact of the smartphone and new technologies.

In the fiercely competitive market place of British retail, brands must carefully consider how customer trends – like the explosion in new digital technology – will impact their strategies. Then seek new and innovative ways to gain and further customer trust, loyalty and increase shopping spend. It’s no longer enough for retailers to simply offer services across multiple channels. What counts today is optimisation across all channels, to offer a relevant, seamless and consistent experience.

From a customer’s perspective, new technologies offer new ways to connect with products and brands. From a retailers’ perspective, new technologies offer new ways to create value and deliver memorable customer experiences.

Our first major talking point centres on how retailers need to re-think the shopping experience to overcome these challenges and master the opportunity of digital transformation.

What retailers say

On mobile

The ability to reach customers in the most critical moments is what separates a run-of-the-mill retailer from a memorable one. The House of Fraser App and the ‘See it, Love it, Buy it’ campaign is a great way to drive people into store, says Caleb Schulz, Senior Operations and Selling Support, House of Fraser:

“From a customer perspective, the House of Fraser App – which has your loyalty card built in – allows you to scan a shop window display with your camera; the given item on display is then immediately identified on our mobile website through the App, which you can then order and collect in-store if you wish.

“From a company perspective, we found the novelty of scanning the window engages shoppers with us. It also gives the company a commercial insight into what products on display are working. And, in this sense, it is a very quick way to money map the window display.”

Dixons Carphone also demonstrates a very effective way to encourage sales through merging mobile and the in-store experience.

Capturing fall out customers is crucial for us, says Claire Playle, Marketing, New Initiatives and Acquisitions, Dixons Carphone:

“We have lots of people every day who come into store, but leave empty handed. So, we wanted to develop a contact strategy after they left. We capture details (through a conversation with store associates) and then send a SMS (within 15mins) to get customers to come back into our store.

“We use technology within the data capture process to personalise every message, i.e. Thanks Claire for talking to Chris Smith in store, about XXX deal…

“This type of engagement drives about 60% open rate, and 70% unique clicks, it’s the best performing message that we do. So, say a customer has just popped over the road to a competitor, we can get them back into our store. Our conversion rate is about 11%, so it’s worth circa £3.5mln per year.”

Customer experience as a differentiator

Modern customer experience is about painless journeys – journeys that empower customers on the path to purchase with relevant content and new opportunities to discover products and choose the best option. Every single interaction must excite, inspire or delight.


Rose Byfleet, Digital Customer Experience Strategy Manager, Debenhams, says:

“Sometimes digital ‘solutions’ in store can just be a distraction to addressing underlying problems or fixing the basics which might truly enhance the customer experience.”

It really depends what mission customers are on, says Natalie Dunn, Head of Customer Experience, Sainsbury’s:

“Giving customers the ability to scan their own products on mobile, and get out more quickly would be really important for their satisfaction – and therefore our bottom line.

“One of our biggest costs in store is labour. So, if we can prevent the need for staff at check-outs, by allowing customers to scan their own shopping and then going through some form of fast track to pay, then we’ll save money overnight.

“…. right now, we are assessing if mobile scanning is of interest for our customer base. We need to answer: What types of customers are using mobile? Is there a geographical bias? What store size makes most sense? What mission are customers on? And importantly, are customers prepared to do this?”

Conversely, not meeting customer expectations can be costly, says Alex Murray, Director, Lidl:

“Customers expect to be connected all the time and mobile black spots can drive people away. So, investment in WIFI infrastructure is the key, but it can be quite hard to sell to the Board; it’s all about balancing out costs versus benefits.”

Customer recognition and personalisation

Recognising, defining, analysing and utilising core customer profiles and preferences to promote personalised content, products and services is key to boosting the shopping experience. But it’s imperative that personalising the experience is done in a way that doesn’t become intrusive.


Personalisation is a big focus for us, says Alex Mason, Beauty – Retail and Digital Commercial Operations, Burberry:

“Personalisation for Burberry is about making a given product individual. The personalisation of products is a big sales driver. It’s also about personalising communications with top customers or VIPs, i.e. suggesting products and delivering those products to wherever our customers may be in the world. This level of personal communication is really where the luxury end of the retail market is heading, and certainly where Burberry is investing.”

John Lewis in partnership with Dressipi has very cleverly gamified personalisation, says Rose Byfleet Digital Customer Experience Manager, Debenhams:

“Using the ‘style selector tool’ you are able to select product styles, colours, fits you like e.g. polo neck rather than crew neck, blues rather than reds, I like brand X but not Y. The Dressipi App then starts pushing clothes within the cross-sell functionality that are tailored to your style. This gets more and more refined, the more you use the tool.”

The above examples are very positive but we also need to understand that there are several challenges that face retailers in how they manage customer data.

Personalisation needs to be managed carefully, there’s a fine line between personalisation and intrusion, says Stuart Eames, Operational Improvement Manager, Waitrose:

“You have to be very careful about how your shop systems use the data that has been stored on customers. You could actually insult the customer by mispronouncing their name for instance.

“It’s difficult to say at what level of personalisation we should be adopting as a standard.”

Another of these challenges is specific to department stores, says Caleb Schulz, Senior Operations and Selling Support, House of Fraser:

“As House of Fraser are just the channel for communication, most of the personalisation efforts come from the brands we sell (our brand partners) – so for us, we have to carefully consider when do you start to introduce other brands that might be rivals? For example, a customer is shopping MAC all the time, should they get an offer around Estee lauder? As well as your customer, you must manage your relationship with your brand partner.”

The other major task is managing data internally, and setting-up the organisation to take a single view of the customer, says Natalie Dunn, Head of Customer Experience, Sainsbury’s:

“A big challenge for us is around how to bring together personalisation and preferences across different departments in the business. Having so much data, it’s difficult to know where to start. It’s all about organisational structures and the decision-making processes within business.

“It’s all about understanding your customers’ tastes and needs, and how these evolve over time. Then utilise those insights to take better decisions in a given situation, or on a given channel.”

Social media

Social media continues to play an important and evolving role in the customer experience. A topic we’ll touch on further in Chapter 5.


Customers are quick to comment across social channel on brands after both positive and negative experiences, leading to opportunities for both brand advocacy and customer churn. Retailers need to build equity with customers by giving them something that offers real value. It’s all about fabulous content, that’s right on point for the customer.

“There is no way you can underestimate the power of social …particularly in beauty,” says Alex Mason, Beauty – Retail and Digital Commercial Operations, Burberry.

Social media not only works for big beauty brands, gardeners are also very much driven by inspirational social content, says Justine Noades, Head of Marketing Communications, Wyevale Garden Centres:

“We need to inspire people. We’ve found gardening content is so rich that we can really engage people with ‘how to’ videos for example. So, we share high quality content across Facebook and the like to engage customers, to inspire and motivate them onto our website. And we have seen significant increases in traffic.”

But engaging the right customers for long-lasting relationships is critical, says Stuart Eames, Operational Improvement Manager, Waitrose:

“Many businesses identify (through data collected) their Bronze customer, Silver customer and Gold customer. A Bronze customer is someone who shops occasionally at Waitrose, but does most their shopping elsewhere. The Silver does a little bit more, and the Gold does nothing but shop at Waitrose.

“And actually, if you were to invest in understanding those Gold customers better, you can reward them more for shopping with you – because Gold customers make up 60-70% of your turnover, the reality is that is worth a lot of money.

“Lots of businesses focus on the Silver and Bronze customers, and how can we turn them into Gold (i.e. there’s £X million in benefit if we turn all our Bronze customers into Gold customers). But the reality of doing that is very, very hard.

“So, our focus is on getting more from Gold customers. We find we get better brand advocacy out of doing something right for the Gold customer, than we would do with anyone else, as those are the ones sitting at the dinner table saying, ‘I was at Waitrose today, they did this, they did that for me.’ It’s about retention. How do you keep big customers spending more? It’s phenomenal how hard it is if you go after a fickle customer – it’s very hard to retain them.”

Digital in-store experience

The interaction – digital and physical – between the customer and the product is essential to create an immersive and personalised in-store experience. Beacons, digital screens, the Internet of Things and other tools offer new opportunities to build customer engagement and say goodbye to the old store format.


As Justine Noades, Head of Marketing Communications, Wyevale Garden Centre, says:

“It’s time to use the store as a destination experience.”

There are many ways the digital store experience can be achieved, says Indy Mukherjee, Retail Director, Intu Digital:

“You can increase overall sales by offering giveaways online that need to be collected in store. When the customer goes to collect the give-away in store, they tend to buy more. It’s just about finding that balance. It depends on the retailer, but the key consideration is what offer do you make (via email or the website), and do you want to sell it there? Or do you want to drive customers in store?”

At Burberry all communication is digital, says Alex Mason, Beauty – Retail and Digital Commercial Operations, Burberry:

“Digital is our super focus. In-store staff are incentivised to sell on the tablet (if the stock is not in store). So rather than saying to the customer you can go home and order, instead, staff store can do it there and then, and get it delivered.”

What retailers can learn

The way people shop is evolving, whether you like it or not. Digital technology is bringing about a massive change in customer culture, and the speed of change is accelerating.


Digitised customers have many distractions and ever-higher expectations of service and the retail experience. Shoppers expect you to deliver an amazing customer experience – compelling yet easy – across all stages of the customer journey. The perceived quality of a retailer now depends on their ability to provide value, combining both relevant content and personalised experiences, at any time and on any device.

It is evident that retailers need to continue to learn to connect with customers across different channels, simultaneously and seamlessly. Optimising customer experiences across all channels should now be a priority that colours your entire brand. You need to instil a passion for outstanding customer experience across all teams and departments, placing customer context front and centre.

It’s time to encourage connection between your team and your customers, and look at fun ways to best showcase your products or services. This is the essence of an excellent customer experience – one that engages and keeps customers coming back time and again. So, you need to adapt your strategies to capture the new customer, utilising context and technology as the key to generate engagement and loyalty.

You may think that the wave is already gone but what we see now are only the first signs of a revolution that will completely disrupt retail. Beware – the merging of the physical and digital worlds has only just begun.

We’ve learned that every retailer will do well to focus strategic thinking on accomplishing three tasks:

p<>{color:#000;}. Engage customers across all touch points of the new customer journey

p<>{color:#000;}. Understand customers’ needs and desires, by studying their behaviour patterns

p<>{color:#000;}. Delight key customers, offering experiences that are enjoyable, innovative, and contextual

Put simply, to create unforgettable experiences you must develop a customer-centric focus across the entire organisation.

What everyone else can learn

Context is king. In our crazy attention-grabbing modern economy, it’s increasingly important to deliver crisp, powerful content. Today attention is a truly precious commodity. Every communication in our modern era is part of an attention war. It’s fighting against thousands of other claims on people’s time and energy. You never want to give someone an excuse to zone out whether in face to face or digitally.

It all comes down to framing conversations with customers differently. In the B2B world a full-on sales pitch is the wrong way to go, as it might ultimately frustrate your customers, and prove detrimental to the overall goal. Rather it’s about building your reputation as generous with insight and support, bringing something relevant and wonderful to your customers (across all channels).

It’s about ensuring the stories, ideas and content you share are so pertinent and powerful, that any sales nudges appear seamless. While digging deeper into the notion of contextual sales, I’ve seen with my own eyes how everything changes when you focus on the nature of the work that you’re doing, and the power of the ideas that infuse it, rather than just the solution or product features.

Every customer is usually searching for something particular to their needs. Starting with your customer, rather than your product, must become a mantra within your business that guides all behaviours.

As a B2B customer what I need to know is how your service, product or solution connects to everything else. Can you explain the essence of it in a way I can understand? Can you share your solution in layman’s terms? Can you explain why it matters? And why you are passionate about it? If you can do this, you may spark new inspiration in me. Something in the way you describe your process may give me a crucial insight or catalyse a new thought. This is how ideas form when we spark off each other.

Remember, people respond to vulnerability. So, sometimes it can actually be more effective to adopt a form of powerless communication by accentuating the flaws in your solution, product or service. The first advantage is that leading with weaknesses disarms the naysayers.

It’s about making your service, product or solution accessible to others. Show your customer why it’s interesting; show them why it matters. Avoid industry jargon, buzzwords and mumbo jumbo, instead focus on the language your customers use and communicate in a succinct and personal way – making everything individual. Something by the way that can usually be done in less than 20 minutes – just look at the success of TED talks in conveying new ideas.

Chapter 3. Omni-channel from the inside


As we learned in Chapter 2, a personal, relevant and informative experience is fundamental to attracting new customers, and engaging and retaining your loyal ones.


Retailers largely now recognise there has been a massive power switch to the customer – the so called ‘Age of the Customer’ – and the need to deliver exceptional customer experience at every touchpoint has become more important than ever. Those retailers who get it right will inevitably unlock the benefits that follow.

The term ‘omni-channel’ has been around for a while, but beneath all the hype lies a very serious proposition. In an age with countless customer channels, and where a customer journey will likely end on a different channel from where it begins, retailers must be able to stitch together all interactions to form one seamless customer experience.

Picking-up from where I left things in Chapter 2, to achieve effortless customer engagement, across digital and physical touchpoints, retailers need to instill a customer-first mindset across all teams and departments. Such a customer-centric approach will boost advocacy and loyalty, while ensuring innovation is measured accurately to generate a positive ROI.

But it’s easier said than done. It takes vision, incentives, technology and process – not to mention financial investment – to create an omni-channel utopia where everyone works together and pulls in the same direction.

What retailers say

People, process and technology

Omni-channel is the idea that all the different channels offer the same customer experience. For example, a customer can start a journey on mobile, reserve a product online, and purchase in-store – all with minimum effort.


A typical shopping experience sees a customer research product reviews online, compare features with friends on social networks, reserve the product through an App, before picking it up in the local store. But this presents a problem to many retailers, who haven’t necessarily been investing resources appropriately in the people, processes and technology to deliver seamlessly across touchpoints, says Fabrice Khullar, Lead Product Owner, Sainsbury’s:

“The customer is far more complex than we give them credit for sometimes. Knowing where to place internal teams, so we deliver a unified retail experience, is a real headache.”

The fundamental challenge is that everyone within the retail business must shift from product centric, to customer centric thinking. This demands the adoption of a new customer centric mindset across all departments.

Fabrice Khullar, Lead Product Owner, Sainsbury’s says, in a market that is ever changing, the solution is organisational:

“We can’t predict the future, but all our old silos are killing us. We need to instill collaboration and cross-functional activity to be more agile and move with more flexibility. We can no longer build a business case purely in one team. We need to present cross-functional expertise as one piece of the puzzle rather than separately. Teams must start to build the business case together – there needs to be a mindset shift in the industry.”

Charles De Clerck, IT Customer Relationship Manager, Waitrose agrees. It all boils down to organisational structure, he says:

“Our major challenge has been recognising the importance of each, and every channel. It’s about joining-up eCommerce and store business at the Board level. Because until you join them up, you’ll always have a fragmented experience.”

The establishment of a customer-first mindset across the whole enterprise must be a key priority. In other words, to be customer-centric, you must first be employee-centric. You can win the hearts and minds of staff by harmonising priorities and creating an agile, innovative service culture across the entire organisation, says Stuart Eames, Operational Improvement Manager, Waitrose:

“The more you listen to your staff, the more you’ll move in the right direction.”

Having witnessed huge success here, Sonia Hudson, Head of People – Supply Chain and Wholesale, Morrisons, agrees:

“Listen hard and respond quickly is the mantra of our CEO. I’ve never worked in an organisation where someone has meant something so much. And, because we’ve got results from it, I think that makes it really stick!”

Paul Frost, Operations Development Manager, Sainsbury’s says:

“It’s absolutely about the culture of making staff feel empowered. We must allow colleagues to do their job as friction-free as possible so that when they have a customer interaction they feel they have time to dedicate to that customer, rather than seeing it as something that’s getting in the way of the day job.”

This is not just a challenge for the big supermarkets, it applies to retailers across all the spectrum whether they are large or independent.

Fashion retailers identify similar findings. Mark Wright, Digital Managing Director, Jack Wills, says:

“You must focus on who your customers are and how best you communicate with them.

“The key is empowering the front line and enabling innovation from the bottom-up because that’s where the great ideas are, and where people are more in touch with what’s going on.”

As Alan Bateup, Senior Director, Digital Experience, McDonalds says:

“Everyone in the organisation should now be obsessed with the customer.”

Boots stands-out as somewhat of a success story when it comes to bridging cross-functional teams.

The company’s unique approach to incentives and communication is the reason why, says Dave Robinson, Head of Loyalty and Personalisation, Boots:

“When an online order is collected in store, the sale is attributed to the store team, based on the customer postcode. This strategy has made a real difference to our broader culture.”

Non-value adding activities

Many retailers assume that their digital-savvy customers are the most profitable. This is largely due to a lower cost to serve and a greater opportunity to wow them through personalised content. Such a belief has led some to over-invest in digital channels so they can give customers (specifically Millennials) the digital experiences that they ‘crave.’ But this assumption is not entirely accurate.


Research shows that customers who see-saw between channels are in fact the most profitable. And these profitable customers don’t want purely digital interactions, they want experiences that deliver the results they seek using unpredictable combinations of digital and traditional channels.

Dave Robinson, Head of Loyalty and Personalisation, Boots, says:

“Our omni-channel customers are worth-up to four times life-long value, compared to a single channel customer.”

In this light, it’s all about the need to focus on meeting customers’ needs, looking at what is best for them, rather than letting technology solutions dictate the overall strategy. As Sarah Jones, International Omni-channel Manager, Body Shop, says:

“Don’t just put digital everywhere for the sake of it. Technology investments must be based on core customer needs.”

Here’s Mark Wright, Digital Managing Director, Jack Wills:

“It’s about how people engage with your brand, rather than where they are at a specific time.”

Alan Bateup, Senior Director, Digital Experience, McDonalds says:

“Design with the customer in mind. It’s important to understand the journey. Technology must solve a real problem. Start with the problem that you are trying to solve, and then think about what technology is the best way to solve that problem. It’s not about one solution, it’s about continuous improvement.”

Looking to the future of omni-channel, it is important to arm staff with enough information to provide relevant experiences for each, and every customer, says Stuart Eames, Operational Improvement Manager, Waitrose:

“How do we make it so our staff have the information and ability to do their jobs in their hands? A multifunctional device, that allows for stock checks and to place orders online for instance, would allow store colleagues to do everything from one handset. In this way, every-time a customer interacts with our staff, they should be able to deal with them from that location (and not waste time).”

Team work

Ensuring consistency of brand message is fundamental to providing good customer experience. To achieve consistency, it’s crucial to shift thinking to a customer-first strategy, supported by leaders who foster a culture able to change and drive innovation.


Culture is not a one-off project, but something that constantly evolves over the years. It is very much part of the culture to have the right people that care and to recognise the good things people do, says Alan Bateup, Senior Director, Digital Experience, McDonalds:

“It’s not just about the latest technical skills or retail experience, but how you fit within the culture of the organisation.”

It is also about having the ability to abandon what you are doing if it is not right. As Mark Wright, Digital Managing Director, Jack Wills, says:

“Two or three months into the role I made what I thought could be a career killing decision - to cut the App. It served no valuable purpose, it was ripping- off the mobile site, the conversion was poor and I needed a way to give my team more time to focus on where I thought we could really drive value.”

While Dave Robinson, Head of Loyalty and Personalisation, Boots, says:

“Don’t just do the shiny bits that people see, invest in the staff and backend technology to see the results you need.”

Charles De Clerck, IT Customer Relationship Manager, Waitrose, says:

“As an industry, our frontend systems, i.e. website and mobile technology, is getting there. But the key to all this is the backend systems, i.e. the supply chain and transport management. It’s the expensive big legacy systems that ultimately help you fulfil your customer promise. Everyone forgets about these systems because it’s not the ‘sexy stuff.’ Investment in these systems is massively transformational to the business, but nobody yet has been brave enough to bite the bullet.

“The technology has advanced enough, but our businesses haven’t advanced enough to adopt them and make the big investments.”

Fabrice Khullar, Lead Product Owner, Sainsbury’s says:

“It’s all about investment in the legacy systems that we’ve all ignored for decades.”

But retailers are wary, says David Merricks, Food Supply Chain Development Manager, Marks & Spencer:

“Whether its frontend or backend systems these things require significant amounts of capital, and traditional retailers are still wary to spend that amount of money when there’s no immediate return on value.”

Several retailers encourage their staff to come forward with ideas and promote new ways of thinking through cross-functional groups.

As Stuart Eames, Operational Improvement Manager, Waitrose, says:

“We’ve introduced a Site Point of Contact (SPOC) in every branch to provide feedback around any new proposition, and how it works for customers and staff. It’s proving to be a really powerful tool.”

Retail can no longer be a just little bit digital, it needs to be spread throughout the entire business. It’s important to remember that customers view services holistically and not through the lens of individual interactions or touchpoints.

As Claire Gillingham, HR Director, Vodafone, says:

“We don’t call it omni-channel anymore, we call it one channel, because that’s the way customers see it.”

As Sonia Hudson, Head of People – Supply Chain and Wholesale, Morrisons says:

“It’s all about how best to join-up the channels and different data sets to deliver overall business success.”

Having accurate, timely and available data about how your customers respond to features and attractions in-store, on mobile or online, can hugely help the whole business focus on what works, and what doesn’t.

As Charles De Clerck, IT Customer Relationship Manager, Waitrose says:

“Make IT a strategic priority at all levels, and help everyone to understand the real value of customer data to best exploit it. It’s all about the outside-in-approach. Don’t focus on the latest and greatest technology, but actually focus on the customer problems that you’re trying to solve, and where does technology and/or data add value, and where does it not.”

But there is a balance to be struck. It’s all about using data in the correct way, says Kirrie Kendall, Head of Internal Communication, Dixons Carphone:

“It’s about identifying that sweet spot, where you’re using data, but you’re not letting it absolutely dictate and drive all decisions.”

What retailers can learn

Retailers must see the big picture. Understand the challenges from all aspects and work on the solutions that will make it more effective for teams across channels to work together rather than separately. If retail teams continue to work in silo, focused on individual growth, the real losers in the end are the brand and the customer.


Getting organised for digital is a complex task. Depending on your company size, company set-up (business units, teams, regions and countries), internal structure and maybe internal politics, you’ll need people who can think, communicate and work in new ways.

These people must understand that constant interaction and communication with different roles within the organisation is a fundamental. These people must have an open mind-set to new ideas, and think broader than specific silos. For these new people experimentation, optimisation, measuring and constant change are natural and fun.

To overcome legacy issues – from culture, to processes and technology – it’s essential to join the dots from Board level, to management and front-line. This will maintain constant business and operational visibility over the customer experience you provide. Essentially, you must communicate efficiently and effectively on the inside.

And remember, your customers don’t only care about the technological stuff, they value the things that make a sale experience human. Your customers love the attention they get when they enter your store. They want to feel welcome and listened to at all time. So, strive for effective human communication not only among colleagues, but between colleagues and customers as well. For customers, small things can have a big impact: a friendly greeting when entering the store could turn a satisfied customer into a delighted customer.

What everyone else can learn

The key to understanding anything is to understand the context in which it sits. Is this too idealistic for business? Let’s see. If you imagine a vast spider web of knowledge, you can’t really understand the intricate knots in any small part of that web without pulling the camera back to see how the strands connect more broadly. It’s only by looking at that larger pattern that you can gain actual understanding. Often individual bits matter less than how they all fit together.


So, when it comes to B2B sales, don’t just think about the direct benefit your product, solution or service might offer for a specific customer, but pull the camera back and look at the bigger picture. Customers won’t care about any particular technology unless it solves a particular problem in a superior way. So, think about: how does your product, solution or service fit within your customer’s broader organisation; and the competitive landscape in which their organisation exists?

To achieve such insight and context, effective communication through face to face sessions matter. You need to be interested in people if you want to be successful. Being a good listener and showing a genuine interest in others not only wins customers for you, but may develop a loyalty, within the customer, to your company. Talking with each other is a crucial part of nurturing. It’s in the process of face to face conversation where you have the best chance to seed a valuable idea and spark inspiration. Let me re-iterate that for you; You can win customers far quicker by becoming genuinely interested in other people than you can, by trying to get other people interested in you (or your solution). People are not interested in you. They are not interested in me. They are interested in themselves – morning, day and night.

To communicate effectively take time to understand the broader context of your customer’s business; speak directly with all personnel who are likely to benefit from your product, solution or service and share how and where it might best aid their ongoing challenges. In other words, seed a valuable idea among all relevant personnel – go to where they are and say, ‘Come, let’s build something together.’ In this way, you’ll show why your idea is worth building, and appeal to shared values, desires, hopes and dreams.

In a world surrounded by ever-sophisticated technology, if you have invented a fantastic solution, but haven’t created an effective way to sell it, you have a bad business – no matter how good the solution is. So, maybe the answer is for humans to be more human than we’ve ever been. More human in how we work. More human in what we learn. More human in how we share knowledge. And more human in how we sell. I argue that in the future, those businesses that better utilise uniquely human values will be more successful. To flourish then, I believe cultivating the humanity inherent in effective sales and relationship building is crucial.

Chapter 4. How to Leverage the Store for Improved Customer Experience


Let’s re-cap. We’ve talked about shiny new technology and digital channels. We’ve talked about the importance of organisation behind the scenes. In this chapter, I focus on the traditional high street store.


As we’ve learned, we all face the challenge of serving a customer that’s more informed, connected, and empowered than ever before. Now is the time to deliver whatever, whenever, wherever the customer wants, while building-in the flexibility and the agility to be responsive to future changing customer expectations.

It’s no longer just about selling products, but creating an inspiring shopping experience. This goes beyond simply bridging physical and digital channels, to truly connecting colleagues, customers and technology across the shopping journey with an outcome driven strategy. It’s about taking everyone forward.

In the ‘Age of the Customer’, competitive advantage is dependent on creating a unique value proposition across all channels – and the high street store still has a major role to play.

The key consideration is the rationale of the bricks and mortar store. Innovative retailers are increasingly thinking about and developing ways to make it more relevant, personalised and interactive to be in their store.

What retailers say

Bridging channels; and redefining the role of the physical store

Driven by changing customer culture, the desire to enhance and re-invent the bricks and mortar experience – leveraging online insight – is front of mind for retailers.


Customer expectations have changed, says Rupal Karia, Head of Commercial Sector, Fujitsu:

“It’s the customer expectation that has changed over the last few years. Online has created a personalised experience, i.e. recommendations. But if I go into the store, the staff don’t know what I bought previously. It’s not got worse, it’s just the expectation of a store has got much, much higher.”

It’s not the death of the high street, but the role of the store has changed, says David Blakeney, Director of Store Development, House of Fraser:

“The problem is you still have business rates and you have to make a profit instore. There is a future for stores in certain locations, but it’s the secondary and third-rate areas, where the rental rates are too high, and customer footfall is dropping-off, that are at risk. That said, if you give customers a reason to come in, they will.”

“The object is to identify what else customers want – so they don’t leave our store, but have a day out with us. We are becoming a retail and leisure industry. If you get that right, there is still very much a place for stores; 80% of our sales are still bricks and mortar (while 7-8% of online sales are still collected in-store). So there certainly is a future for the store; we just have to make the most of it. It’s no longer about getting people to the store; it’s about keeping them in the store.”

That analysis is spot on, says David Botines, Senior Manager, Future Planning, Store Development, John Lewis:

“We know there is a role for the physical estate. I don’t believe there will be a world without a high street. There is something in the leisure activity of shopping that is ingrained in all of us (it’s part of our DNA). But the trick is in how we make the most of our physical estate as retailers. We have to keep moving forward, giving customers more reasons to come in store and help customers enjoy the brand and activities around that. But we have to be profitable. We have to create the right formula to unlock and deliver a bricks-and-mortar store that performs a really good business function; and an exciting place to shop for customers.

“As we reimagine the role of the store, we have to consider: How do you define profitability? I doubt the store’s profitability will always be about pound signs. It’ll be more about brand experience; being able to fall in love, touch and feel something. It’ll be about understanding what a product does and educating customers. But at the end of the day, we can’t simply over staff a store. You can’t have loads and loads of staff in the shop (as it costs a lot of money to run). That’s our Achilles heel. But if we can get our productivity up, while still offering the best service, we won’t have a problem. It’s when we are unproductive that costs go through the roof.”

There is no secret formula, says Kash Ghedia, Head of Technology, Dixons Carphone:

“It’s about rationalising your store estate. You’ve got the challenge of online shopping growing year on year. So, we’ve got to do three things: (1) Create the store as a place to get additional information (that you can’t get online), i.e. the touch and feel; (2) Make the store a ‘destination’ you want to visit, rather than just an outlet to serve customers; and then, (3) Join-up the in-store and online experience.

“No one yet has the secret sauce to join-up online and the store experience, but where we are seeing success is with ‘Reserve and Collect’ as most of our customer start the journey online. Most customers do their research online then come into store to get additional information and look at the product.

“So, we provide the right infrastructure in-store to support the products we sell, i.e. great WIFI; mobilise colleagues with tablets and smart watches to drive operational efficiency, and to share key information that the customer wants; offering a price comparison App in-store, on-the-spot price match; and informing customers then and there if the product is in stock.

“Our view is to give customers, who come into store, what they want. It’s about doing everything we can to fulfil that customer’s wants and needs so they don’t leave the store and go somewhere else.”

Absolutely, it’s about utilizing the store as best as we can, says Ashley Ironside, Multichannel Operations – Stores, Debenhams:

“At Debenhams, we’re going down the route of leisure activity – encouraging customers to spend more time in-the store and do different things. In this sense, becoming a ‘destination’ that people want to come to eat and drink, while browsing the store.

“Right now, we have lots of products. So, we’re redressing the balance to create more of a leisure feel in-store (with more activities to do). But you have to weigh-up profit and leisure based activities, to find the right balance between the two.

“Legacy systems in the background make it quite challenging. It’s great to add new technology, but it has to integrate well with the systems you have in place; or you need to plan to upgrade the whole system in the background.”

Rupal Karia, Head of Commercial Sector, Fujitsu says:

“It’s a huge exercise to replace backend systems in their entirety, so leveraging what you have and building upon it is a good thing. For example, drawing out data pools from different legacy systems and eliciting insights from them.”

While, Titus Trossel, Senior Project Manager, Dixons Carphone says:

“The technology you require to create the single customer view is extremely complex, new technologies exist to do it, but they are really expensive.”

Retailers are beginning to take the leap though. At Argos, the bricks-and-mortar store has been completely transformed over recent years. We’ve completely reimagined our store space, says Nigel Blunt, Head of Operations Development and Customer Experience, Argos:

“There are two ways you can win with physical space now; firstly, having services that are relevant to customers locally (and resonate with your brand); secondly, creating retail theatre. At Argos, we did both. It’s amazing when you see a customer’s reaction walking into an Argos digital store for the first time. Customers love the in-store experience.”

Retail theatre is vital, says Titus Trossel, Senior Project Manager, Dixons Carphone:

“Our stores must bridge the gap that our online competitors cannot offer. The store must be largely based around experience. But to do that successfully, it requires understanding the customer; then creating a place where customers can really experience technology – see it, hear it, and feel it.

“Colleagues aren’t just there to sell; they need to be experts in an advisory role. Customers expect more, and more, and more. If they’re just going to the store to pick-up something, they might as well do it online. They need to feel that they’re getting advice in-store.”

Beyond electronic retailers, the department stores and luxury brands in the group share their take on store transformation.

Store experience has always been front of mind for Harrods, says Alex Germanis, Head of Digital Signage, Harrods:

“As a very strong brand, we are fortunate. But an expectation comes with it that we must maintain. Fundamentally customers do come for the experience and that is a key differentiator. The challenge is how to leverage that and justify it in commercial terms. With new technology coming to the forefront, there is a huge opportunity to better understand your customers in store and then act on that to make the shopping experience better. Identify customer barriers (or friction points) in store and then try to remove them.”

There’s a still a big role for stores to play, Ashley Ironside, Multichannel Operations – Stores, Debenhams says:

“For me, it’s about making it easy for the customer. If you make it really easy online, but make it really difficult in-store, then customers will of course shift to online, and not bother with the store at all.”

In summary, Karen Harris, Managing Director, Intu Digital says, it’s about merging the digital and physical worlds:

“When you consider retail you have to think about; if digital and physical were in the same place, how do you plan for that? The physical world is the single most important thing in the future of digital because everything is about context. It’s about doing something different in the physical world that has not been done before.”

Data and technology to drive personalised customer service in-store

Understanding how customers feel is a tricky beast. One size rarely fits all. Modern customers are fickle, and have come to expect personalised service at every touch point.


But to drive loyalty and revenues, through personalisation, it’s first important to get your data in order, and then leverage insight that matters (often with a technical investment that can be costly and timely.) Even then, personalised experiences are as hard to get right as they’re easy to get wrong.

Nigel Blunt, Head of Operations Development and Customer Experience, Argos says:

“To invest in technology is expensive. We have to be clear where it fits into our customer journey. It’s about making sure you invest in technology that actually enhances or simplifies a customer journey; and for a colleague, keeping it really simple and accessible. It’s not just a technology play, but an overall journey and experience play.”

John Lewis is on a journey here, says David Botines, Senior Manager, Future Planning, Store Development, John Lewis:

“We are trying to be strategic with it, as we don’t want to do digital for the sake of doing digital. But how we communicate with the customer is the biggest challenge for a big department store.”

“Digital is about communicating without overwhelming. You must respect that you have different demographics coming into a store and we don’t want to alienate anybody. So, how we communicate with customers when they walk into store is the big challenge; how do we provide them with something new?”

In the luxury sector, we have a slightly different challenge, says Andrew Webb, Digital Transformation Director, Jimmy Choo:

“There is a lot of informal networking going on, WhatsApp for example, which can be more relevant, personal and in real time. This is what customers really want. But managing that in a world where GDPR (The General Data Protection Act, commencing May 25, 2018) is coming is something all of us are going to have to figure out.

“Customer segments are increasingly fragmenting. The idea that brands keep ‘pushing’ is something to steer away from. And, rather, brands should become more ‘pull,’ where the consumer can engage as and when they want. But it’s a big mental shift.”

A big element of the ‘pull’ factor is knowledge, and it’s often lacking, says David Botines, Senior Manager, Future Planning, Store Development, John Lewis:

“I get really frustrated now when I go into a store and ask a question about a product, and I know more about that product than the person serving me.

“At the same time, it’s a real opportunity. If you can leverage the right technology and tools to offer support in-store you can capitalise on it. But if you’re going to offer a service, it has to be spot on and work.”

Kash Ghedia, Head of Technology, Dixons Carphone says:

“It’s impossible to know all the products in-store, so integrate digital touch points where customers and colleagues can look-up information together, making it a valuable conversation (i.e. a price comparison). Arming in-store staff with the tools and technology to have a valuable conversation is vital.”

Our store staff devices are hugely popular, says Edward Osborne, Head of Customer Delivery Model and Direct to Customer Operations, John Lewis:

“We’ve just trialed devices. Customers love it, and partners love it. Partners can confidently talk about products, but also tell customers where it is, so they can go and get it, building instant connectivity.”

Empowering staff with technology is something we want to do, says Elaine Smith, Head of Digital Product Management, House of Fraser:

“We are looking at what we can do to get the right technology in staff hands, so they can actually, deliver good customer service all of the time, instead of just executing tasks in the store. This helps to avoid just pumping more and more staff into a store (which is very expensive). In an ideal world, this device must be something we can get messages out to all our teams; share product information; training documentation; be able to sell to a customer online, if it’s not available in the store; book deliveries; and take payments; as well as share basket experience on and offline.”

But building a business case for staff devices is not always straight forward, warns Kevin Newcombe, Operations Manager, Marks & Spencer:

“One of the biggest barriers, is how do you get teams to use the device?”

Nigel Blunt, Head of Operations Development and Customer Experience, Argos says:

“The risk is you find it in some corner gathering dust, having not been charged for two months.”

As well as exciting customers with technology you must engage employees – showcase the benefits, involve them in the adoption stage to make sure they are comfortable using the technology, and encourage them with ongoing training to ensure uptake.

Beyond empowering staff with technology, other in-store personalisation and retail theatre efforts (which lend themselves to data capture) can be seen at Burberry, Waitrose and Karen Millen.

Here’s what Alexandra Mason, Senior Manager – UK, Beauty Wholesale, Retail and Digital, Burberry says on the topic:

“At Burberry, we trialed personalised perfume bottles, engraving customer initials in-store and found it hugely successful.”

We’ve seen similar success, says Seveena Burgess, Digital Experience Manager, Karen Millen:

“We recently had a ‘White Shirt’ project to drive customers into store to get a personalised shirt and it worked really well. We also invite our most loyal customers to press events, where they get to review the products for the next season and enjoy treats like Champagne.”

Absolutely, it’s about how you make a customer feel, says Karen Harris, Managing Director, Intu Digital:

“My measure of store experience is simple; when you walk into a store, how does it make you feel? It’s about getting a sense of the brand by just walking into the store – that’s brilliant retail. You just have to create that experience where your brand comes to life.”

David Blakeney, Director of Store Development, House of Fraser shares an accurate analogy:

“It’s like being in a hotel or restaurant. If the food is fine, but the service is fantastic – you’ll go back. If the food is fantastic, but the service is rubbish you won’t go back. As retailers, we have to turn our thought process to what customer want when they walk in.”

That’s right, says Kash Ghedia, Head of Technology, Dixons Carphone:

“At the end of the day, if you walk through the whole store and no one has spoken to you, it may drive you to shop online. You go into the store because you like the experience and the brand, but you’re also looking for something in that store which the staff can help with. As a customer, you want to be acknowledged.”

Rob Burton, Online Innovation Delivery Manager, Sainsbury’s, agrees:

“At Sainsbury’s it’s about acknowledging customers there and then, particularly with food deliveries. For example, an elderly customer requires a different level of acknowledgement to a student customer. We have invested heavily in training to help delivery staff adapt to every customer field of need.”

Karen Harris, Managing Director, Intu Digital puts it simply, there must be a value exchange:

“It’s keeping things simple and not over doing it. Take the Waitrose scheme, where you get a free coffee on arrival – it’s simple and something customers want, so they’re happy to give data in exchange. Retailers and brands have a big responsibility to personalise experiences, but in a way where there is a value exchange; and then you don’t creep-out people by getting it wrong. It’s a fine balance to get that right.”

What we need to be careful of here is to not become too involved and over step the mark. The customer should feel comfortable and pleased with the ‘personalisation’ your store is providing and not feel suffocated.

This is emphasised by Dave Abbott, Retail Omni-Channel Manager, The Dune Group:

“You’ve got to get the ‘Cool versus Creepy’ factor spot on, to create a customer willingness to share.”

Retailers now must do something to differentiate themselves. Recognise your different customer groups and tailor your offers to their specific needs, wants and desires.

Staff and cultural mind-set

As you read in Chapter 3, the modern complexity of the customer journey – as shoppers switch between channels – is often complicated by the structure and culture within the organisation. Let’s delve a little deeper.


David Blakeney, Director of Store Development, House of Fraser says:

“There is a disconnect internally; who within retail actually decides what to do in-store? You have Trading Directors, Marketing, Operations, Store Managers etc., and they all have different ideas. Until there are better connections across teams, I don’t think we’re going to get it right for the customer.

“Just recently, I had three different conversations, with three different people in one of our stores. All of whom had different ideas and different thoughts. Who is actually right? The Trading Directors say we haven’t sold enough product as the marketing is not right; Marketing Directors say the products is not right; and Store Managers complain they don’t have enough in-store staff to hit targets? Connecting the broader team is a core challenge right now.”

Karen Harris, Managing Director, Intu Digital agrees:

“The organisational structure is critical for a retailer to move forward. With legacy systems, different profit centres and different ambitious personalities, it very tricky to make the customer journey seamless.”

A good starting point is to get your top talent to look at things from a customer perspective says, Katy Gotch, Director of Strategy and Customer Experience, Sainsbury’s Argos:

“The breakdown between different business functions is something we are addressing at Argos. I asked some of the company’s top talent to look at different aspects of the customer journey (in the customer’s shoes), considering all the data across those silos, ultimately to identify what’s painful and therefore damaging to our customer experience.”

Beyond connecting disparate teams, it is essential that there is a big shift in cultural mind set across retail from the front-line to the boardroom, says Karen Harris, Managing Director, Intu Digital:

“You have to put the customer at the heart of your business.”

Simple things, like job titles is a good starting point, adds Elaine Smith, Head of Digital Product Management, House of Fraser:

“Store staff is the wrong terminology. We call them store staff, but they are not there to staff the store, they’re there to serve the customer.”

The role of colleagues will transform over coming years, says Rupal Karia, Head of Commercial Sector, Fujitsu:

“How we use colleagues in a few years’ time will be completely different to how we use them today; and the KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) will evolve.”

Sainsbury’s has already made some big strides towards a culture of innovation. At Sainsbury’s, we’ve created a new team to drive forward innovations, says Alice Bland, Delivery Lead, Food Transformation, Sainsbury’s:

“Culturally we’ve set-up teams to focus on small innovations to get new ideas out there and tested really quickly, the tests don’t have to be perfect because the bigger Sainsbury’s brand is not tied in. So, for example, the Chop Chop App (which enables customers to get deliveries within an hour coming from a store on a bike) was initially only available among a small customer base in south west London. The App started from a new team outside the building because if we tried to do it the ‘Sainsbury’s’ way we would never have got there. So, we consciously separated new innovations from legacy systems and the way we do other things. It’s all about fail fast, get stuff out and learn quickly.” (We’ll explore the success of Chop Chop in more detail in Chapter 5).

If you learn from it, even a failure can be a success, adds Nigel Blunt, Head of Operations Development and Customer Experience, Argos:

“If you learn and do something differently next time, it’s still a success. If it doesn’t work, learn fast; if it does work, build on it and invest more; if it fails, stop it, and stop it quickly.”

Rupal Karia, Head of Commercial Sector, Fujitsu agrees:

“Our recent research shows two thirds of people don’t feel they get a good service in store; and if they did, they’d buy more… So, if you can up the service in store, you’re going to sell more.”

Karen Harris, Managing Director, Intu Digital says:

“Intu, likes to test lots of new ideas on the lowest possible budget, in the quickest possible way. It doesn’t have to be all encompassing it has to just be the idea of it.”

An agile, customer centred strategy requires a cultural change across the complete orgainsation that will accentuate lifetime value. Firstly, by the removal of “non-value adding” activity (as referred to in Chapter 2.) which will free up working hours to better serve the customer. Secondly, the promotion of outcome customer driven innovation. Thirdly, a focus on quality rather than price. And finally, customer satisfaction as a core KPI.

By breaking down silos, sharing information across all sectors and creating a unified vision, staff are empowered to deliver a service of greater value to the customer, which in the long run will drive more revenue.

What retailers can learn

We all get it – technology-empowered, digitally savvy customers are changing the world, the economy, and retail. But how you respond to changing customer culture will determine whether you win or lose. The high street store has taken on an entirely new meaning – as retailers strive to find a balance between creating a space that will propel the overall brand experience, and the bottom line of maximizing overall sales.


You must now re-think and re-imagine the store experience to stay relevant in the changing world – giving attention to the experiential experiences that only a physical store can offer.

Now’s the time to consider marrying digital components and physical stores to draw customers in and satisfy their need for an interactive experience, while still meeting their demand for a tangible product that they can touch and feel. Give customers what they expect, but bring the unexpected to drive increased store traffic, conversion and loyalty. The ability to innovate and harness digital technology and an innovative mindset, while empowering all staff with aligned objectives, will truly set the successful apart as we move into the new era of retailing.

Technology is an intrinsic part of most people’s lives. They wake up with a device in their hand and life begins. Therefore, high street stores must reflect this and make sure to weave technology into the fabric of their organisations. A well-planned, immersive digital store experience keeps shoppers in the store, builds better experiences, increases loyalty and engages customers with personalised, relevant information.

It’s never easy to go from a tried-and-tested business model. But you must find new ways to continue evolving and engaging customers.

So where do you start? You start with your customer. Build from your customers’ point of view. Listen to your customer, get in stores, roll your sleeves up, and understand how they want to shop.

Innovation is no longer optional. The formula for the success is simple: focus on your customers.

Four key points:

p<>{color:#000;}. You must focus on navigating the increasingly complex routines of customers and identifying, then filling, the experience gap

p<>{color:#000;}. You must empower employees to offer personalised service by providing unique in-store only experiences

p<>{color:#000;}. You must focus on holistic, scalable and outcome driven strategies to deliver whatever wherever the customer wants

p<>{color:#000;}. You must create a test and learn culture, so you can learn fast and fail fast

From the second of these key points you will realise you need to take your employees with you too as learned previously in this chapter. Your staff and partners may well need encouragement: How can stores do more to promote the use of technology among their staff – maybe they need some ‘theatre’ too, to make the changes more appealing to them. As discussed it is not just about gently leading the customer down this path it is doing the same with all the workforce.

What everyone else can learn

Change can be tricky. But for both B2B and B2C businesses, it’s time to think differently and be original. The hallmark of originality is rejecting the default and exploring whether a better option exists.


In the face of uncertainty, our first instinct is often to reject novelty, looking for reasons why unfamiliar concepts might fail. To protect ourselves against the risks of a bad bet, we compare the new notion on the table to templates of ideas that have succeeded in the past. But unless you invest in the difficult task of creating new approaches, your companies will suffer in the future no matter how big your profits are today. To be successful, I say now’s the time to challenge your brands communication model and encourage the shift from a functional push to an emotional pull, and from product to customer.

Just as high street retailers are re-considering the rationale of the store (something that has remained consistent for generations) I argue that B2B sales people must re-consider old assumptions. It’s no longer good enough to manage a traditional sales funnel; nurture process; or an isolated list of potential customer accounts. Sometimes we are so used to something that it is hard to see that it might be part of the problem. You must focus on holistic, outcome driven strategies by creating a test and learn culture in which sales people have the freedom to learn fast and fail fast. I argue that by empowering employees to spend more face time with customers, over a longer and more sustained period of time, to understand the broader context and seed new ideas, will achieve better business and customer outcomes in the long run.

We’ve learned that companies are emotional. They are full of feelings and beliefs. If you can tap into, and influence these emotions you can make powerful things happen. We’ve learned that it pays to see the different people who work within a company as stakeholders in the brand strategy, who can influence and add value to the way a custom-centric strategy is executed; but only if they are given the opportunity to do so. Now is the time to break down any silos between sales people and marketing to empower and connect them with an aligned vision.

Remember, as we learned in the previous chapter, the importance of face to face sessions cannot be underestimated in a world surrounded by technology. Talking with each other is a crucial part of nurturing. It’s in the process of face to face conversation where you have the best chance to plant a valuable idea, spark a new idea, or inspire the next action. Look hard at all the things that seem to be ‘just the way it is.’ Listen to what doesn’t work for your audience, and believe it is possible to find a different answer. It’s time to change the conversation from how the ‘solution’ supports a work task; to a conversation that captures hearts before it speaks to minds. If ‘customers’ are not interested in technical mumbo jumbo, let’s not talk about the technology. If they are not interested in hearing from your brand directly, let them hear from someone else – say a friend or even anonymously via Social Media.

It’s about breathing new life into an old discipline. Across all business (internally and externally) we can apply the same approach. Move to an approach that puts the consumer, not the brand, at the heart of communications. Bring your customers closer together, which in turn leads to increased levels of trust and consideration (this will be discussed in the next chapter).

Chapter 5. Social Shopping: Benefit from the Rapidly Growing Intersection of Retail and Entertainment


Today the lives of many consumers – not least Millennials – are completely integrated into the tech world, making social media platforms a prime opportunity for retail marketers to reach them.

Dubbed ‘social shoppers,’ research shows that these individuals visit social media platforms as part of their everyday shopping behaviour and use the images, videos, reviews and recommendations they find to inspire purchases. What’s more, social media platforms are also increasingly being used by consumers to gather ideas and learn about new products or brands from their connections and friends. So, while consumers are not yet able to buy all products directly through social media, the use of brands’ social pages for inspiration to buy, indicates the potential value of social commerce.

Social shopping then, as you might have guessed, is the name given when social media, brand experiences and shopping collide. But it is far more than simply buying something through Facebook. It’s about bringing the worlds of retail and entertainment together to deliver better shopping experiences. In this sense, social shopping can manifest in many ways; from bridging digital channels and the bricks-and-mortar store, to user-generated content (UGC) and providing real time, personalised customer service, advise and offers.

The mission for retailers then is to understand how to convert today’s browsers into tomorrow’s buyers.

The effect of social media influence over purchase decisions is a powerful one. For retailers today, it would be a mistake to think that normal marketing material will be enough to persuade the way consumers, notably Millennials, think about your brand and products. Consumers are more engaged, more vocal and more visual than ever before. They’re not merely passive readers—they post, pin, view and tweet.

Retailers can’t just sit back and hope for positive word-of-mouth. They must play an active role in its creation — and they must put word-of-mouth content and experiences right in the path of consumers who are considering purchases.

What retailers say

Give and take

More than other generations, today’s consumers pay close attention to social media when shopping. But it’s unlikely they are there to listen to the marketing messages of brands. Instead, they use social media to get input from their friends about what products and services are best to use.


Rhea Jeffrey, Ecommerce and Marketing Manager, Rockit, credits social shopping with the opportunity to be much more about personalities than a straight forward brand message:

“We spend lots of time at Rokit trying to tell our customers how brilliant we are. But the reason they buy from us is because they are cool. They like being unique and telling their own fashion story with our product. Moving forward we need to create space for our customers to share their stories with each other. So, it’s less about us, and more about who buys from us.”

It’s a similar story at high street fashion giant River Island, says Tim MacIvor, Head of Customer Experience, River Island:

“At River Island, social media is an inspiration channel. For us, it’s about stimulating engagement with the brand. It’s a fantastically competitive market place, but [by inspiring on the right channels] we’re in that consideration set for customers looking at what to wear.

“Increasingly customers are not listening to brands, but listening to ‘influencers’ who amplify the brand message – so, being active with influencers is really, really important for us.

“But there are challenges. The difficulty is that some ‘influencers’ operate as a commercial entity, so any competitor can swoop in and offer them more money. So, looking after ‘influencers’ in a way that makes them feel valued is important. It takes a lot of time and effort, but they are a fantastically important revenue stream.”

Social shopping is all about offering value to the customer – wherever they might be on the shopping journey. The Beauty Club at Debenhams has traditionally rewarded loyal customers with points and offers, but there is much more we can do to improve the shopping experience, says Sarah O’Flanagan, Marketing Manager, Debenhams:

“We’re at an interesting stage of the journey. Looking after the Beauty Club, our point of difference is around the value you’ll get from shopping beauty with us, as opposed to someone else. Right now, we are re-looking at the Beauty Club to address the pain points that exist and enhance that experience.

“We’re looking at how we integrate the Beauty Club into everything we do. Not just promotions, but how we align the Beauty Club with the editorial content that we produce, like ‘how to’ stories.

“Secondly, it’s about getting the balance right. The points and rewards you get from shopping with us are such an important factor, but they only come into play at the end of the journey. So, we want to focus on the inspiration phase; and engage customers around our exclusive brands and exciting launches. In the world of beauty, people want reviews and advice it’s very important.”

We face a similar challenge, says Troy Munns, Head of Ecommerce, Amanda Wakeley:

“Although Amanda Wakeley’s existing customer base is pre-social media and use social in a specific way, the next generation of customers coming through have grown-up with social media all around them. So, our social strategy must shift dramatically from what it is now, to meet evolving expectations. We must move from a soft branding piece to a conversation piece, as new consumers want that from their social channels.”

Tim MacIvor, Head of Customer Experience, River Island agrees:

“It’s all about the role social plays across the shopping journey – and way before it. Don’t get bogged down in the sales of a campaign. Consider things with more love and care, rather than just direct sales in the short term.”

Beyond the worlds of fashion and beauty, the ‘love and care’ element is crucial for all retailers. It starts by really listening to your customers and then placing them at the heart of everything you do.

Jason Soar, Manager, On Demand Grocery, Sainsbury’s, heads-up the innovative new App, Chop Chop, (mentioned in Chapter 4) which delivers groceries to customers within one hour. He says, Chop Chop’s success grew from letting customers lead the way:

“The whole proposition has been built-up from just spending time with our customers.

“But you must tread carefully. There is a fine line-to-toe when it comes to social – you must use it responsibly so that it doesn’t become just another piece of marketing material, but rather something to continue the dialogue with customers… Particularly when those customers may never ever actually meet a Sainsbury’s colleague. If their only interaction with Sainsbury’s is via the App, it’s important that we don’t cross that marketing line, otherwise customers could easily disengage.”

We also believe in a customer-first mantra, says Michaela Haysman, Video and Content Assistant, Mothercare:

“We had real success with our Jools Oliver clothing range, Little Bird. For the first three years of its launch, all our marketing content was driven by a select group of people that had their own Facebook Group – a group we had no control over. It was just people sharing user generated content that they loved around new products and things that match the ethos of the brand.”

Helen Hartley, Head of Social and Content, Haven Holidays supports this. When it comes to beach holidays, user generated content (UGC) out performs, she says:

“We did a lot of testing with paid-for brochure images. Specifically, trialing images that looked the least staged – which is hard to find because paid-for brochure images are always men wearing smart linen trousers, or young girls in their best Sunday dresses. Basically, clothes that no one wears to the beach. When we compared these to user generated photos, we found that we got so much more engagement and click-through to the website, so that’s all we use now.”

We’ve taken it a step further, says Dean Harris, Communication Planning and Content Manager, Co-op:

“Instead of highlighting what we’ve done and the beneficiaries of that, we’ve started to celebrate the good stuff that other people have done. So, we asked the public who in their local community inspires them. We then go and surprise the local heroes with a box of treats.

“Often the recipients will post about the surprise on social media; and the people in the community who celebrate those individuals as unsung heroes will also post about it. This results in lots of positive things popping-up around the country which are associated with us – it works well.”

In addition, Ian Dobson, former Head of Customer and Market Insight, Argos, says that beyond sharing inspiring and relevant content, there is a big opportunity to help customers help each other, a practise all business can gain from:

“I think there’s a big opportunity in linking customers to existing forums of people passionate about TV’s for example. It’s about thinking beyond your business, it’s about connecting customers with people who can help them internally or beyond. Using social media more as an information exchange.”

Bringing together customer service experts and product experts is the right move, as both sides of the equation benefit, says Michel Koch, CMO, Time Inc.:

“As a starting point, it’s about providing the same kind of solutions online that are available in the store, i.e. advice and expertise. And then really thinking about the proposition, so considering the ten most common questions that are asked in store every day from visitors and answer those across social media using ‘how to’ videos with input from staff and customers alike. UGC is a big thing when it comes to connecting customers at home who want to engage with the store. The ability to engage with real people via video chat for instance is a step forward for social shopping.”

Ultimately, it all comes down to a value exchange, says Dean Harris, Communication Planning and Content Manager, Co-op:

“When we ask for an interaction, we must carefully consider what is in it for the customer? If we place a two-minute video on Facebook, and people only watch it for 5 seconds, we must ask ourselves did we offer enough value to watch the full thing? For us, it’s time to start thinking about the value exchange… It’s about better understanding what your customers and audience want to hear and talk about.”

Command and control

It’s clear that social activity with real personality and authenticity can be a winner. But, without one or the other, savvy audiences can see through brand attempts to simply sell in new ways. This brings to the table some big questions around command and control; Should brands centralise control over social activity? Are local store managers best placed to communicate with their customers? Where in the business should social activity reside – is social now a board-level discussion?


For over five years now, we have trusted our store managers to run their own social media, says Keith Blessley, Divisional Retail Director, Majestic Wine:

“Every store manager currently has access to their own store based Twitter and Facebook. The reasoning for this is two-fold. Firstly, to drive local activity and events. And secondly, to help to connect-the-dots so store managers see themselves as part of the community rather than just isolated. One of the most exciting things we see is when store managers reach out to local businesses and engage the local community on social media.

“Giving trust over to the store teams in this way is crucial, not only on social media but also in terms of local marketing, giving them back that command and control element, ultimately creating a much more empowered store manager.”

Jason Soar, Manager, On Demand Grocery, Sainsbury’s, agrees:

“If we become overly formulaic with our approach to brand consistency we could ultimately suffocate the customer experience, creating stores and an offer where it’s too difficult to tailor the proposition to the local community; a big part of shopping locally is about having a real personality. We absolutely need corporate guidelines and principals, but allowing store managers the freedom to tailor their offer to suit what the local community is looking for is a good thing.”

It’s all about becoming part of the community, recognising and implementing what is truly wanted by the local customer, rather than short term sales, adds Ian Whiscombe, Head of Central Operations, Majestic Wine:

“The most exciting thing we’ve seen is where store managers reach out to local businesses and customers to have conversations with them. That’s what we want to see and encourage, rather than just tweeting about offers. It’s about getting our 210 store site managers to start using social media; and use it in the right way.

“When you really look at it, you discover interesting things. We’ve got store managers comfortable using Twitter, Facebook less so, and we don’t even have an Instagram set-up. But we found some of the store managers set-up their own Instagram and they’ve got hundreds of followers. Interestingly, when you look at the analysis, it’s Instagram where we’ve seen most engagement. So, the platform we know least about, and the one we have no control over whatsoever, is our most successful.”

It’s a slightly different story at Mothercare. Our store managers don’t have direct control over social yet, but they are certainly empowered to be part of the community, says Michaela Haysman, Video and Content Assistant, Mothercare:

“All in-store staff are trained in personal shopping and hosting local expectant parents’ events. They have complete control to host the events, contact local businesses and book personal shopping appointments.”

The personal shopping appointments came about directly from store managers themselves, she says:

“Some managers were staying after hours, to meet customers and show them products and offer them consultations. But this was happening below the radar because it was outside of opening hours. In some cases, staff were making up to £15,000 in business sales via these personal shopping appointments. So, we’ve now implemented them in all stores, to offer customers specialist insight and the one-to-one experience…

“At Mothercare our ethos is, ‘we are the specialists’, come to us because we have specialist knowledge. So, now, linking it all back to social, our challenge is to ensure the online experience melds in with the experience they have in the physical store.”

Empowering our store managers is a route we want to explore, says Jessica Coleman, Online Trade Manager, Paperchase:

“Learning more from our store staff about customers and being better at utilising the wonderful skills of store staff to benefit the overall brand is certainly something we want to do.”

Jenni Cumming, Group Customer Engagement Director, Hammerson agrees:

“Giving our store teams more bandwidth to deliver the local community type messaging – and developing a more strategic approach to social is a focus for us over coming months.”

It is important to listen to what the front-line team workers are suggesting following their interactions with the customers. But local-level social media marketing doesn’t work for everyone. Empowering store managers with their own Twitter handle really didn’t work at Maplin, says Michel Koch, CMO, Time Inc.:

“During my time at Maplin, it just wasn’t manageable as store staff are not trained on how to communicate the brand message. I’d argue, to execute that type of activity properly, you need someone centrally to manage it as well. Your brand messages must be consistent – if it goes viral with mistakes it can backfire very easily. It’s about having meaningful conversations with customers, but also having constant branding communication tools and guidelines in place. Yes, social provides an instant communication tool, but at the same time you must be very careful what you do with it – the wrong Tweet can massively damage your brand.”

Alin Dobrea, Brand Marketer, Marks & Spencer, shares a perfect anecdote to highlight the command and control balance:

“At Marks & Spencer we recently re-launched our purpose around ‘Making every moment special.’ Within this approach, our store staff are encouraged and empowered to do more things beyond their day-to-day job. A great example of the philosophy in action happened very recently. We had a customer in store who couldn’t pay for his suit, but had to get to an interview. So, the store manager offered him the suit for free, and asked him to come back to pay for it later – which resulted in a whole range of positive news coverage. Giving that level of power and engagement within the organisation is key.”

But, beyond the ‘store staff versus centralised control’ debate, there is an even bigger organisational and operational challenge says Sarah O’Flanagan, Marketing Manager, Debenhams:

“We’re developing a lot more cross-functional teams than ever before. We’re trying to breakdown silos to make a real difference to the overall customer experience in store. With our new CEO in place, the message right across the business is ‘change.’ The general sense is that we need to be as uncomplicated about things as possible. It’s not under debate anymore, it’s about making the change happen.”

For Sainsbury’s new ways of thinking about the how, where and why to drive innovation, not least in social, proved critical to the success of Chop Chop, says Jason Soar, Manager, On Demand Grocery, Sainsbury’s:

“We incubated Chop Chop away from our main office. We knew that if we kept it in our HQ, our approach to stakeholder engagement and governance might have impacted the pace in which we wanted to experiment. So, we adopted a real startup mentality… And only now – a year after launching it – have we moved the team back from our external lab to HQ. Fascinatingly, after a year’s experience working in a different way, a lot of other teams are coming-up to ask us how we went about the project.

“The biggest challenge to creating Chop Chop within established HQ’s is partly to do with technology, and part ways of working. If we had started with the legacy systems we have in place as a starting point, we’d likely still be developing Chop Chop now. It’s not about multiple stakeholders offering an opinion on what the service should be, but rather about being customer-led.

“Since coming back into head office the way of working has played out well. It’s been really positive. You can’t always win over every stakeholder at the outset, but you can when basing your development on what your customers and colleagues are telling you. If you are truly customer-led, you end-up saying ‘the customer is asking us to do this and therefore we’ve done it,’ and if it bears out in satisfaction or sales, we all win.”

That’s a superb approach to overcoming a key stumbling block, says Tim MacIvor, Head of Customer Experience, River Island:

“It’s a fantastic way of cutting through the internal challenges. If you have ten stakeholders, you have ten wildly different opinions. Only occasionally do they shop day-to-day with your brand and use it in the way most of our customers do. But being customer-led, allows the voice of the customer to keep coming through (whether it’s in focus groups or continuous listening).

“It’s important that we challenge stakeholder thinking with what customers are saying as they are ultimately driving the success of the organisation. That way we really get their attention.”

Whether it’s the positioning of the social team or any future transitions, organisational change must be customer-led, says Rose Byfleet, Digital Customer Experience Strategy Manager, Debenhams:

“If you want to see change, as a business you must start thinking about how people shop. At the end of the day, we are all customers and somethings become obvious when you look at it from the outside. As a customer, I want to know about this pair of shoes; where they are sourced from? What they are made of? Can I get my shoe re-heeled in store? From a business perspective then, put your product at the centre because that’s how your customer thinks.”

Is ‘success’ direct sales?

With growing pressure on retailers from evolving expectations, rising operating costs and price conscious consumers, sales are more important than ever. There has been a lot of research over recent years into the impact of social media on purchase decisions – and the numbers don’t lie.


But when it comes to social shopping, are metrics for success simply short terms sales? Or is social shopping success best measured around longer-term metrics, including; levels of engagement? How you make a customer feel? The life time value of a customer? Customer service? Customer loyalty?

At the Co-op, it’s a complicated one, says Dean Harris, Communication Planning and Content Manager, Co-op:

“You can’t buy our food online, so when we do a campaign it’s not a social campaign in isolation but TV and the like. So, it’s hard to pinpoint what content can be attributed to increased sales. We have all these external influences, specifically on a sunny day, we sell more ice creams, alcohol and BBQ sets, so knowing what’s influenced the final sale is tricky. Some of it is subjective, so you must trust you’re doing the right thing utilising all your experience.

“On a pure sales metrics, in our online businesses, the most effective use of social media is re-targeting customers who have come to our website – this is a big sales generator.”

For vintage fashion, social success is largely about keeping customers, says Rhea Jeffrey, Ecommerce and Marketing Manager, Rockit:

“It’s engagement, but not only engagement, it’s the longer-term success of whether that person is sticking around and continuing to engage with what we do. But it’s tricky, proving the accurate conversion from social followers to paying customers. I’d really like to better understand how that is trackable. In vintage fashion, customers shop vintage for years, so how do we prove a shopping journey started on social?”

Cracking the code of attribution is not an insignificant challenge, says Ian Dobson, former Head of Customer and Market Insight, Argos:

“The likes of Facebook and Google will do this attribution for you, but you have to handover your data to them.

“They will never share their data, so brands who are communicating via multiple channels need to develop sophisticated sales attribution across those channels and combine this with econometric modelling. To justify such investment, you must believe that social is good for your brand.

“Social media is all about earning the right to be heard. The audience pays a price (in their time), to read your content. Which brings marketing back to the basics – it must be relevant and offer real value (whether that’s economic, temporal, informational or emotional).”

For our team, success is measured on engagement, says Michaela Haysman, Video and Content Assistant, Mothercare:

“We measure social activity on how many people view the content and then go on to find out more information about a product. Not necessarily if they buy the product or not – because with car seats and push chairs often people need to go in store to touch, feel and get things fitted. So, on social we want to give them as much information as possible, so they can make an informed choice. The overall aim is to link our shopping experiences together.”

It’s a similar story for us says Troy Munns, Head of Ecommerce, Amanda Wakeley:

“For Amanda Wakeley, social success is measured against keeping conversations with customers going, re-targeting and soft reminders of the brand.”

As well as linking experiences together, social content should be something audiences want to share, adds Michel Koch, CMO, Time Inc.:

“How an audience propagates or initiates your content to go viral is important. Success today should also include ‘how engaged’ people are with the content itself. For example, Generation Z typically engage with content for about eight seconds, so if you can capture more than eight seconds of people’s attention, this is the currency of success today.”

Lastly, although social is predominantly an inspirational activity for River Island, sales messages do work very well says Tim MacIvor, Head of Customer Experience, River Island:

“Social works incredible well to communicate single dimension messages such as, our sale has started, because it’s a simple and easy message to get across. If you have one million followers across Twitter, Facebook or Instagram you can deliver these messages to large volumes quickly and easily.”


As mentioned, social shopping extends far beyond buying products through Facebook. The good old-fashioned store is at the heart of social shopping experiences as we learned in Chapter 4. After all, what’s more human than walking into a store and talking to someone.


Tim MacIvor, Head of Customer Experience, River Island says:

“We’re looking to join our physical and digital channels together. It’s tricky, but we know it’s key, not least for personalisation. If a customer has looked at something on Instagram and then walked into one of our stores; the store staff should be able to present that product to them – that’s the ultimate place we want to get to. Mobile will be the glue that cements the digital and physical worlds.

“But it’s not easy. Getting all our data together and tackling cultural barriers are not insignificant challenges. A large percentage of revenue - up to 75% - still comes from the high street, despite all the talk of digital channels. So, we face an internal cultural challenge around this imbalance. The store delivers 75% revenue; so why are you always talking about digital? We are countering this challenge by looking at the value of a customer across channels – so it doesn’t matter where you purchased.”

Tailoring your store to suit specific needs is the future. A store is no longer just a place to exchange money for goods, it needs to become a “fulfilment hub.” It shouldn’t be simply a depot for all merchandise. In analysing the relevant data, retailers can identify a store’s true value, and refine its role in the overall business strategy.

Tim MacIvor, Head of Customer Experience, River island says,

“Stores on our business parks don’t sell in the typical way for example. We have a whole load of customer traffic picking-up click-and-collect orders because parking is easy. So, learning from this, it’s about looking at tailoring our store network to the needs of each geographical region. Where we know the store is all about click and-collect orders, let’s build in some service desks or self-service pods; and not worry about cramming a huge range of clothes.

“The journey we took to identify this trend is a valuable one. It all started by looking at gross revenue. It was clear that the store revenue contribution was falling as a percentage of total revenue. But if you overlay digital sales across that region (so draw a mile radius around the store), we found revenue in that region was in fact growing (just not through physical store sales). Once we identified this, we started to consider; what’s happening with this store then? How is it being used? Suddenly you identify these pockets of stores that manage a whole load of click-and-collect and returns, rather than sales.

“Conversely our Marble Arch store, which contains a style studio, is much more a destination and entertainment space. At Marble Arch then, the approach is to keep people in the store to enjoy a personal shopping experience or one of our pop-up beauty stands for example. It’s about making the store a place to get ready for a Saturday night. In this way, we are starting to change the role of the store to suit how customers want to use it.”

Debenhams are taking a similar approach, says Sarah O’Flanagan, Marketing Manager, Debenhams:

“We’re moving towards the store becoming a marketing channel within the overall journey. As we’ll never be able to facilitate every brand to be in our store; instead, our message is ‘you can buy what you need from us,’ regardless of whether it is there in the store, or bought online while in-store. For us, it’s about how our customers shop. It’s no longer about individual departments but the whole experience.”

At Hammerson, bringing together the best of both worlds is also a key focus, says Jenni Cumming, Group Customer Engagement Director, Hammerson:

“We are trying to create iconic destinations to make shopping a great experience. The challenge is how do we successfully amplify that across social channels and through the services we offer in centre.

“We are now in a position where we want to revisit our social strategy to increase engagement. It’s about understanding the role of each channel in helping to drive that engagement with our brand; and to generate excitement and to make people want to come to the centre more often and when they are there to spend more money. So, for us, it’s about which channels are best placed to drive that engagement, Twitter is a very different platform to Instagram and how do we leverage each of those to optimise engagement.”

It’s a slightly different story, but the same fundamental challenge for us, says Phoebe Ellis-Rees, Ecommerce Manager, Lola’s Cupcakes:

“We got a lot of social interaction from people shopping in-store, rather than those shopping online (the reverse of what you might expect) and this is just because the demographic we get in-store is more aligned with the demographic who use social media (they like things instantly). A big challenge for us is linking-up the three channels, bricks-and-mortar, social and online (considering our different demographics on each channel).”

Data capture

Undeniably, the future of retail lies in the ability to know customer preferences, and behaviour, with a much finer granularity than ever before, to better serve their needs. But, first and foremost retailers must manage their data properly and then leverage the insight that matters.


Marketers today have advanced technologies at their fingertips to gain a deeper understanding of their customers, and attribution modelling to follow customers’ paths to conversions. But the science behind relevant data capture, consent and in-store personalisation is still somewhat of a mystery. And, if all this isn’t tough enough, retailers will shortly face a significant change in the laws regarding how they capture, store, share and process customer data.

The GDPR places heavy new responsibilities on retailers when it comes to managing data.

As Michel Koch, CMO, Time Inc. puts it:

“The big trend around social, sits side by side with the big trend of capturing data. So, one of the strategy challenges around social shopping is how many data points can you capture on top of your traditional metrics.

“Social media contains such a wealth of information. It’s about trying to get a sense of soft signals and understanding what this information can tell you. Ultimately so you can deliver a better experience by anticipating customer problems and finding events that happen to individual customers and addressing them.”

It’s all around thinking about what the customer needs before they know they need it, adds Michaela Haysman, Video and Content Assistant, Mothercare:

“We share emails along every week of a customer’s pregnancy. So, when they sign-up to ‘My Mothercare’, they’ll put their due date in (so we can identify how far along their pregnancy they are). In this way, we know when they are most likely to come in for certain products, and we can share relevant medical information at the right times (like the whooping cough vaccination at 28 weeks for instance). So, it’s knowing what they need to know, before they need to know it. Being with a new mum at every step of the journey.”

Chatbots play an increasingly significant role in providing real time, automated yet personal customer service. They have the potential to be incredibly valuable in collecting data on the way customers use your products and services, what they look for and what problems they encounter. But retailers are somewhat behind the technology, says Jenni Cumming, Group Customer Engagement Director, Hammerson:

“How can we truly engage with the data that people are sharing via Chatbots; and then draw insights from that to help inform our offers and promotions, i.e. connect people to the relevant restaurant and retail offers that they’re really interested in?”

GDPR and data capture is certainly one of our stumbling blocks, adds Ian Whiscombe, Head of Central Operations, Majestic Wine:

“We collect data from every single customer who comes into our store. When a purchase is made we’ll get a customer’s surname, post code and address to create a customer profile.

“We’ve done it for years and years, so we have a huge file with lots of customer data on it. But the current system will no longer be compliant under the GDPR. So, we’ve just rolled-out a new way for team members to ask the question around data. It’s now crystal-clear the reason we are asking for this data is for marketing purposes. The GDPR is a big change, we’ve jumped on it already as it relates to so much of what we do to drive our business. But we could be a lot better and smarter at using the data.”

E-receipts is one way of capturing data in store. But it is vital that the reason for requesting this data is fully and clearly explained to the customer during the sale. This is a ‘win-win’ situation; beneficial to the retailer but also to the customer for returns and warranties, says Tim MacIvor, Head of Customer Experience, River Island:

“If you explain to the customer the benefit of keeping an electronic record, should you want to return your goods, they get it. It’s all about how you’re selling the benefit to a customer.

“Retailers typically rush to sell something and that’s part of problem. Marketers tend to jump to the ‘what can I sell’ mentality, and actually that purchase decision might still be three or four communications away for a customer. So instead, use the data to enable a conversation while customers are in the consideration set; and let them buy a product when it’s right for them. Jumping to the sale is not the right approach.”

We’ve weighed-up the same debate internally, agrees Ian Whiscombe, Head of Central Operations, Majestic Wine:

“We call it ‘Love versus Sale’. Some customers received promotions, offers and discounts (the sale side). While another customer segment received a more story led, content type approach (the love side). The love campaign outperformed the sale campaign massively. So now everything we are doing is love. In the short term, the sale campaign outperformed love, but over the long term (six months) the love campaign delivered far more.”

What retailers can learn

No doubt, the effect of social media influence over purchase decisions is a powerful one. Brand engagement and peer discussions are the real keys to making your brand memorable on social media and keeping your products in the forefront of your customers minds particularly Millennials and Generation Z.


As it stands, social media platforms are acting as a sort of catalogue, but many customers still go elsewhere to purchase the product. Most consumers do not go straight to a brand’s website when evaluating a big purchase, but rather they do research, online and offline first. They may go to the store to try out the product, ask for friends’ recommendations or read product reviews.

Take some time to explore how consumers are discussing your brand on social media. Look for opportunities to promote your user generated content in Facebook groups, using industry-related Twitter hashtags, and leveraging the power of video on YouTube. If you really want to cut through the noise and speak straight to modern consumers, don’t neglect social platforms to promote your customer reviews, comments and feedback.

As social media sites continue to enable direct purchasing, identify the relevant opportunities to sell direct via these channels at the pertinent times. In this way, social commerce offers a real opportunity for you to shorten the path to purchase for customers.

How much can social media impact consumer purchase decisions for your brand? That will really depend on your niche. Certain product categories work better than others to market on social media.

That said, you can’t sit back and hope for positive word-of-mouth. You must play an active role in its creation. By integrating customer purchase and experience stories, ratings and reviews, and questions and answers into the online and in-store shopping experience—and even into marketing campaigns. This way you can increase awareness of your brands; engage consumers; and create loyal, lasting relationships. By embracing and facilitating social commerce where customers are discovering, considering, and buying, you can also expect to see an increase in wallet share over time.

It’s important that you and your team consider the role of social shopping in the context of your brand. Here are five top tips to meet modern customer needs and impact purchase decisions with social shopping:

p<>{color:#000;}. Identify your objectives. What is it that you hope to get out of social commerce, or what do you hope it will bring to your business?

p<>{color:#000;}. Check your audience and platforms

p<>{color:#000;}. Build genuine relationships with customers on social media and incorporate UGC

p<>{color:#000;}. Encourage consumer conversations about your brand on social media. Focus your social discussions on the things your customers care about

p<>{color:#000;}. Test, measure, and adapt. Leave yourself room to make mistakes and learn from them

Modern consumers are dynamic, opinionated and price-conscious. But they pay a lot of attention to social media when it comes to making purchases. Now’s the time to position your brand to address the needs of social shoppers and encourage positive conversations via social media, about your products and services. In the end, this strategy could generate a significant impact on your bottom line.

What everyone else can learn

Here I steer clear of talking about how social media can be used effectively for business, or B2B sales, as that’s a talking point for a different book. Instead, I comment on the importance of being in the right place at the right time.


As we learned in Chapter 2, in our crazy attention-grabbing modern economy, attention is a truly precious commodity. When it comes to B2B sales the exact same thing is true. It boils down to giving your customer that something extra that turns information into inspiration. Avoid a full-on sales pitch as it will frustrate your customers and prove detrimental to your overall goal. Instead think about how to build your reputation as a partner generous with insight and support, bringing something unique and relevant to your customer.

This is about making a bold choice. It’s about a strategy influencing the execution – to make sure you don’t just say you are customer-centric, but demonstrate it too. Know and love your audience, and your audience will know and love your brand. It’s about deep authenticity. It’s a powerful reminder not just to look at the data around you, but also the data behind you; to investigate and learn from past activity. It also reminds us to be bold, brave and big in our ideas, and shows the rewards to be reaped in doing so.

As a B2B customer, ultimately what I need to know is why your solution matters to me? If you can do this effectively on social channels you may spark new inspiration. Think about how you can frame the problem you solve (around what is and what could be) in a way that might catalyse a new thought, or inspire me to take the next step. Abandoning the need for rational propositions can allow for an emotional connection to be re-established between brand and consumer. In this sense, don’t just create communications; create a new philosophy for doing business.

From all our discussions so far, we’ve learned that the real solution to a communications problem lies in human empathy not in sophisticated technology.

Chapter 6. The GDPR and Personalisation


It’s an exciting time for retail, but there are significant challenges associated with personalisation. Not least, the technical complications with joining-up disparate pockets of data to create a single customer view, combined with the organisational adjustments needed to put customers at the heart of the business.


And if personalisation isn’t tough enough, the laws regarding how retailers capture, store, share and process customer data are about to change.

As touched upon previously, the new EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) – which officially applies from May 25, 2018 – places heavy new responsibilities on retailers when it comes to managing personal data.

All data collected on customers and colleagues will fall within the scope of the GDPR – and heavy non-compliance fines (up to 4% of a company’s global revenue) are enough to make all retailers pay attention.

Fundamentally, retail is entering a stricter, more complicated era in which the collection of personal data will be looked upon far more stringently. For all retailers, it is essential to plan for GDPR compliance now and to gain ‘buy in’ from key people in your organisation.

It should come as no surprise that preparation for the GDPR is a priority. Those retailers who plan accordingly and implement changes that align with the host of new regulations will benefit. Those who do not, could not only pay a heavy price financially, but also potentially suffer irreversible damage to their reputation.

On the one hand, retailers must serve-up superb personal customer experiences. On the other, the necessary data processing to deliver such experiences must fully comply with the new regulations.

So, what does it all mean? In essence, the key challenge for retail is to ensure that essential customer relationship management is not affected by the more prescriptive changes required under GDPR and that customer trust is always maintained. But it’s no easy feat.

What retailers say

Data, consent and the customer

Getting on top of data is the first step, says Catherine Brien, Data Science Director, The Co-op:


“We want absolute transparency. We’re taking the purest mindset to focus on having complete transparency on exactly what data we hold; where we hold it; how it is being used; and the necessary processes to surface that information at any given time. If we have that level of visibility, everything else will sort itself out.”

Claire Playle, Marketing New Initiatives and Acquisitions, Dixons Carphone, shares similar thinking:

“We want to marry-up the data we hold across our huge range of brands within Dixons Carphone, to better understand valuable customers insights. Helping us to put customers in the driving seat and make sure we give them what they want, rather than just what we want to give them.”

That’s absolutely correct, says Rene James-Barriteau, CRM Marketing, Burberry:

“Better understating around our data is a real opportunity to identify the value of different shopping channels. With full transparency around data within our businesses, it will help us to truly understand where to invest time, energy and money (if someone is browsing online, in-store on the App.) We just want to send the right message, at the right time, in the right way …to do this we want to know what channel is the best for the customer. The GDPR presents this opportunity.”

Sat closely alongside mapping data is the need to carefully consider customer consent. Under GDPR, consent must be freely given, specific, informed and unambiguous. For instance, consent won’t be valid if the details about why personal data is being used is hidden within a long set of terms and conditions.

As Tim Connold, Head of Personalisation, Asos.com says:

“At Asos.com it’s all about doing the right thing for the customer. The language that we use is understood by customers and employees (GDPR is a banned word because people don’t respond to it). It’s about how we can change our practices and approach based on the customer.”

Neal Patel, Customer Business Change Manager, Sainsbury’s agrees:

“That’s exactly where we are focused with the GDPR looming – speaking to customers in a language they understand, rather than giving them all the regulatory mumbo-jumbo. It’s important we educate the customer in language that resonates, in terms of how GDPR is going to impact them, and how we use their data going forward.”

Getting consent, within physical stores, can be a huge headache. Store staff can find it very difficult to directly ask the customer for their consent either to opt-in or opt-out, says Gillian McNulty, CRM Manager, Planning and Data Governance, Boots:

“…As a shopper on the high street, I’ve experienced store staff struggle to say: ‘If you give me consent we will market relevant products and services to you…’ The business might have the right approach, but staff might still struggle to deliver it – therefore putting the overall business at risk.”

Beyond new customers, you must refresh existing consents promptly if they don’t meet the GDPR standard, as Darren Leighton, Enterprise Data Architect, Harrods, says:

“Harrods have now updated their website, but six months ago the customer consent question was so convoluted, it was really tricky to understand exactly what you were signing-up for. Which meant, to comply with the new standards, we had to go back and re-qualify all our customers. We are now giving real consideration to how we put the customer in control of the journey; and how to organise the business to handle that.”

Re-qualifying customers is not an in-significant challenge, adds Claire Playle, Marketing New Initiatives and Acquisitions, Dixons Carphone:

“We are looking at doing it now, but we have nine million customers within the broader Dixons Carphone database, so it’s a massive undertaking.”

We’ve thought about it as well, adds Allison Dear, Customer Engagement Strategy Manager, Tesco:

“It does equate to a lot of cost lay out. But, we are always looking at the best solution that works for our customers.”

Could the load be lighter with careful consideration around how you define a customer, says Sam Shaerf, Head of Customer Management and Data, John Lewis:

“At John Lewis, re-thinking about who is a ‘customer,’ is a huge internal debate. We’re a multi-brand, multi-channel retailer who has been trading for 150 years with a host of data from a whole range of customers. So, questions we’re considering include: Is a customer an account? Is a customer a person? Are there any duplicates?”

On that line of thought, Catherine Brien, Data Science Director, The Co-op, says to better identify customers and understand their expectations, we ask them directly:

“Individual consumers can have wildly different opinions on data management. So, at the Co-op, we are investing in huge amounts of consumer research to better understand our customer’s expectations and attitudes towards data management. The research is kicking-up fantastic insights around customer expectations.

“If your approach goes beyond defining your customer, to re-thinking your objective, it can be truly enlightening. What if we set aside the objective of trying to drive marketing and sales for a minute, and replace the primary objective with trying to get a customer to trust us, and therefore, in the long run willing to share more. If we can get that mentality embedded within our organisations, I believe it’ll be more valuable.”

It is not just about producing lengthy policies but being on the same ‘wave length’ as your customer, so you can engage with them, says Allison Dear, Customer Engagement Strategy Manager, Tesco:

“Last September, we introduced a new online privacy centre to help build customer trust. The online privacy centre clearly explains how we use customer data; what it’s used for; how it benefits our customers; and how it benefits us as a business.”

Likewise, we’re focused on communicating value to maintain trust with our customers, says Tim Connold, Head of Personalisation, Asos.com:

“We recently trialed an explicit ‘opt in’ marketing message, but found our database shrank dramatically as a result. So, we know first-hand we must engage our customers in the right way – they must see a value exchange. We must make the value in sharing data very clear for them.”

But did the shrinkage have any real significance, questions Sam Shaerf, Head of Customer Management and Data, John Lewis:

“ At John Lewis, we are carefully considering the real impact of losing data through ‘opt in’ messages. If our open rate for email marketing is typically 30%, it means 70% of our communications aren’t being opened anyway… So, the shrinkage means we won’t be able to email them, but they weren’t opening the message anyway? It can offer a greater perspective when you think about it like that.”

They might not open the email, but they might engage on other channels, so, for us it comes down to being transparent in everything we do, responds Tim Connold, Head of Personalisation, Asos.com:

“We don’t only engage our customers through email – that’s only one channel. So, the view we have is based around making sure customers get the right message, in the right way using the data we have available and being completely transparent with that.

“We are using the arrival of the GDPR as an opportunity to re-think our complete marketing strategy. That’s what this moment is all about. We don’t want our customers to feel hunted all over the web. Using the channel and frequency they want, with relevant conversations about the products and services they want, and need from us. It’s all about the value exchange and building trust.”

There are some concerns though about overcomplicating it for customers. Asking a customer for what they want, at the point it is required, can start causing problems for them, rather than the retailer, which may be very off putting.

Here’s Sam Shaerf, Head of Customer Management and Data, John Lewis, thoughts,

“The granularity of this type of consent is a false pretense, it simply doesn’t work that way in the real world. As a customer, if I am expecting a baby, my first thought isn’t to give John Lewis consent to market baby products to me. Equally, if I do give consent to market baby products to me, it’s only relevant for a specific time window, and I am unlikely to remind John Lewis when that window expires. And, if I say ‘no’ at any given time, then at a later point, even when baby products do become relevant to me, John Lewis won’t legally be able to market them to me.”

Even when consent is given, in specific cases, you can only market ‘similar’ products, creating further complication, adds Gillian McNulty, CRM Manager, Planning and Data Governance, Boots:

“The Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR) – which sits alongside the GDPR – stipulates that where an email address is taken at the point of purchase, you can only market similar products to those included within the purchase.

“So, if a customer bought shampoo – can we only market to them about shampoo? Or is conditioner close enough? As a customer, you’re aware Boots sell toiletries, food and other products, so maybe you expect to receive such communications, but it’s a very grey area.”

Evidently, the need to re-think data mapping and consent is not in doubt. But the ways in which different retailers will tackle the challenge set by the GDPR varies.

It’s quite a conundrum, with no one-stop shop. That said, there appears to be a strong argument to carefully consider the value exchange and language used to communicate it.

Trust, personalisation and profiling

GDPR clearly defines what data constitutes Personally Identifiable Information (PII); and regulates profiling of individuals (i.e. where data is collected in an automated form and used to predict or analyse personal preferences of a customer).


Retailers personalise marketing and profile customers in many ways, whether using loyalty cards, online behavioural advertising or using CCTV to record in-store images of known individuals. The use of any data that can identity an individual person requires consent. This raises a whole bunch of questions around anonymised data, personalisation and customer preferences.

Here’s Guy Johnson, Head of Data Governance, Marks & Spencer:

“At Marks & Spencer, we have had a long debate over what constitutes as anonymised data or not. If you can tie it back to an individual person and we have a program storing that data manually or not, it’s not anonymised data”.

But, Tim Connold, Head of Personalisation, Asos.com says:

“It still begs the questions; what data do you really need to create effective profiling?”

Sam Shaerf, Head of Customer Management and Data, John Lewis responds:

“You can still make business decisions with anonymised data, but overlaying personal data gives you a richer insight and therefore leads to better customer and business outcomes.”

Even when you have consent it’s complicated, says Allison Dear, Customer Engagement Strategy Manager, Tesco:

“You get some customers who want marketing around all products, and you get other customers who don’t want anything. It’s difficult to strike that balance.”

At the same time, you must be very careful when making assumptions, adds Guy Johnson, Head of Data Governance, Marks & Spencer:

“Ozzy Osbourne and Prince Charles share the same year of birth, but they have completely different shopping preferences and views on the world, so you need to be really careful with things like generational assumptions.”

Exactly right, adds Sam Shaerf, Head of Customer Management and Data, John Lewis:

“If you took the average land height of Switzerland it would be flat. But that doesn’t explain there are some high mountains and some deep valleys. It’s the same with customers. We need to better understand what is really out there.”

So, personalised marketing is the way forward. But when does personalisation become creepy?

Personalisation can get creepy around particular product marketing, says Gillian McNulty, CRM Manager, Planning and Data Governance, Boots:

“For example, hair retention. If you’ve never bought hair retention products from us, even if you look like all the other hair retention customers within Boots, that’s not a communication we are going to send to you because we feel like that is too creepy. It’s not that we can’t do it, but we choose not to.”

At Asos.com we have a dedicated team to help create sophisticated personalised marketing, but there’s a thin line to walk between cool and creepy experiences, says Tim Connold, Head of Personalisation, Asos.com:

“We have a data science team who are responsible for creating algorithms that help make recommendations. We’ve got better and better over the years, so now customers report that they feel Asos.com know them better than they know themselves – which is great!

“But we also share very basic data with Facebook to promote adverts in social feeds. For example, a former senior colleague got an advert saying, ‘We think you’d look great in this…’ The advert was for a black leather thong! Which of course is completely in appropriate. A reminder for us all to think carefully about the ‘do’ and ‘don’t’ list when creating complex algorithms for personalised recommendations.”

But creepy isn’t always so clear, says Neal Patel, Customer Business Change Manager, Sainsbury’s:

“Following the acquisition, if we were to send an Argos branded email to Sainsbury’s customers that could be taken as creepy. Our own research over the last six months suggests that a significant portion of the public, are not aware that Argos is now part of the Sainsbury’s group. Despite the fact that both brands have good customer trust scores, if we were to email a Sainsbury’s customer an Argos email without any context, it could be perceived as phishing or a scam. But if we make the business group structure clear in our marketing consents, then customers tend to be more than happy to receive marketing from both Argos and Sainsbury’s. Transparency in this sense removes the creepiness.”

Jignasha Patel, Senior CRM Retail Manager, Ladbrokes agrees:

“As we are also in the process of merging two brands [Ladbrokes and Coral], it would be creepy to send emails to customers from one to the other, even though I want to retain those customers.”

Learning from our experience, Asos.com have great ideas in the pipeline, adds Sakshi Arora, Lead Business Analyst – Digital Experience, Asos.com:

“We know lots about our customers, but going forward we want to better manage data in real time, within sessions. The fundamental thinking for us is around transparency. Asking customers what they want, and giving them the option: Do you want us to personalise this session for you? If you do, here are the steps we are going to take… It’ll create a far more interactive and real-time experience.

“Ultimately the customer sees the value proposition up front and is put in control of the journey.”

The nature of cool versus creepy is contentious, and diverse for different customers and brands. That said, the need to tread carefully between the wonderful and the weird, and actively involving your customers in the personalisation journey across all sectors is apparent. Equally, it’s clear there is still much debate and confusion around the compliant handling of data under the forthcoming GDPR.

Technical and cultural adjustments

The GDPR makes privacy by design an express legal requirement. This extends to all partners and suppliers across the supply chain who handles data on behalf of the retailer (for example delivery or logistics providers).


As Sam Shaerf, Head of Customer Management and Data, John Lewis says:

“It’s a real concern that we now have joint responsibility for breaches of third parties. It’s not even how we handle or process data, but how X third party manages it.”

What’s more, GDPR introduces mandatory data breach notifications to the regulator within 72 hours and in some cases to the data subjects too.

Retailers need to give very careful thought to breach prevention and to ensuring that breaches are handled in the right way. This will not only help avoid noncompliance fines but reduce the risks to the business of negative press. All of this has big implications on the technical and organisational set-up for retailers – making it a board-level priority.

Guy Johnson, Head of Data Governance, Marks & Spencer says,

“The Board at Marks & Spencer are very aware of the GDPR. The challenge I face is not at the board level. But as a business we’re trying to reinvent ourselves within an evolving landscape of innovation and agility. So how do you create a culture where you start with privacy but remain innovative? How do you create a culture where the GDPR doesn’t feel like a heavy set of regulations that you must adhere to? If it simply becomes a new set of rules, I think culturally people might look to bend the rules. So, it must be a top-down and bottom-up approach.”

It’s a similar story at The Co-op. We are in the process of re-thinking many aspects of our operating model, says Catherine Brien, Data Science Director, The Co-op:

“At the Executive level, they are fully aware of the GDPR and its impact, but the reality of delivering strategies that comply with the GDPR is still some way off, ultimately everyone across the organisation will be responsible.”


It’s surprising how many colleagues don’t realise they work with data, adds Allison Dear, Customer Engagement Strategy Manager, Tesco:


“Right now, we’re doing a big staff training activity around processing data. In the process of fact-finding, and speaking with colleagues about the role of data in their jobs, we found many of our colleagues didn’t realise how much data they handled.”

We see similar things, says Ash Madhav, Ecommerce Analytics Manager, New Look:

“Internally, there are lots of misunderstandings around which colleagues ‘use’ data and how they ‘use’ it.”

And beyond confusion over handling data, it’s always perceived to be someone else’s problem, says Catherine Brien, Data Science Director, The Co-op:

“There’s a disconnect. Everyone wants better data within the organisation, but finding someone who thinks data is their responsibility is tough; it’s always someone else’s role.”

On the flip-side, another challenge is making the most of valuable employees, says Sam Shaerf, Head of Customer Management and Data, John Lewis:

“At John Lewis our partners on the shop floor build-up a relationship with key customers, i.e. as a wine specialist in the local Waitrose you get to know your customer preferences. The partner then tells the customer, give me your number and I’ll let you know when your favourite bottle is back in stock or on sale. That’s trust, and absolutely the right thing for the customer, so how do you put a framework in place that allows you to scale that and stay within the laws of GDPR.”

I think it boils down to raising awareness within the business, adds Sakshi Arora, Lead Business Analyst – Digital Experience, Asos.com:

“It’s all about helping your team understand the opportunity GDPR presents and taking the opportunity to do the best by the customer.”

That’s right says Jaspreet Bains, Digital Product, Programme Manager, Tesco:

“It’s about making sure colleagues are aware of the changes and upskilling them, thereby removing the risk of collecting data in an ad hoc fashion for instance.”

It has become clear that staff throughout the organisation needed to be made aware of the changes taking place, and all Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) adjusted accordingly.

Gillian McNulty, CRM Manager, Planning and Data Governance, Boots agrees:

“The GDPR has given some ammunition to change the mind-set behind existing KPIs that are potentially detrimental in the long run.”

Both Tim Connold, Head of Personalisation, Asos.com and Sam Shaerf, Head of Customer Management and Data, John Lewis, concur:

“As retailers, we have a duty of care to protect our customer data and security. We want to do the right thing, in the right way for our customers. None of this is a bad thing, we all need to be secure in how we collect, manage and process customer data,” says Connold.

“We all have different interpretations and opinions, but if each of us can stand-up and say I did what I thought was the right thing for our customer, rather than doing something for the sake of doing it, we’ll be in a good place,” adds Shaerf.

Rene James-Barriteau, CRM Marketing, Burberry, summarises the opportunity succinctly:

“It’s a really exciting time for marketers and analysts overall, to have the opportunity to regulate the system and truly put our customers first.

“As a truly omni-channel retailer, we are excited about the arrival of the GDPR. It’ll offer real clarity around the success of each specific channel and the best timing to contact specific customers, with specific messages. The insight gleaned from better understanding exactly which channel a customer has used (derived from what and where consent was given) will empower our data analysts to provide more relevant marketing in the future. We want to have lots of different touch points for our customers to say they are keen to hear more from us, or not. It’s about putting the customer first.”

What retailers can learn

Perhaps Tim Connold, Head of Personalisation, Asos.com says it best: “I am really pleased everyone is talking about the customer, not the technical jargon of the GDPR.”

For retail, a people intensive sector, the journey to compliance will be a challenging one – but one that can be achieved. The clock is ticking towards compliance day and although Brexit will have a potential impact on the UK, UK retailers operating within the EU will still have to comply. GDPR is a game changer. Policies, procedures, technologies, training and staff will all need investment to achieve compliance. The GDPR is non-negotiable – it will happen whether you’re prepared or not. There is to be no burying of heads in the sand.

But the real challenge is to appreciate the opportunity that GDPR presents; firstly, to forge deeper connections with customers; and secondly, to re-organise the business around the customer.

The ability to deliver personalised data-driven experiences, while complying with the GDPR, will genuinely set the successful apart as we move into the new era of retailing.

As arduous as the new accountabilities presented by the GDPR may seem, if you proactively manage GDPR compliance by advancing your data security, you can increase consumer trust, and you’re likely to be more resilient going forward.

Indeed, it’s evident that the GDPR presents an ideal business opportunity for you to re-think your marketing strategy, from a customer perspective and to present your business as taking responsibility, being transparent and reliant.

Everyone has a right to the protection of their personal data. If you don’t protect your customer’s data then not only are there financial implications but trust and potential further custom is lost.

In the ‘Age of the Customer,’ the relationship retailers have with customers is the greatest source of competitive differentiation, yet the onset of GDPR has the potential to disrupt all of this – if not managed correctly.

What everyone else can learn

To capture customer’s trust, hearts and business, you must ensure the training, processes and technical solutions necessary to comply with the GDPR are in place. By doing so you will be able to harness valuable data and insights to create an even more personalised experience across all channels – and in this sense, GDPR presents a perfect opportunity.

The key challenge is to guarantee that essential customer relationship management is not affected by the more prescriptive changes required and that customer trust is maintained at all times.

Confusing a customer is a sure-fire way to kill a sale. Since the days of Dale Carnegie’s revolutionary research, it’s long been understood that eliciting a positive response from your customer (at different points in the conversations) helps to create a more positive framework in which to hold a productive sales conversation. I’d like to add to the debate that confusing your customer, with technical mumbo-jumbo and irrelevant product features or iterations, has the opposite effect. It’s a sure-fire way to kill the conversation which in turn may kill a sale.

In this light, it’s all about making your service, product or solution accessible to others. Share with your customer why it’s interesting and why it matters to them in a language they are familiar with. Avoid industry jargon and buzzwords, rather focus on the language your customers use and communicate in a succinct and human way.

The positive spin put on the arrival of the GDPR highlights a lesson that all businesses should listen to – change can be good. It’s fashionable to demean or deny the ‘Big Idea’, but throughout this book we’ve shown how new ways of thinking can bring together separate parts of a business to create a platform that motivates and inspires customers. In this way, I encourage all businesses to sit down and think carefully about how they currently market and sell their goods; and consider whether it is good enough, or in need of a new ‘Big Idea.’

Brave ideas can get your brand back on a track. It’s far too easy to rest on your laurels; to make the argument that all you need to do is improve awareness of a vintage piece of marketing. In today’s world, this is unlikely to cut it.

No doubt, big strategic ideas take time to influence businesses. But at their best, they change not only what businesses say, but also what they do and how they feel, for both customers and colleagues alike. And this is exactly what is needed right now. What’s more, once embedded, they offer a fantastic lens for rolling-out other new initiatives across the business.

Chapter 7. Conclusions

When I started One Connected Community (OCC), I hoped to apply a very human, honest and story-led approach to complex business challenges. The premise was simple but has proved phenomenally powerful.


As we’ve discovered, there are many challenges and opportunities facing the world of retail. Through the stories shared, we’ve revealed that at the heart of the industry upheaval are two big ideas. One, around changing customer culture and the second, the need to re-think organisational culture from the ground-up (including people, technology and processes).

Reflecting on our findings, we’ve also learned the benefits to be unlocked in truly creating, and maintaining, a customer-first mind set which extends far beyond the realms of retail. Our retail lessons can be applied to all customer-facing roles – from the worlds of B2B and B2C retail. This book demonstrates how by knowing who your customers are, and connecting with them on a very human level, can be one of the most powerful business strategies.

When I first laid out all my research in one place I felt I had been hit by a thunder-bolt of wisdom. By sharing the thinking of the countless retailers who helped in the creation of this book, we have hopefully developed a practical method that all of us can infuse in our day-to-day rituals to strive for greater business and customer outcomes. I certainly do not mean to suggest that this methodology is complete, but I hope it offers a first draft, in which others can learn, amend and update moving forward. And don’t forget to include your own notes you made along the way.

In this sense, I believe this period of research has been OCC’s most productive yet. Not only have we provided valuable insight for all those working directly in retail, but also extrapolated relevant findings to suggest how all of us can progress with a more customer-first mind set.

What have we learned?

First and foremost, the key to understanding anything is to understand the context in which it sits. Contextual knowledge means seeing the bigger picture, knowing the way all the pieces fit together. It’s only by looking at that larger pattern that you can gain true understanding.


It’s time to be original. It’s time to look at your familiar tasks in an unfamiliar way. Unless you invest in the difficult task of creating new approaches and new ideas, your companies will falter in the future no matter how big your profits remain today.

To be successful you must go to where your customer is and say, ‘Come, let’s build something together.’ You must show why your idea, proposition, service or product is worth considering, and appeal to shared values, desires, hopes and dreams.

By examining the fundamental challenges and opportunities in retail over the last year, we’ve learned that it’s important for all of us to consider these key takeaways:

p<>{color:#000;}. To understand the importance of customer context – to achieve this, you must take the trouble to truly know your customer. Then use that knowledge and insight to give them a unique and personalised shopping experience

p<>{color:#000;}. Make obscure knowledge accessible – to achieve this, take a step back and look at the big picture rather than individual silos. Remember the ‘spiders web’

p<>{color:#000;}. Master human to human communication and show genuine interest in other people – to achieve this, in an increasingly digital society, remember to take time to talk, listen and appreciate each other. This will spark new ideas that will successfully take your business forward

p<>{color:#000;}. Seeding a valuable idea is the most impact an individual can have – to help nurture new ideas, be it from an employee or customer, free up your processes and practices from the grip of doing things the same old way. Give it a trial, when it works celebrate and congratulate, but be prepared to ‘learn fast’ and ‘fail fast’

p<>{color:#000;}. Not to just create communications but create a new philosophy for doing business – to achieve this, be generous with your expertise, but don’t go straight to a sales pitch, let it evolve through your conversations. Start with your customer rather than your product

p<>{color:#000;}. The significance of rapidly evolving Social Shopping and UGC – to benefit, beyond acknowledging the power of social, focus on being where your customers are on social platforms, and put your brand in their path in all the right ways

p<>{color:#000;}. Harness the opportunity GDPR brings – to achieve this, recognise that GDPR will be a game changer and an ideal opportunity to put the consumer first. Be brave not scared, this is an exciting time. Seize the moment

Ultimately, it boils down to giving your customer that something extra that turns information into inspiration – and hopefully this book has provided some wisdom to help you achieve that.


I am a passionate advocate for the power of ideas. Like all ideas, those offered in this book have many parents. ‘Who’s Afraid of the Big Idea?’ has benefited greatly from the wisdom and generosity of many others. I’ve had access to many of the UK’s best retail minds, who’s wisdom I’ve greedily sought, on the significance of customer-first thinking and on every aspect of turning them into memorable words. A special call out to Karen Harris, Stuart Eames, Michel Koch, Puneeta Mongia and Kash Ghedia.


George Kiley

About the author

George Kiley, Partner, Retail, One Connected Community

As the retail lead at One Connected Community, George is a passionate advocate of change and transformation across retail and consumer services.

George spends his time advising and consulting retailers on customer-first thinking, sharing a deep understanding of cultural and technical challenges, as well as customer behaviour.

A leading commentator in retail, George speaks regularly at industry events and is the co-host of the podcast, ‘Who’s Afraid of the Big Idea?’ centred around the customer technology and culture.


Who's Afraid of the Big Idea?

Existing on the front line of evolving customer expectations, retail offers a fantastic window into the broader changing customer culture of our times, and the fundamental need to re-think business from the ground-up. My work in retail has introduced me to many great thinkers, innovators and go-getters. Over the past year, I’ve spoken to many wonderful, knowledgeable and creative people on the fore front of changes in the retail landscape. I now want to share my findings and how I believe they can provide a fantastic platform to re-think the way we approach business far more broadly. ‘Who’s Afraid of the Big Idea?’ is all about the questions you must ask and answer to succeed in the business of putting customers first. Ultimately, I wish to persuade you: To give your customer that something extra that can turn information into inspiration. The best way I can make this argument is to share with you my own learning journey of the last year, a period that completely changed my understanding of why customer-first thinking matters, and what it might become. This book is designed for people working in retail, as well as everyone else with a passion for business, who are dissatisfied with the status quo and optimistic about new possibilities. All primary research shared was undertaken by One Connected Community (OCC) and partners between July 2016 and July 2017.

  • ISBN: 9781370347988
  • Author: George Kiley
  • Published: 2017-08-24 12:22:17
  • Words: 24187
Who's Afraid of the Big Idea? Who's Afraid of the Big Idea?