Know Your Customers

Know Your Customers
Customers are more demanding, the internet has sped everything up, customers want more newness, they have a shorter attention span, one seasonal range isn’t going to excite them. Stella Hartley

If changing consumer behaviour is driving the move away from traditional seasons, it is even more important to be able to understand data and trends. Retail marketing expert Stella Hartley sets out the key rules.

The customer has always been King (or Queen) to retailers, now with the growth of e-commerce and digital media it seems we are sometimes overwhelmed with customer data, not only what customers have bought or spent but what they are thinking and feeling and how they are living their lives.

The vital thing for retailers is to focus on what all this data actually means for them and to think about WHY customers behave in the way they do and how retailers can influence this behaviour.

It’s about getting to what marketers call ‘insights’, key information about your customers that you can use to shape your offer and gain competitive advantage whatever channels you sell through.


There’s no substitute to actually talking to customers, preferably physically when they are shopping, in focus groups or virtually through Social Media, product reviews or SurveyMonkey. Conversations and listening can help you make sense of and provide rationales for the sales data you are analysing.


A key trend most retailers have spotted is that customers are more demanding, the internet has sped everything up, customers want more newness, they have a shorter attention span, one seasonal range isn’t going to excite them.


They can price compare instantly online so it’s better to have exclusive product or an added value shopping experience and a strong brand reputation that customers trust. If they buy online they want deliveries faster and to be able to return products quickly and easily (and preferably at no cost!)


Customer segmentation can be a really useful tool to help you understand customer types, who is buying what, which segment is commercially more valuable, which segment is growing. Make sure your range reflects the segments but importantly not too many segments or the offer will look too fragmented and your brand will lack focus. Sometimes deciding who your customer isn’t is as important as deciding who it is.


Customers are increasingly savvy about promotions and special offers, the recession has taught them to wait for the discounts which now are more frequent and less likely to be twice yearly big sales.


Instead, Black Friday has become the most anticipated retail event of the year which has made both customers and retailers rethink the crucial lead up to Christmas. Customers now feel that if they don’t shop that weekend or don’t get some amazing buys they have somehow failed! Even small businesses can create relevant offers that add value rather than succumb to big discounts.


Having a clear point of view is crucial to creating a strong brand and building a relationship with customers. Importantly, it also gives you a framework within which to develop your range. Some retailers can rely on suppliers to do all the work and come up with a constant stream of new ideas, but it depends on the sector you are in and the quality of your supply base.

Advice from seasoned designers and buyers is don’t slavishly follow trends, use the good forecasting tools that are available but look everywhere (markets, vintage, blogs, cool brands) for ideas and inspiration. Sometimes originality is in the ability to edit. WGSN,, Premier Vision, Pitti Filati,
Pitti Uomo, Maison et Objets and Heimtextil can all provide good research opportunities but everyone follows everyone else – how to break out and be different is a real skill, particularly when you want to have a POV but not get caught with stock you can’t shift!


If you are a major department store business you can more easily monitor macro economic and lifestyle trends with hired experts, if not you have to be aware of what’s going on around you. Be aware that the popularity of the Great British Bake Off and the growing interest in gardening and knitting means that alongside technology there is a consumer trend which is about more authentic, homespun, tactile activities and relaxation.


In a world that’s shrinking with global communications and transport networks it’s not difficult to find lots of potential suppliers to help with product development, but it’s the filtering of those suppliers, whether on ethical grounds, style, fashionability, price, quality, reliability and crucially fit with your brand and POV, that is the challenge.


It’s about being aware of what’s happening outside your business, it’s all too easy to be very inwardly focused particularly when running a small business with little resource.