Last week, Parker Avery’s blog post was about back to school and how it can represent a big change for kids and families – similar to how retailers are undergoing dramatic changes with omnichannel, new technologies and the “empowered shopper” in full force. Effective management of both these types of changes can make these transitions much, much easier, less costly and enjoyable for everyone. (Read Parker Avery’s latest Point of View on Change Management).

I promised this week that I would get into Social Clienteling (another recent Parker Avery Point of View). Boy, I could have used some social clienteling for my back-to-school shopping over the weekend. Let me explain. The new school my son is going to has specific “supply lists” that every parent needs to purchase for their kids. These differ between schools and grades. Most parents with kids in traditional schools are used to this process because it happens every year starting in late July or August; however, this year is my first experience in taking part of this back-to-school “tradition.”

My process went something like this:
• Hunt and peck through the school’s website to find the right supply list
• Print out supplies list
• Review weekly circulars to find the collective “best deal” for all the needed supplies (I am not driving all over town for this, and office supply retailers typically have excellent deals on school supplies in August to drive traffic in the hopes of selling bigger ticket items)
• Realize from the circulars that this strategy is impossible

We have three of the major office supply stores here plus the big box department stores like Target and Walmart, so I was fairly convinced I could get everything I needed at one place without spending an arm and a leg on school supplies. I am a member of two of the office supply retailers’ loyalty programs, so I naturally started with these, thinking it should be fairly straight forward.

I was wrong.

It was impossible to tell how much my whole list would cost at any of the retailers based on their weekly ads. Not really all that surprising, really. So I decided to go to the nearest office supply store and take my chances. Halfway there, I realized I forgot to take my printed list, but remembered seeing some school lists towards the front of the store in past years, so I figured I’d just grab one of those. Except when I got there, all the lists for my son’s school and grade were gone. I suppose I could have asked one of the store associates to print out another one, but I wasn’t sure if the retailer was actually responsible for this task or if the school provided the lists, and I didn’t have time to wait for this process. So I purchased a few items I remembered from the list I left at home, and left, annoyed that now I will have to make at least one more trip.

Here’s where social clienteling comes into play and would have been highly valuable to me. Retailers know that the majority of parents have to go through the process of buying from school supply lists, and most parents have a certain budget for all back to school purchases, which include clothes, sports equipment, lunch box items and often text books. I would venture to guess many people are also members of one or more office supply store loyalty programs. Since this is a planned, expected and for the most part required purchase for parents of most school age students, and students typically attend schools based on their address, shouldn’t these retailers proactively seek their business instead of making the customers do all the legwork?

Because I’m a member of their loyalty program, my nearby office supply retailer has a fair amount of information about me. Based on my age and/or other demographic factors, they can probably infer that I have school age children, and, in fact, they know what school my kid(s) would likely attend, based on my physical address. A simple post card or email giving me a link to download the school supplies list – and maybe even pricing – would have been welcomed and valued by me. More incentive to purchase from that retailer, such as further discounts, extra loyalty rewards, or promise to price-match would have been a no-brainer to win my loyalty (and wallet).

My life would have been made easier. I like easy.

This whole activity doesn’t really involve much more than simple customer segmentation, which is nothing new in retail marketing. I would not have even needed to be a member of my nearby office supply retailer’s loyalty program to get me into their store – if they had only invited me in through a simple communication.

Such a communication would have almost certainly incented me to buy all my school supplies from them. My presence in their store would also provide them the opportunity to invite me to join their program, inform me of additional products or services that I may not know about, or “Like” them on Facebook, etc. Had I shopped with them, the retailer would now know my son’s grade level, as well as when he’s getting ready for the next school year, or college, or other big event where office supplies or technology would be a likely purchase. Everybody wins here: I have one task crossed off my back to school list and feel like I got a good deal (making me very, very happy with this retailer), and the retailer not only gets the sale, but also gains information about me and my family and can possibly begin to build my social profile.

Social clienteling strategies will vary not only between retailers and retail segments, but also in how it is used by a particular retailer for different customers. Social clienteling can be easy and highly valuable to both retailers and customers, if it is done by proactively understanding and responding to individual customer needs.

Shop on.

– Tricia