The Not-So-Chic Customer

Stereotypes have their uses. Where would we be, for instance, without the “average” parcel or the “typical” order size? It’s a little riskier, though, to pigeonhole customers.

Consider, for instance, a category that appears to have taken the marketing and advertising world by storm — the “metrosexual” man. As Marian Salzman, chief strategy officer of Euro RSCG Worldwide, defined him at Shop.org’s recent e-tailing conference in New York City (see “Short Takes,” p. 8), this person is a retailer’s dream: He is devoted to fashion, grooming, and beauty products; devours information from online and print media; hangs with trendsetters in the film and music industries; and spends his spare time “window-shopping for cool.”

Judging by the bemused expressions of the audience, no one had a clue about how to serve this customer, if indeed he exists. The metrosexual and his cohorts seem to want it all, all at once, all the time. According to demographic studies that Salzman discussed, today’s customers are preppy, psychedelic, ethnic, bargain-hungry, gender-bending, health-conscious brand evangelists. Whatever happened to the loyal customer to whom you shipped widgets once a month?

He’s still there, if you care to look for him. Among the better byproducts of the dot-com craze are excellent measurement tools; analytics, CRM, online surveys, and personalization have reached a high level of sophistication. Despite the hoopla about retail trends, customer satisfaction is by far the most favored retail measurement. Michael Rubin, CEO of GSI Commerce, measures it “hourly”; Chris McCann, president of 1-800-Flowers.com, examines customer satisfaction “on a daily basis”; and Scott Bauhofer, senior vice president of Best Buy Co., evaluates customer satisfaction and site traffic “because the latter equates both to sales and the quality of the multichannel experience for customers.” It’s also safe to assume that your customer resembles the masses. After all, Manolo Blahnik-obsessed Carrie Bradshaw of HBO’s “Sex and the City” may not shop at Wal-Mart, but tens of millions of Americans do.

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