Live From NRF: It’s All About the Customer Experience in 2009

New York–Want to keep your customers during tough economic times? Try to win them over with a great customer experience.

According to Retail Horizons: Benchmarks and Forecasts, a study released by the National Retail Federation Tuesday at its annual convention, customer satisfaction is a top strategic priority for 69% of the 400 respondents from 153 retail companies.

The executive summary of the study suggests that merchants will cut back expansion plans in favor of cost containment, product differentiation, employee development and supply chain optimization in an attempt to satisfy and retain customers.

What are retailers doing to improve the customer experience? During a show session, PetSmart senior vice president/chief financial officer Chip Molloy detailed some of the pet products retail’s strategies in an NRF session.

“When we’re looking at areas we can trim, we like to focus on things that we think are not good for the customer,” Molloy said. “You don’t want your brand to deteriorate, and that can happen if you can’t differentiate yourself from the competition by offering a good customer experience.”

It’s going to be survival of the retail fittest: “For some retailers, we’re hoping we can look back and say providing that customer experience during a recession, and surviving as a result, was the best thing that ever happened to us,” Molloy said. “The stronger will get stronger, and the weaker will get weaker.”

Urban Outfitters will invest in supply chain and database marketing as a way to make things easier on the back end for the customer, said its and chief administrative officer and NRF panelist Freeman Zausner. But maintaining and growing its online presence will also be a big priority for the apparel and home goods cataloger/retailer, he said.

This past holiday season, Zausner said online sales grew from 15% to 17% of Urban Outfitters’ overall business, and he sees it growing to 20% soon. A big reason for that growth, Zausner said, is because its Website is as much a social network as it is a sales channel.

In addition to customer reviews, Urban Outfitters customers can create their own blog and join a community of Urban Outfitters bloggers.
“If I knew our e-commerce site was going to perform as well as it has, I would have invested more in it five years ago,” Zausner said.