Maintaining a close relationship with customers is a challenge facing all retailers, but one that is more difficult in some product categories than others.
Take footwear, as a prime example. Unless you strongly identify with Imelda Marcos or Carrie from Sex and the City, the chances are that buying new shoes is an occasional, rather than a regular, practice.
As Phil Hearn, CRM Analytics Manager at UK-based schuh, - pronounced shoe - points out:
In retail, you've got [brands] which are high volume and you see them every day, coffee shops and things like that. But as a shoe retailer, the frequency of shopping is obviously a lot less, unless you're really, really into shoes, as a few people are. But in general, there's that repeat purchase cycle when shoes wear out or at key moments for customers - if they're going out or in the summer wanting sandals, in the winter wanting slippers - but it's definitely a less frequent thing.
At the same time, the footwear retail business is a crowded market with plenty of shoe shops for consumers to choose from, he adds. That poses a particular problem - how do you get customers to choose you and, more importantly, come back to you? That’s where having a loyalty management program comes into play, an initiative that schuh has now kicked off with Salesforce.
Sizing up CRM
For those who aren’t familiar with the brand, schuh began life in Scotland in the early 1980s and now has more than 120 stores across the UK, as well as a thriving online business. That online operation has inevitably seen an uptick during the pandemic, but COVID has also been the backdrop to the firm’s first ‘firing in anger’ with Salesforce’s Customer 360 platform.
A contract with the vendor was signed back in 2019, but it was 2020 when the initial CRM lead campaigns launched, explains Paula Nicola, the firm’s Head of CRM. That timing meant some re-thinking of plans was necessary:
We had to consider what our outbound customer comms were saying. Instead of telling customers to come into the store, we had to roll back and make lots of changes to make sure that what we were saying to our customers actually made sense for the landscape that we were in. It was just about re-adjusting plans and being really agile.
While that was an unanticipated factor, it did provide a kind of silver lining, she adds, pointing to the amount of data collected and how that has already been used to understand customers better:
Some of the things we've done differently have felt like a bit of a hindrance, but we've had to get there, and some things that are different have actually been a real benefit to us.
Data as the perfect fit
Data is key, says Hearn, as is being able to pass that data around the organization to drive personalization in outreach and grab customer attention at the right time in the buying cycle:
Obviously, that's a big challenge for everyone, particularly with screen time being dominated by social media, really being able to cut through and provide some relevance for the customer in that moment when they're in the market for whatever they're choosing. Having that data linked up around the different areas of business is really core.
To tackle this goal, schuh runs Service Cloud, which picks up data at the back end, which is then linked to Marketing Cloud, which uses that data to provide that more personal approach to customer comms. Having to go online-only during lockdown has increased the focus on this data, adds Hearn, who joined the firm around the same time as COVID struck:
As an analyst, I crave data to understand what customers are doing. So for me, joining at a time when suddenly our database has increased, with the number of customers we've been able to bring on to the database, it's given me the opportunity to really start understanding insights about how customers are behaving, how they're transacting, what they put in their baskets, the different areas of the country that buy different types of products. All of that data can start to be used in models and in terms of driving campaigns and, rather than being ‘more of the same to everybody’, really understanding how we're going to change going forward with personalisation to use that data to its to its greatest effect.
Lacing up loyalty
Despite the pandemic complications, schuh has also been able to explore its loyalty capabilities, electing to be part of the pilot scheme for Salesforce’s Loyalty Management offering that was announced back in January.
Loyalty had actually been a topic under discussion for some time, Hearn explains, but there were so many other priorities in the CRM roll-out that it found itself ‘next on the list’ of things to do. By coincidence, just as schuh was ready to engage with the subject, Salesforce was set to kick off its pilot program. Within two weeks, the two firms were in planning meetings, he recalls:
Whilst that was a bit 'in at the deep end', I think what it really made us do was focus on the whole loyalty thing from the ground up - what it was we wanted to achieve out of the loyalty scheme, who we wanted that scheme to be for, what the objectives were that we were going to try and meet, and the KPIs we were going to try and meet for that.
There was, he says, a positive sense of drive that came out being part of the pilot:
[For] something that maybe could have been stretched out over a number of months and might have always kept being on the back burner, [the pilot] really gave us the focus to to start getting involved, start to get engaged and start getting the rest of the business engaged, in terms of what this needs to look like, what links do we need in terms of data in the business, how do we get the store teams involved?
If it hadn't been for the pilot occurring at that point in time, I don't think we'd have been as laser-focused as we were able to be to make that all happen…We were able to talk to a couple of other retailers that were going through the pilot, so we were able to check our thinking and really super-charge our approach to get it done in a timescale that you wouldn't have thought possible essentially.
As Hearn mentions, one key aspect that needed to be addressed was the involvement and engagement of the store network, a valuable source of useful data:
There's a lot of stuff that goes on in the store network that we can't see as marketers, because it's not tracked beyond the Point of Sale systems. So being able to add that extra element of the customers being able to identify themselves in store and us see those transactions, then be able to deliver better things for the customer based on the extended knowledge we're going to have about our relationship with them, we felt that was really going to take us to the next level, to be that point of relevance for the customer when we're talking to them and make sure we're being as efficient and as effective as possible with our communications.
It’s an ongoing journey, says Nicola, and the key to its success lies in planning:
The biggest thing is that we've got so many plans on paper and we're continuing to evolve those. What we really want to do is validate our loyalty proposition in the real world. It looks great on paper, everything sounds wonderful and we've got the full backing of everyone at schuh, from the most senior team to everyone else. We really just want to show that loyalty is going to be exactly what we expect it to be.
But all told, the work to date has transformed schuh’s CRM capabilities against a backdrop of the toughest retail climate in a generation, she concludes:
Thinking back a year, we’re in such a different position. We hadn't launched our dedicated CRM activity…I don't think we can talk about the last year without recognising what an accomplishment it's been for the online team having to adjust to the new world, to store teams having to adjust to the new world also, and with a CRM lens on, just how collaborative everyone has been - our IT teams through our customer experience teams to our creative teams. At a time where there was so much going on, we still managed to deliver our CRM lifecycle programs.