Be Brave, Trust your Customers, Fail Fast and Often

It’s our human nature to stick to what we know. Change is a threat, even in the face of overwhelming data that screams we must change (Climate Change anyone), making that change is entirely a different story.  While we need fortitude to change, not every change needs to be a matter of life and death, some, and indeed many changes are seeing and taking an opportunity. Apple is one such company. From the era defining iPod, to the intuitive leap of the smartphone, to…. Credit cards. Apple understood what their customers wanted and they weren’t afraid to give it to them, even if it meant creating something brand new.  People wanted all their music, all the time, near them, wherever they were, whatever they were doing. Apple understood that people wanted to know more, do more and say more than just what could be achieved in a phone call. And, with the credit card, they know that part of what made Apple delightful to their customers was how Apple protected their privacy. The Apple Card is Privacy made into a product that happens to be financial and not technology based.  But, the protection of the data, the comfort to the customer, is what makes this new offering such a logical choice for Apple because, customers valued the encryption and privacy Apple afforded them already in the tech products.  

This is strategy and product and business model expansion made real through a near 1-to-1 relationship with the customer.

In my company, what did we discover? We discovered that even though we were a bookseller, our brand was selling books, and our whole operations was books, what really made our customers come to us for those books that they could just as, if not more, easily have bought online was the non-book products that they could also see, experience and pick up along the way.  We changed, radically, our store merchandising, displays, and floor space for non-book products. We had to refine, to recalibrate and constantly analyze, but the data, analytics and our culture of curiosity defined the decisions, we just had to be brave enough to make them and keep to them.

This leads into another crucial area of allowing the merchants to make some mistakes, and as a team, learning from each and every mistake and share the learnings.  Understanding the correct use of data in these situations is critical, and often overlooked. 

Finally, sharing the vision across the company and with partners proved key.   Far too often companies fail to train and educate the customer facing employees. Kohl’s has partnered with Amazon to accept customer returns on behalf on Amazon.  This increases their foot traffic and exposes customers to Kohl’s endless instore promotions. But, the customer service in the Kohls Stores treat these returns as regular returning customers, and does not participate in engaging these potentially new customers to make any purchases while visiting their stores.  

Retail is a tough industry.  It changes daily, and what worked yesterday will very possibly not work ever again.  But, it remains a thriving industry. The answers to success are in front of every retailer.  The secret to success is complex but with simple ingredients. Technology, information, an open and curious culture and a trust in the customer can go a long way to keeping the wolf from the door and giants from treading you underfoot.