5 Ways for Apparel Retailers to Boost the Impact of their Content in 2016

Apparel retailers have a need to understand how their best front-line employees deliver value and then create content from that input it in many consumable ways — digitally and otherwise. For example, if I’m buying a suit at J. Crew on Madison and 79th Street in New York City, I’m interacting with Men’s Personal Shopper, Donte Chappell. Donte brings as much energy to a shopping experience as any person I’ve ever encountered in retail. He creates the experience every single time I’m in that store and it’s clear from the client√®le he interacts with while I’m there that he’s damn good at what he does.

J. Crew needs to bottle that man’s energy and make it live in all of their brand contacts. The wealth of knowledge Donte brings can be reflected in the catalog copy, phone interactions with service professionals, website copy, style guides, and other specialized content. He knows the fit idiosyncrasies across the men’s brands J. Crew offers and is a master of the downstairs part of that store. Anyone who shops there regularly knows exactly who Donte is and how he can help them.

Yet, if I take inventory of every J. Crew email I’ve received in 2015, the vast majority of what I see is focused on new products, discounts and an occasional new store opening. The emails themselves are certainly best in class, bringing product together and presenting it in creative ways. It’s just that Donte brings even more to the table. He helps complete the J. Crew brand by personalizing it … in a human way.

If we look at the top 20 Internet Retailer Apparel websites, the email from these brands in many cases are much less creative then what J. Crew sends. Overall, there is so little differentiation and risk taking in email communications outside of new products, discounts and store openings that customers don’t have a strong sense of what their favorite retail brands stand for or the value they deliver.

Brand management will argue that the product is hero in this situation or ROI is hard to measure with pure content-related material or “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. But these attitudes fly in the face of the value that Donte brings every time I walk in that J. Crew store and is the exact reason why digital will never kill the in-store experience. At J. Crew, Donte understands customer needs at a different level: he knows how his customers want to look in J. Crew clothing. This deep insight is hard to articulate digitally and, with many retailers stocking a massive amount of sku’s today, activities like brand building product copy gets back-burnered in the rush to get new product up on the site.

How do retailers build a customer centric approach that better integrates the digital and in-store experiences? There are five key programs and tools that retailers should implement to be successful in this Age of the Customer:

  1. A strong employee listening program that identifies and hears from talent like Donte and then works to integrate what’s learned into marketing communication efforts. Feedback from your front-line isn’t just about how engaged they are, their likelihood to leave or for determining product defects. Product teams can learn a lot very quickly about fit, color, styling if the feedback channels are created carefully and then work to distribute this information so the customer is inevitably better informed.
  2. A customer listening program than enables the retailer to solicit feedback at critical moments in the customer journey. Customer listening can take on a variety of methods but most programs include a transactional survey fielded as customers try to place orders or have recently completed an order, a brand-level survey to track Net Promoter Score for the retailer and their competitor set, social listening to track sentiment and brand feedback, customer call listening to understand customer feedback from the servicing experience and, finally, store tracking from companies like RetailNext to understand and optimize how visitors shop the store.
  3. A strategic, data-driven segmentation agreed to and used by all retail functions with customer facing responsibility. Customer and prospect segments will each have distinct needs from your business. You want Marketing, Product, Service and Operations to be aligned on one segmentation and utilize it for planning, annual goal setting, execution and measurement so the brand speaks and acts with one voice. More tactical segmentations can and should be created within functions to maximize value in that function. But don’t let these tactical implementations confuse the impact a strategic segmentation can have business wide.
  4. Customer Journey Mapping to identify critical moments of truth across every touch-point a customer has with your brand. Customer Journeys are created for each of the segments identified in the third step. Each segment will have different cross-channel moments of truth and, as a result, different communication needs at various parts of their journey.
  5. Predictive analytics to maximize the effectiveness of each brand contact. This can be a challenge if not all data elements have been brought together, but omni-channel efforts are helping integrate data more effectively than in the past. One challenge can be contact center data, as an example. We are working with a client that hasn’t brought its customer contact center data together with its customer purchase and digital data. Contact center data can be a challenge for a variety of reasons but recognize that if your customer service representative isn’t being fed next best action information at the same rate as web personalization tools, your data back-end isn’t delivering at the level required and inconsistent customer interactions will be the outcome. As the data comes together, optimizing brand contacts to ensure customers get the information, new products and offers they need across critical points of interaction should be developed through a variety of analytic techniques.


Drexler_ltrAs a note, I was writing parts of this blog post over the holidays and received this thank you note from Mikey Drexler for being a customer during that time. The e-mail, shared here, is a nice personal touch in building relationships with customers. As a customer, I know J. Crew is operating from a position of strength, has an excellent blog, good brand engagement through social media, creative product copy, etc. and can address the personalization opportunity in a variety of ways. I do not know if they are doing any of the steps listed but, I believe that the excellent in-store experience that some of their employees create can be better reflected in their marketing brand contacts. Donte is the perfect example of a front-line employee who can be a tremendous asset to the J. Crew Marketing organization.


While we frequently read about the decline of the in-store retail experience as brands like Macy’s struggled to meet growth expectations this holiday season but continue to show strong growth in digital channels, recognize that many retailer’s best customers still want the in-store experience and the right in-person interaction will have an additive effect on the business and the brand. Digital and in-store experiences hold different purposes for customers … one doesn’t replace the other. Retail brands like Macy’s, Banana Republic, Belk and Urban Outfitters are sitting on a gold mine of information from front-line sales and service employees who can provide critical insights to help fuel customer centricity. Tapping this resource through programs like employee listening will only lead to more engaging marketing communications that bring you closer to your customers.

Feel free to reach out if you have any questions on how to use the tools mentioned here to help bring a greater level of data-driven customer-centricity in your organization.

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