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Posted Date: 4/1/2003

It Ain't Over 'Til the Cash Register Rings

Yo. Yo.

Peep this. Real Slim Shopper vs. Rappin' Retailer Dog. Shopping face off.

Real Slim wants some nice threads. Good price. Good fit. Cool. And maybe a thrill along the way. Retailer Dog wants a sale at the highest price point possible, but he's not really paying attention to his customer. Real Slim and his posse don't find what they want. "Retail Dog, you've got no game. We be geese." (We're outta here.)

Where am I going with this? I was reminded of the importance of pleasing the customer at a recent viewing of Eminem's semi-autobiographical movie "8 Mile." In one of the final scenes, the rapper's character comes up with the winning formula to take down his opponent and win the rap battle. He anticipates the negative, embarrassing things about him that his opponent will tell the audience, and shares them first. Beyond that, he's got some dirt on his opponent, information he knows his audience will relish. The audience - his "customers" - go wild. He emerges victorious.

Apparel retailers and vendors could learn something from this. They need to neutralize the negatives, anticipate consumer desires, and put it out there in a way that appeals to their target customers.

Alas, there is no simple solution for attracting customers. Good intuition, and even a little bit of luck, can tip the scales in anyone's favor when it comes to hitting fashion trends right. And supply chain initiatives have enabled many apparel firms to squeeze dollars and time out of their cycles.

But giving the customer exactly what she wants is often still an elusive goal.

In a recent interview with Scott Friend, vice chairman and president of ProfitLogic, he exclaimed: "Who cares about [saving] another $500 million in the supply chain? How are you going to get people to shop? How are you going to get people to give a hoot about your store?"

This is, truly, the ultimate challenge. Friend described a real-world scenario of how one company has tackled this issue head on. Toys R Us decided to focus on its Times Square store in New York City. It hired a former CEO of a big Canadian conglomerate - who also had previous experience running Toys R Us Canada - to be the store manager of just the Times Square store. And this new manager put on a show. He installed a theater, a Ferris wheel, and made Toys R Us not just a store, but an entertainment destination.

This is merchandising at its best. Unfortunately, no retailer can afford to invest that much in each of its doors. Somehow, says Friend, you have to give the people at headquarters enough information about their customers to be able to run individual stores on a customized basis. "That's ultimately where cool systems that really understand demand down at the customer level, at the store and at the item level, can help," he says.

Most retailers have a vast storehouse of historical POS/consumer data at their fingertips. Mining this data for information and using it effectively is the challenge. See "Merchandising, Planning, Allocation: New Recipes for Success" in this issue for some examples of how apparel and soft goods firms are doing just that, thanks to their implementation of new strategies and IT solutions.

Knowing the customer better is the next frontier for apparel retailers and brands, who must have more than a speedy supply chain to attract customers to their stores. Part of this is providing a fun and pleasant place to shop. Part of it is having the right merchandise, and yet another element is catering to each customer and each store as an individual, rather than a number.

If retailers and vendors can use historical data to their advantage, they will be taking one more step in the right direction toward giving customers what they want. They will be heads and shoulders above their competition - and will have loyal customers for life.

Yo. That's phat. 

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