‘Relational Shopping‘ Emerges as Potential Pathway to Brand Loyalty

Some pandemic-era shopping trends are here to stay — but their lasting power will be determined by consumers and consumers alone. That’s why “relational shopping,” a concept put forth by Clientela, an omnichannel, customer relationship management solutions provider, is a compelling step toward evolving retail’s focus on prioritizing client relationships in lieu of more traditional, “transactional shopping.”

New York-based Clientela offers a set of connected solutions that are highly adaptable, scalable and customizable for retailers, and has completed more than 100 integrations with power players such as Shopify, Salesforce, Cegid, SAP and Sailthru, to name a few.

Lorenzo Benazzo, chief executive officer and cofounder at Clientela, told WWD that its newly upgraded platform can launch and integrate a client set up within minutes, allowing Clientela to have “any retailer large or small quickly access and pilot our latest solutions without long integrations and customizations.”

The firm is now focused on its concept of relational shopping that it introduced earlier this year and offers retail solutions for acquisition, clienteling and operations designed to continuously interact with shoppers far beyond the purchase itself. Its relational shopping concept encourages retailers to “look beyond the transaction” by way of mobile clienteling; in-store and video booking; live chats; advanced store locators; events managers; queuing systems, and the option to “Ask a Specialist” as needed.

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Benazzo said some of the major differentiating points between relational shopping and the other methods brands and retailers employ to better interact with customers lies in its scope of opportunities.

“Relational Shopping is an all-encompassing approach to revenue that is defined around relationships between clients and the brand’s associates. It offers a three-pronged opportunity to convert a shopper who would not have otherwise completed their purchase; build on the interaction to convert an undecided shopper later, and upsell an existing or new shopper through a more high-touch service.”

The firm explained that retailers typically interact with online shoppers by focusing on real-time attributes of transactional shopping such as product recommendation algorithms, chatbots, click and collect, “buy now, pay later,” “try home for free” or “chat with a specialist,” whereas relational shopping aims “not to replace these ways, but really to complement them with the above advantages it offers.”

For example, to “chat with a specialist” in Clientela’s relational shopping experience means that clients and sales associates can not only chat or use video without any app install, but client data is captured, and the conversation can then continue across channels, well beyond that chat.

Sales associates can use email, chat apps and Instagram et al to recommend products, which can then purchased online or in-store, for a more elevated sales experience.

Lorenzo Benazzo, CEO of Clientela Joshua Scott/WWD

Omnichannel or Bust

Much of the relational shopping concept was built on consumer changes spurred by the pandemic. Clientela told WWD that some of the key trends and behaviors emerging from consumers in the past year include a shift in brands’ strategy for omnichannel. “Retailers who were not yet omnichannel-ready sure did everything in their power to become that during the pandemic,” Benazzo said.

“One key trend we saw was the shift from looking at omnichannel through the lens of data (tracking in one place a client’s in-store and online purchases) or transactions (buy online, pick up in-store), to looking at it more broadly through the lens of experiences. This concept is not new, but the scale and speed at which it was implemented across the industry was astounding. A good example is shown through the number of brands who added some way — any way really — for online shoppers to better connect with sales associates.”

The firm’s client, Bite Beauty, engages with consumers through its custom lipstick Lip Lab, which offers consultations at home and in-store. Diana Peinado, vice president, Lip Lab by Bite, told WWD, “Clientela has helped Lip Lab expand our customer base and weather the pandemic by offering a seamless platform to provide our much-loved custom lipstick experience both virtually and in-store. Instead of choosing to invest in a purely digital custom lipstick experience, we doubled down on what our guests love most about Lip Lab — the memorable interaction with our experienced Color Experts.”

Benazzo also said the pandemic impelled a renewed focus on store employees and the processes and solutions that define their work. “There is still much to be done there and some brands did better than others,” Benzazzo told WWD.

“However, there is now a palpable sense — for both clients and executives — that store managers and sales associates are not there just to answer questions about a product. They are true frontline workers who can and will build empathy with customers as long as they have the tools and strategy in place to do so. We expect this trend to be front and center — at least for those brands who understand and have seen firsthand how strategic this is for them and their customers.”

For Clientela, relational shopping helps address this noted shift in the sales associate and consumer relationship by ensuring that it addresses every touchpoint with online and in-store shoppers while also gathering information in real-time when they are connected. “It also looks at how sales associates can be provided with the tools needed to give them more room to succeed online by making their job more effortless.”

Perhaps most importantly, relational shipping allows for swift and strategic decision-making. “Finally, it allows brands to have a full picture of what is happening with their clients online and in-store — one that allows them to make better strategic decisions.”

And as far as advice for brands and retailers in distress, Benazzo said to avoid self-induced roadblocks to reaching objectives. “Don’t get in your own way. Quickly look for and evaluate the solutions that can bring immediate value and offer a better, more seamless experience to both customers and your teams. Don’t let busy work, paralysis by analysis and internal politics disperse the focus on the task at hand. Just test and learn now and make it as perfect as you want or can later. In other words, don’t try to build the perfect system in six to 12 months.”

Benazzo continued, “Improve the end-user experience now. However, make sure the solutions you pick can easily be integrated with your other systems down the road – whenever you are ready to do so. As we all know by now: Data is knowledge and knowledge is power.”

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