How to create an unbeatable customer-centric retail experience that drives strategic impact

How can companies utilise information about their customers, their organisation and their industry to implement strategic decisions that achieve significant impact?

For companies to benefit from the many opportunities brought about by the new global business context, it is critical they internalise the deep shifts in customer behaviour and technological requirements.

An integral approach is therefore required to assess and address the changes retailers must implement in response. These individual measures are complex and multi-layered and must be approached from a holistic perspective to ensure long-term success.

Through our engagement and research, Spire has identified a number of key measures that companies must take into consideration, five of which we outline below.

Look at your entire business through the eyes of the end-consumer

Companies should create a team whose sole objective it is to deliver the best possible experience to the customer comprised of members of the existing marketing and sales departments. This team ensures that the customer journey becomes central to the product, its delivery and the company’s pricing strategy. Teams within the remaining marketing and sales departments should take directions from a designated member of that newly formed customer-focused team while the responsibility to ‘execute’ remains with sales and marketing departments. The result is a more integrated, customer-centric and strategic approach that makes organisations more adaptable.

Members of this team should have a strategy background and deep industry knowledge in addition to marketing and sales experience. With the input and guidance of this internal, inter-disciplinary team, large companies can benefit from the advantages that rapid prototyping and pilot programmes generate which allows for insights at a lower cost.

We also recommend that a dedicated manager is assigned to ensure traceability and accountability of evolving customer needs and reporting of the status quo. Metrics to keep an eye on include what incentives drive customer buying behaviour (including environmental factors, industry trends, competition in the market, etc.), and how KPIs are linked to the individual changes that the company has undertaken (such as, what marketing channel can be credited for the rise in online-sales? Why did sales decrease in certain geographic regions? Why is there more negative feedback amongst buyers in that demographic?)

While the company should encourage this team to take calculated risks to create a customer-facing experience, it is important that all changes and measures are carefully evaluated, measured and the outcome tracked to the responsible source and/or department

Optimise your supply chain

In order to support improvements from an operational perspective, companies may have to fundamentally optimise their supply chain. These adjustments allow them to manage their inventory holistically and respond to customer demands immediately.

Supply ChainDepending on the existing infrastructure, logistics need to evolve to simultaneously handle the ‘to’, ‘from’ and ‘in-between’ without delays. The production site needs to deliver ‘to’ the stores and/or warehouses as needed when needed with the demand originating from
the final destination of the product; while returns need to be sent back ‘from’ the locations that prompted the return (these may not be the original recipient of the product); and lastly, existing inventory needs to be exchanged ‘in-between’, sourcing the needed products in the most convenient and effective way.

Spanish clothing retailer Zara is probably the most well-known example of competitive advantage realised through optimisation of supply chain.


With “(…) unsold items account[ing] for less than 10 percent of stock, compared with the industry average of 17 percent to 20 percent”[1], Zara is not only competitive from a financial perspective but has managed to reorganise their supply chain in a customer-centric fashion, resulting in greater customer loyalty, less marketing spend, and overall better utilization of resources.

It is, therefore, critical for companies to have a full understanding of every aspect of their supply chain and contributing factors to its efficiency.

Change how you’re store experience is perceived to revolutionise your customer interaction

This measure is aimed at improving the final touchpoint of the supply chain:  In-store interaction. For this measure, retailers ought to separate the two main responsibilities of store assistants, with one group focused on customer experience, and the other focused on fulfilment.

Additional funds may have to be allocated for training and salary of group one personnel, however, the evidence clearly suggests that customer brand loyalty, spend per store visit, and customer satisfaction increase subsequently to the implementation of this measure. The overall long-term effect of implementing this measure will far outweigh additional expenses.

Apple is one of the most profitable retailers because they have understood that people don’t just buy personal computers anymore, instead they prefer to have a customer-centric experience where they understand how their purchase can enhance their daily lives[2].

Diversify purchasing behaviour across all channels

In order to provide an overall tailored, faster, and memorable experience, companies should actively use multiple channels, from traditional to social media channels, as well as face-to-face interactions, to facilitate engagement with their customers and obtain feedback.

This measure should be implemented through an in-depth assessment of the customer profile and first-principle reasoning in validating existing assumptions.

Improve real-time intelligence from IT solutions

With the advent of technology and ubiquity of social media, digital and IT solutions should be explored and utilised to accomplish greater transparency and enable a rapid response to changing consumer needs.

Based on our experience, it is usually more cost-effective and easiest to implement if companies combine efforts with third party organisations specialising in providing the needed capabilities in the respective verticals (an example would be outsourcing advanced analytics or technology-enabled transportation solutions). The needs of each company, associated costs, increased transparency and reduced risk are likely to be the determinant of the feasibility of the outsourcing decision. This allows for your company to focus its efforts on its core business vertical and to delivering and improving its products and services.