The most comprehensive definition of Clienteling

Clienteling has always been an important part of good retail strategy, but with current economic volatility, it has taken on new meaning in today's omnichannel world.

Mall atrium

Why Clienteling Is Important in Retail

The truth is what the truth is - 80% of companies’ revenue comes from 20% of customers. Clienteling is a necessary element of finding, engaging, and building customer relationships with your core audience to encourage repeat purchases. This usually means finding and engaging key customers quickly, for example, building relationships with loyal customers by offering perks like unique, tailored experiences. These rewards then retain customer loyalty, with such customers often evangelizing your brand to others

In times of economic volatility, clienteling becomes even more important in a brand's sales strategy. New customers are harder to find and retain, so focusing on great customer service is key.

It is important to note, however, that clienteling isn’t customer service. While customer service will always be a crucial component of retail, it's not designed to deliver the same kind of personalized, data-driven customer experiences that clienteling can. To best serve your customers, we recommend investing in both customer service and clienteling.

So, what is clienteling?

Clienteling is efficiently using customer information to create personalized communications and purchasing experiences for customers. Clienteling is emulating the kind of shopping experience you would find at high-end boutiques or through personal shopping programs — but for every customer that walks into your store. Clienteling embodies your brand’s personality, relatability, and it's also what drives sales, by creating connections with customers that turn into long-term relationships.

How Does Clienteling Work?

Clienteling can be broken down into two main functions:

  • Collecting data on customer interactions
  • Leveraging this information to craft intimate, personally-relevant brand experiences for said customers

Here's a traditional example:

Let’s say a customer walks into a store they've visited before. The customer is greeted by associates, but because this store does not practice clienteling, the sales team members don't recognize this customer or check their shopping history. The customer then browses your products and chooses a pair of shoes and a jacket to buy. They check out and leave. It was a pleasant enough experience, but not memorable in a way that would encourage that customer to tell their friends or return to the store.

Now, let’s rewind and say this store did have a clienteling strategy. The same customer enters, and the staff immediately recognize and greet them. They pull up the customer's profile and see their shopping history. They also notice that, according to their customer data, this customer's birthday is the following weekend. Not only is the sales team now able to wish her a happy birthday, but they’re also able to understand her needs. They can now adjust their support to recommend pieces based on the customer's previous purchase history that the customer would have missed without an associate's insights. 

As a result, the customer picks up a few accessories in addition to the shoes and jacket. They feel special and delighted by the service they've received. As they check out, the associate gives them a birthday discount and the new purchase is recorded in their customer profile. The customer leaves the store and tells their friends about their experience, vowing to return for their next event.

Notice how a few extra steps — collecting and referring to customer data — completely changed the customer’s experience. They didn’t simply enter a store to buy some shoes; they were made to feel like they were on a personal shopping spree with dedicated helpers. 

Clienteling can change the retail game. All you need is customer data and the platform to manage it.

Clienteling and Customer Data

Clienteling starts with data, but it ends with quality personal interactions. In fact, almost 80% of shoppers say they will only engage with personalized offers. Shoppers who receive a genuine text, call, or personal email are much more likely to take action than those who receive a lackluster automated email.

The best personal interactions are real ones. There’s nothing worse than getting an automated and poorly thought out message from a brand. A well-designed email is fine, but it’s better when a human being is available to build a legitimate relationship and listen to needs.

To create an intimate and unique message, promotion, or experience for each shopper, relevant customer data needs to be easily available to every member of the team. Here’s what real-time data your team should capture.

What is 'Virtual Clienteling'?

Today’s shoppers are extremely online-savvy and put in much more research via their digital devices, long before they make the trek out to your stores. According to a report by Forrester (via retaildive.com), 58% of retail sales will be “influenced by digital” by 2023. With this in mind, virtual clienteling is the proactive component of your omnichannel retail strategy.

Your team does more than just sending out a mass message to your customers about the new products. Their ability to leverage CRM data means they can segment certain customers to receive targeted email or SMS messages. For example, let’s say your business receives a new line of makeup. Your sales associates can tailor customer outreach messages to recommend specific products for certain customers based on their purchase history, like recommending your new lipstick in their preferred shade.

If retail brands have learned anything from world events of the last few years, it’s that much of what they can offer customers in-store can be extended and replicated online. Virtual clienteling doesn’t mean replicating everything your sales associates can do in-person. Rather, virtual clienteling is a continuation of your clienteling strategy across digital communication methods. Think of it more like passing the baton back and forth instead of trying to replace your store’s efforts entirely.

Clienteling Leads to Foot Traffic

The ultimate goal of virtual clienteling is to bring your customers back into your store. Nearly half of all shoppers still prefer to shop in-store, despite the proliferation of ecommerce, because of the convenience and experience of physically interacting with your brand’s products. And having customers in your store is still the best way to create buzz, create a community, and create word-of-mouth.

Now, with an elevated virtual experience, they should be even more likely to come back into your store to meet the helpful sales associate they’ve only met online. You can even incentivize a return to your stores by offering clients in-store promotions during these 1-on-1 conversations. Or make the online/in-store transition even easier by offering BOPIS (Buy Online, Pickup In-Store) options, providing your team with upselling opportunities with each arrival.

Again, your virtual clienteling strategy should never replace your in-store clienteling, but be a natural extension of it. With the right CRM and technologies in place, your brand can continue to forge a personal relationship and provide an elevated experience with your customers, even when they’re miles away on their couch.

Clienteling Examples: Retailers That Practice Clienteling

Businesses can practice clienteling no matter their size or how long they’ve been around. Here are a few key clienteling examples of retail stores that use clienteling:


Long before computers, the famous department store Harrods used a data-based clienteling system. The store kept binders of in-depth profiles on customers to suggest products that closely matched customers’ desires. If a customer had an upcoming event, seasonal clothing needs, or an outdated wardrobe, Harrod’s knew about it. More than 100 years ago, Harrods collected data, offered personalized experiences, and communicated in a natural way. If Harrods could do it with binders, there’s no limit to what you can do with today’s technology.

Small Businesses

Small stores have always used clienteling to cater towards their best customers. Many small hardware stores keep scribbles of different contractors’ tool types under the cash register. My neighborhood florist growing up sent reminder emails when a relative’s birthday was coming up. This simple system of writing down occasions for purchases was efficient enough to convince a 16 year-old boy to regularly buy flowers.

DTC Brands

As brands that pride themselves on putting the customer first, DTC brands are also pros at collecting the right data and using it to improve the customer experience both online and in-store. They often have handy systems that enable them to collect data and use that data in creative, innovative ways.

The Future of Retail

Now that you know what clienteling is, and how virtual clienteling will be the preferred choice by many retail brands to sail through potential economic uncertainty, it's time to find a system that works for your brand. At Endear, we offer a plethora of solutions and integrate with the most popular point-of-sale and eCommerce apps. If you want to learn more about our platform specifically, we've created a short list of the reasons we are unparalleled.

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Learn how Endear can help your team reach their clienteling goals today.