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Jan 11, 2022

The meaning of clienteling and why it's important

Clienteling is about more than fancy technology, customer service tips, or well-trained salespeople. And while it's always been an important part of any good retail strategy, it has taken on new meaning in today's omnichannel world.

By Leigh Sevin, Co-Founder @ Endear


Clienteling is efficiently using information to create intimate customer experiences.

To put it differently, clienteling is emulating the kind of shopping experience you might find at high-end boutiques or 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.

While it doesn’t encompass every part of your brand’s experience — like space, design, or merchandise — it can become a secret weapon for standing out from your competitors.

Why Clienteling Is Important in Retail

There’s a practical reason to focus on clienteling in stores: 80% of companies’ revenue comes from 20% of customers.

To grow as a brand, it’s essential to find and engage key customers as fast as possible. Great brands build relationships with loyal customers, offer unique tailored experiences, and retain them so they evangelize to others

Clienteling is a necessary element of finding, engaging, and building customer relationships with your core audience to encourage repeat purchases.

It’s important to note that clienteling isn’t customer service. While customer service is and always will be a crucial component of retail, it doesn’t 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.

How Does Clienteling Work?

According to our definition above, 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 customers

Eesh, that’s a mouthful. Thankfully, clienteling is quite straightforward.

Let’s say a customer walks into a store she’s visited before. This store does not practice clienteling. She’s greeted by associates (who don’t recognize her or check her shopping history), and then she browses your products and chooses a dress to buy. She checks out and leaves.

That sounds like a pleasant store experience, right? Pleasant, but not memorable in a way that would encourage that customer to tell their friends or return to that store.

Now, let’s rewind and say this store had a clienteling strategy. The same customer enters, and the staff immediately recognize and greet her. They pull up her customer profile and see her shopping history — they also notice that, according to their customer data, her birthday is the following weekend. Not only are they able to wish her a happy birthday, but they’re able to help her find a new dress in the style she prefers (based on her previous purchase history). 

As a result, the customer feels special and delighted by the service she received in finding the right item. As she checks out, she’s given a birthday discount and her new purchase is recorded in her customer profile. She leaves the store and tells her friends about her experience, vowing to return for her next event.

Notice how a few extra steps — collecting and referring to customer data — completely changed the customer’s experience. She didn’t simply enter a store to buy a dress; she was made to feel like she was 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.

Level-up Your Clienteling

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

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.

Personally Identifiable Information

Personally identifiable information (PII) includes a customer’s name, address, email, and phone numbers. It can also refer to his or her birthday, anniversary, and other important dates as well as whether a customer prefers to shop in-store or on his or her smartphone or mobile device.

POS Data

Accurate point-of-sale (POS) data shows you what a customer bought, when they bought it, and if they returned it. It essentially represents that customer’s relationship with your brick-and-mortar store.

eCommerce Data

eCommerce data includes what a customer browsed, favorited, and purchased online. eCommerce data may be easier to collect than POS data, but what’s difficult is reconciling the two. (Endear’s omnichannel tracking feature calibrates customer data across multiple channels and helps your team drive sales on both.)

Interpersonal Data

Interpersonal data isn’t as straightforward as the other data in this list. True clienteling is about knowing the ins and outs of each customer, which includes data like family information, product size and color preferences.

This type of data is only accessible by expressing a genuine interest in your customers, which is why your retail sales associates are the key to clienteling. Your retail team should not only feel equipped to collect customer information for clienteling; they also need to be empowered to act on it.

Clienteling and Retail Associates

Clienteling is all about the personal and authentic. 

Sales associates, as the face and front lines of a brand, have the most opportunity to leverage data in an intimate way. Companies should encourage their sales associates to create the most personalized interactions possible, such as personal styling sessions or SMS marketing follow-ups

If a brand can meet client needs and scale personal relationships, there is a clear recipe for growth. Brands that master clienteling do so by translating customer data into intimate experiences.

Let’s break down two interactions with an associate. In the first scenario, a customer walks into a store and hears: “Can I help you find something?” This interaction is pleasant and makes the customer feel at ease. However, how much better would it be to hear: ““Hi, Mrs. Reynolds! I think you’ll love a new summer piece we just got in. It matches perfectly with the shoes you bought last season.”

The latter is much more warm and personalized; it’s almost like talking to a friend.

With enough data, there’s an opportunity to personalize every store interaction. Overall, clienteling is giving shoppers the experiences they need to love your brand. It’s about collecting the right data, tracking it effectively, and leveraging it in a human way.

Already familiar with clienteling?

Prove it! Take Endear's clienteling quiz to see how your clienteling skills are setting you up for success. If you pass, we'll send you a certification for you to add to your resume and share on Linkedin.

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 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.

While notecards and journals might work occasionally, a clear clienteling system is needed to create experiences for customers at scale. Every kind of store can have a system for great clienteling. Just by asking for emails at checkout and in the store, store associates can begin building relationships. Taking it a step further and tracking shopping behavior and expressed interest in products, associates can offer recommendations and experiences both online and in-person.

Clienteling: The Future of Retail

Due to the instant gratification and personalization of e-commerce, shoppers’ expectations are changing faster than ever. Clienteling is necessary because it creates powerful, personal customer experiences that creates brand and customer loyalty. While clienteling is still somewhat unique in retail, it’s a strategy that pays off for every brand that uses it.