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Aug 9, 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 Robert Woo, Writer @ Endear


What is clienteling?

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?

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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.

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.

What is Virtual Clienteling?

If retail brands have learned anything from recent world events, it’s that many of what businesses can offer to their customers in-store can be extended and replicated online. While nothing will ever replace in-person clienteling, modern clienteling also encompasses virtual clienteling; with the right CRM and software, your online team can close that gap more than you think.

Keep in mind, that 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.

After all, 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 isn’t simply a supplemental activity to your in-store clienteling, but a vital component of your omnichannel retail strategy.

Clienteling is Data-Driven

If your brand’s team is answering emails and phone calls with helpful advice, that’s great but that’s just basic customer service. Clienteling goes beyond being reactive and becomes proactiveby using the customer data captured in your CRM to inform your sales & marketing team of the actions to take to elevate the customer experience.

For example, let’s say your business receives a new line of makeup. Virtual clienteling means your team does more than just sending a mass message to your customers about the new products, but tailors the messaging to recommend specific products to each customer. Your team should leverage your CRM data to see which customers recently purchased, say, lipstick in the last few months and segment these individuals out for a targeted email or SMS message recommending your new lipstick in their preferred shade.

Clienteling message

Endear’s CRM calls this type of segmented, targeted messaging Campaigns. This allows even small teams to filter your brand’s audience into tight groups be it by age, location, last purchase, birthday, etc.

Once segmented, automated messaging can be queued up using templates that already include your brand’s look and style. Campaigns make your CRM data actionable very quickly, leading to rapid follow-up conversations and more timely product recommendations.

Clienteling is Visual

But text-only messages simply scratch the surface of what your virtual clienteling strategy should look like. Your customers want to browse your products, and presenting them with a visual catalog even while they are away from your store is the best way to trigger sales.

More and more retail brands are taking this to heart by sending out lookbooks via email or text. These lookbooks are more than just links to a group of products; they are a curated selection of items specific to each customer according to their CRM data.

In short, they’re not just pictures of dresses. They’re pictures & videos of medium-sized yellow sun dresses that match the sandals she purchased last month. That’s the difference between marketing and virtual clienteling: it’s all about personalized messaging.

Endear has evolved the plain lookbook into Shoppable Stories, a dynamic curation of products that not only look great on mobile devices, but are transactable with a tap of the finger.

Shoppable Stories mimic the look and feel of social media, where many modern shoppers go to check out products, but keep your audience on your own ecommerce platform. That way, they don’t have to go through any 3rd parties to get to your online store, let alone make the purchase.

Clienteling is 1-on-1

Your team’s virtual clienteling should be just as personal as how they interact in-store. Simply put, if you’re not calling your customer by their name, you’re not adhering to clienteling best practices and not really clienteling at all.

Automated segmented messaging like the Campaigns mentioned above can help your team manage a broad audience, but your brand should also include 1-on-1 virtual appointments to your strategy as well. Urban Outfitters did, and customers of their Anthropologie and BHLDN brands who booked virtual appointments went on to purchase something 65% of the time. That’s even higher than those that booked in-store appointments who only bought 40% of the time!

Turns out, there’s nothing like a little facetime, or Facetime, to do wonders when building relationships.

Allow your sales associates to book 15-30 minute virtual sessions with their clients in order to provide recommendations, feedback, and naturally develop a more personal relationship. Your customers will appreciate an expert consultation that is free of charge and putting a friendly, helpful face to the brand will only increase their loyalty.

You can even consider adding a video conferencing feature to your mobile app, which can be an effective way to take your mobile clienteling to the next level.

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.