Survey: CRM important to retailers in recession

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New survey data released by Retail Systems Research (RSR) and Manhattan Associates Inc. show that a majority of retailers have not made plans to cope with consumer spending inspired by the economic stimulus plan — a move that could affect CRM strategies and customer loyalty.

RSR's survey found that only 35% of retailers are enacting any programs to capture the additional consumer spending that is expected when the stimulus checks go out. Big box retailers proved the most prepared: 78% of those surveyed had plans in place. More than three quarters of retailers who reported planning around stimulus checks said they will launch special promotions, but only 37% of those said they planned to increase inventory at stores.

“The tie-in to CRM and loyalty is how you manage it if you don't have the inventory that everyone wants,” said Nikki Baird, managing partner at RSR. “The key differentiator between retailers who do well this year and those who don't is going to be how well they used customer data to understand what customers want from them and how quickly they moved to deliver that.”

In a big change from last year's survey results, retailers reported that they were more open to implementing CRM technology, in spite of costs that had been deemed prohibitive in earlier years. However, a big concern now is implementation of such technology with current in-store infrastructures.

Baird said she was surprised that customer-centricity remained an important part of retailer strategy this year.

“I really did expect them to say, ‘Times are tough. We'll cut prices and ride it out,' and they didn't say that at all,” she noted. “They have to be customer-centric because that's the way out of our economic situation. If consumers aren't spending, we have to be in a position to meet whatever they are spending on however we can.”

One way that retailers are trying to build loyalty and buck economic trends is with promotion optimization. More stores are showing interest in customer segmentation and in designing targeted offers around specific segments — a technique that can be used when promoting around stimulus checks.

“If I were a retailer, I would look at purchase history to identify if there are patterns emerging in customer behavior and use that to make decision on what to promote,” Baird concluded. “I think each retailer has to look at its own customer data because you can't force people into shopping behaviors based on what people are saying about the market.”

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