NRF 2020: Key Takeaways

It was a vintage year at #NRF this time round, despite the floor perhaps being a little lighter than some previously, the array of delights on offer was as impressive as ever.

It feels like something of a shock that it’s all over, but having had a week to digest the highlights over some much heated conversations back at TruHQ, we think we’ve just about got our heads around the key emerging themes and talking points from the floor.

As always, it’s going to be interesting to see how these play out across the rest of the year, but for those looking to place a bet, we reckon the below will give you a good starting point. 

Brick and Mortar is ‘BACK’ (once again!) 

A safe call for key takeaway from NRF 2020 would be that the experts are now once again firmly backing brick and mortar as the key to retail’s ongoing and future success.  A widely shared piece by Retail Dive’s Daphne Howland, caught the mood, highlighting the increasingly visible presence of cutting edge concept stores from the likes of Showfields, Area15, Enjoy and Neighborhood Goods. Big names such as Nordstrom have also showed their willingness to embrace the ‘push things forward’ mantra, with the launch of their ‘product free’ Local stores (covered previously on this blog).

With some of the major eComm players of the last few years starting to show signs of a slow down (Howland noted to Caspar Sleep’s $90 million in losses as one clear example) the resurgence of an appreciation for physical retail that has been growing behind the scenes for some time, came into full bloom at this year’s show.  Where pure-play online disruptors were once seen as an existential threat to a struggling retail industry, the role of the store is now being re-evaluated and pushed into a new role at the start of the fledgling decade.

Rediscovering Retail’s Human Side 

Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson, who led the proceedings on Day 2, delivered a passionate call to arms for providing retail experiences that truly embrace what it means to aim high, inspiring many with his call for retail outlets to reconnect with their role as a place where humans can gather interact with one another, as well as just buy things.  Across the speakers at NRF 2020, there was a real sense that retail was reconnecting with its human side, with increasingly loud calls for authenticity and connection resounded across each of the main stages.

With keynotes from the likes of Patagonia’s Head of Corporate Development Phil Graves emphasising the ethical responsibility that retailers need to focus in an increasingly fragile world, perhaps another quote from Johnson can be taken as synecdochical for wider attitudes on display across the rest of the show,

“The pursuit of profit is not in conflict with the pursuit of doing good” 

Kevin Johnson, Starbucks, CEO

The Female Quotient 

Now in its second year at NRF, despite feeling like a much longer established part of the proceedings, the Female Quotient Stage, set up by Shelley Zallis, offered a world class line up highlighting the variety and impact of female talent operating across the board in retail.  Honesty and self-determination were the name of the day, with many a speaker calling on founders to acknowledge the difficulty of the challenges they face, by understanding personal strengths and weaknesses.

There was a dogged persistency to much of the advice given to those keen to listen – perhaps best captured by Poshmark co-founder Tracy Sun’s advice that while there’s theoretically never a good time to start a business – your best bet is to just get on with it and do it!

A huge array of brands and speakers were represented across the three days –  from Untuckit’s Chief Digital Officer Lockie Andrews to TechStyle’s President of Global Fashion Brands Laura Joukovski – representing a bright and exciting future for the future of female talent in the retail industry.

The AI Invasion

From the fringes of imagination to front and centre of the world’s largest retail show, everywhere you looked it was hard to miss some sort of mention of AI as a talking point.  If it wasn’t for the wide-spread pontificating about the importance of the human touch in retail, a casual observer might have thought that all stores will be run entirely by robots in the next few years…

As it stands, many of the uses for AI are to fuel distinctly ‘human’ needs, with artificial intelligence continuing to drive an ever increasing sophistication when it comes to personalisation (or hyper-personalisation as it’s now referred to) along with the resurgence of the Loyalty Program as two major AI-driven talking points to look out for in the new year.

Blurred Lines – one channel to rule them all?

While at one point the word ‘omnichannel’ was the buzzword par choice for the movers and shakers in retail, the advice coming from the world’s largest retailers is that we need to now focus on how to treat all channels as one.  ‘Unified Commerce’ is a term that is increasingly replacing the ‘omni-focus’ of the near past, and in a world where as much as half of store sales now involve an online journey, treating the two channels as separate entities already feels distinctly outdated.

Erik Nordstrom’s keynote laid out the bare facts about the way people are shopping today, and his talk highlighted that consumers are thoroughly in control when it comes to driving the way that today’s retail journeys are evolving.  The brands who sit up listen, and most importantly are able to react to these shifting expectations, are the ones who will lead the way in 2020 and beyond.


So that’s it for another year!  We’d love to hear your take on what you felt were the most important emerging themes at #NRF2020 – let us know in the comments or on Twitter at any time.

If you’re still feeling the pangs of withdrawal from the Big Event, why not check out our full post on the best of Day 1 to keep you going. 




Frustrations with CX today and NEXT-GEN approaches (Part 2)

The Problems with CX today: a recap

In the first part of this post, we cited the following reasons why current approaches to Customer Experience (“CX”) measurement and change management, have all but lost the attention of the C-suite…

1) CX programs, in general, FAIL to clearly and simply connect the dots to what C-level executives really care about: increasing revenue, reducing costs, and improving profitability.

2) Current approaches to CX do very little, if anything, to support rapid innovation and test & learn in-store, which is critical to success in a rapidly changing retail environment.

3) CX today promotes a very “reactive” approach which has the business constantly looking in the rear view mirror with slow developing insights and trends, as opposed to instilling an aggressive, offensive mindset that puts the organization on the front foot.

4) Even when combined with key driver analyses, today’s programs are deemed as NOT ACTIONABLE by store operations teams— who are often frustrated by stagnate scores, anaemic response rates and general poor visibility into customer perceptions at the individual store level.

Before we start to solution, it’s important to quickly discuss the current role response rates and key driver analyses play and why they are missing the mark for so many retailers.

The Feedback Gap

The traditional approaches to collecting feedback—whether receipt-tape invitation, email or SMS—have seen a steady decline in participation over the past several years, as time-poor consumers are simply not willing to take the time to engage with these cumbersome and often painful methods.  It’s pretty ironic that these are often referred to as “Satisfaction” surveys – talk about a bad customer experience.

As we explored in a previous post (What Retailers can Learn from the Last Presidential Election) the net outcome of this is low response rates, that tend to capture in most cases only extremely good or bad experiences.  This is especially painful for store operations teams and field management, as it leaves them blind to the majority of customer interactions.

The key to being recognized is to be 10% better than average all of the time”. – Shep Hyken

Continual improvement at the store level, requires customer feedback pouring in by the minute for each and every location, enabling ops manager to quickly understand how their execution and levels of customer engagement are impacting their sales while providing the ability to measure the immediate impact of corrective actions taken.

If the majority of stores can then begin to make these incremental improvements, week over week, month over month, the aggregation of continuously meeting and exceeding expectations is how retailers can systematically move the needle on fundamentally important KPIs, like same-store sales growth.

And if we really want to re-capture the attention of the C-suite, isn’t better to be able to show a 0.75% lift in same-store sales growth, as opposed to a 4 point lift in NPS scores?

So, what does NEXT-GEN CX look like?

Where today’s CX programs foster a primarily “reactive” mindset to CX measurement— waiting quarters for trends to develop often focusing on customer complaints and customer resolution—NEXT-GEN CX is focused on speed to insight and simplicity enabling retailers to be more aggressive, more precise and more agile. Exactly the traits needed to survive in a world where continuous evolution has become the new norm.

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NEXT-GEN CX In Action: Customers who answered YES, when asked if this simple associate behavior was performed, spend on average 24% more

Real-world example: “Did our associates offer to start a fitting room for you today?” is one of the simple questions asked by an apparel retail client of ours on the payment terminal during checkout.

With an 83% response rate, they learned in just three weeks that customers who responded YES spend 24% more versus those that responded NO, which also turned out to be the #1 driver of customer spend in-store.

Just as eye opening, this retailer quickly discovered execution on this behavior varied by over 60% across their 600+ stores, representing over $54M in lost sales over a 12-month period, just taking into consideration the impact to average transaction value (ATV) alone.

“While I wouldn’t say I was surprised by the result – that’s the reason we asked the question – it’s just that we could NEVER measure these types of behaviors with enough precision to do be able to do anything with it, much less predict the economic impact.”

—COO, apparel retail client

A Recipe for Success

If we break this down a bit further, there are several important takeaways from this example:

  1. SIMPLICITY is the ‘secret sauce’ of NEXT-GEN CX

Making it simple for customers to provide feedback yielded an 83% response rate, opening up this retailer to hear and learn from the once silent majority of customers.  Store managers know now exactly where to focus— which stores, which day(s), which shift(s), as well as how much money is being lost as a result of inconsistent execution.

  1. DIRECT CONNECTION TO SALES and items purchased is a MUST

The power and benefits of collecting customer feedback and perceptions tied to directly sales and items purchased, in the moment, cannot be understated.

  • First, it greatly simplifies the organization’s efforts to quickly pinpoint the key drivers of customer spend and repeat visits—key tenets for improving comparable sales. As opposed to waiting years, retailers can learn in weeks the specific behaviors and onsite conditions that truly impact sales and not just the customer’s fleeting perception of ‘satisfaction’ or ‘likelihood to recommend’.
  • Second, it greatly enhances buy-in at the store-level when it comes to driving change by enabling field and store management to quickly and easily understand the immediate financial impact based on their current level of execution. Many retailers are actually seeing this change the dynamic between field and store management, bringing both parties on the same side of the table, aligned around truly representative feedback from customers with a clear understanding of the economic impact.

Enabling the retail organization to hear from the overwhelming majority of customers drastically truncates the time it takes to see patterns and trends in the data, which greatly enhances the organization’s capabilities in two key areas:

  • The ability to improve day-to-day operations due to dramatically improved visibility into execution and perceptions, most importantly, with the ability to measure the immediate impact of corrective actions taken both on CX and financial performance; and
  • The flexibility and speed to measure the immediate impact of single and small store test & learn initiatives and pilots, building the financial business case for investment and at the same time reducing time to market for new initiatives.

NEXT-GEN CX: A compliment not a replacement

NEXT-GEN CX is providing retailers the ability to surgically leverage CX measurement across departments, supporting continuous innovation and test & learn initiatives, while at the same time providing store operations teams with the tools they need to drive change at the, all-important, store level.

As opposed to applying a blunt force “CX club”, NEXT-GEN CX is providing retailers with a “CX scalpel”, including a level of fidelity and precision measurement that takes CX from being a simple pulse of the customer to an indispensable instrument that can help fundamentally change the trajectory of the company.

So, am I suggesting that multi-location retailers completely dismiss and throw there current CX approach to the curb? Absolutely not! But what I am suggesting is that retailers take a long hard look at how they currently engage and collect feedback from their in-store customers and honestly evaluate the value this is delivering to the business.

And at a bare minimum, keep an open mind to some of the more innovative approaches for collecting feedback from your customers and ingraining this into the DNA of the organization.

Read Part 1 Now. 


We’ll be at NRF – if you’re heading there and would like to book time with us, you can do so here.

Alternatively please feel free to reach out to Sam via email or LinkedIn at anytime.

Frustrations with CX today and NEXT GEN approaches (Part 1)

The Problem with Boiling CX Down to a Single KPI

With Customer Experience (“CX”) now, undoubtedly, considered a critical component of retail business strategy — notice the tremendous spike in mentions of the term CX on Earnings Calls since 2010 — more and more analytics experts are turning a critical eye toward some of the most popular KPIs being employed to measure experience and customer loyalty. And, frankly, it has not been all that flattering.

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CX was mentioned 2,710 times in US earning calls in Q3 2019.

For example, The Wall Street Journal’s widely shared piece ‘The Dubious Management Fad Sweeping Corporate America’ really ruffled some feathers earlier this year, with detractors and fans (pardon the pun) taking to the LinkedIn comments section to debate the merits of Net Promoter Score (“NPS”) founded by Frederick F. Reichheld back in 2003.

Academic research, by the University of Cambridge, has raised significant concerns about NPS’s inability to accurately predict actual customer behaviors and loyalty.

And while such criticisms are often valid, they tend to gloss over just why such metrics may have been widely adopted in the first place.

In Partial Defence of the Single-CX KPI

Prior to NPS, there was arguably very little in the way of a recognisable ‘metric’ by which to quantify customer experience.  Traditional indicators of performance such as sales per square foot and same-store sales growth, while remaining dominant in the boardroom, didn’t really encapsulate or fit in with the philosophy underpinning the emerging practice of Customer Experience.

The growth of tools like NPS and OSAT helped to bring customer experience to the attention of the C-Suite, because they provided a simple indicator of growth that could be tied to financials.

In a tweet in response to the WSJ article, Nate Brown, CX leader and founder of the CX Accelerator community, wrote…

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The Achilles Heel?

As CX has begun to be taken more seriously, not surprisingly, the expectations around what it needs to deliver have also increased.

However, the continual decline in customers’ willingness to provide feedback through traditional survey invitation methods (receipt-tape, email, SMS, etc.) combined with the inadequacies of today’s approach to CX is causing many programs to the lose the attention of the C-suite. This is happening primarily due to four reasons:

1) CX programs, in general, FAIL to clearly and simply connect the dots to what C-level executives really really care about: increasing revenue, reducing costs, and improving profitability.

2) Current approaches to CX do very little, if anything, to support rapid innovation and test & learn in-store, which is critical to success in today’s rapidly changing retail environment.

3) CX today promotes a very “reactive” approach which has the business constantly looking in the rear view mirror with slow developing insights and trends, as opposed to instilling an aggressive, offensive mindset that puts the organization on the front foot.

4) Even when combined with key driver analyses, today’s programs are deemed as NOT ACTIONABLE by store operations teams—often voicing frustrations with stagnate scores, anaemic response rates and general poor visibility into customer perceptions at the individual store level.

Taking into consideration the above, for many organizations, it is time to sound the alarm regarding their approach to CX. The list of multi-location retailers filing for bankruptcy or now deceased is littered with companies that cited exceptionally good NPS and CSAT scores.

In the next follow-up post, we will be diving into what NEXT GEN CX looks like, how it is addressing the problems listed above, including real world examples, and how CX can help companies better compete in today’s rapidly evolving marketplace.

Read Part 2 Now


Sam McKeveney is the Head of North American Sales at TruRating.  Sam works with businesses across the US + Canada, to help them understand how to take a pro-active approach to customer feedback in a rapidly evolving retail environment.  To reach Sam, send him an email or feel free to connect on LinkedIn.

If you’d like to read more, why not check another recent post from Sam, on the dangers of relying on misrepresentative data:

Attending NRF 2020?  We’d love to see you there!  Book a session with the team today.

What can the last US election teach us about Retail in 2020?

Cast your mind back if you can to the November 7th, 2016 presidential election.  Hillary Rodham Clinton is on the precipice of defeating Donald Trump to become the first female President in the history of the United States.  Time Magazine has just published an article in which no less than seven highly-esteemed polling organizations predict a Clinton majority.  Celebrations are already beginning.

Yet as history would soon reveal, the experts in this case got it wrong.  Very wrong.

When pressed for an answer as to how they got this so wrong, the polling experts’ explanation was Non-Response Bias (NBR), in which the results of a study are skewed by a disproportionate sample base.  Put a bit differently, people who do not take surveys are not represented in the results.

Where the pollsters fell down was in assuming their data set truly represented the national opinion.  They failed to consider that a large (and influential) portion of the public simply hadn’t responded to their pre-election polls at all.  They preferred to cast a different kind of vote – straight to the ballot box.

So, how is NRB impacting Retail?

While the political landscape of 2016 might not immediately present itself as a direct analogy for the state of contemporary retail, dig in a little and the parallels start to reveal themselves.

Current estimates suggest that in the last 20 years, the median response rate for feedback surveys for all businesses has dropped from around 20% to just 5%, with many brick and mortar retailers falling well under 1%.  At the same time, the rate by which customers are more likely to ‘vote with their wallet’ is higher than ever.

96% unhappy customers won’t complain, 91% of those customer will simply leave and never come back – 1st Financial Training Services 

The DANGER of the ‘Silent Majority’ caused by NRB 

The truth of it is retailers and political pollsters, both, struggle with a common issue: the vast majority of people today simply don’t have the time and aren’t willing to engage via traditional survey methods, whether it’s printed on a receipt, emailed, or even an intrusive text.  Instead, the tendency of the ‘Silent Majority’ today is to simply ignore these requests for input, and this poses a major problem for any business that wants to hear what their customers think and adjust accordingly.

So, how, exactly, is NRB dangerous for retailers?

Imagine a pyramid, if you will, with executive strategy and company direction at the top, mid-level management and corporate decision making in the middle, and day-to-day operational decision making within each store at the bottom of the pyramid.

NRB permeates it all. Informing strategy and company direction based on a biased, anaemic representation of the customer base can set companies back years.

The NRB Pyramid
The Impact of NRB: a lack of feedback impacts all areas of your operational decision making.

Today’s trickle of feedback often means project teams and various departments are slow to react as it often takes quarters for patterns and insights to develop.  To add insult to injury, testing new initiatives in store also takes much longer than it should delaying time to market, ultimately, making the organization appear sluggish and behind the times.

But, probably worst of all, NRB results in huge blind spots and a general lack of visibility into operational execution, associate behaviors and customer perceptions at the individual store level—where the rubber meets the road for the majority of our clients with most seeing 85% of sales coming through their stores.  What’s the old adage, “Your brand is only as good as your last customer experience.”

Actually, I rather prefer Warren Buffet’s version, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.  If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”

Well, to be able to do things differently, to become more agile, and to get better connected with the heart of the customer base, companies must find a way to tap into the ‘Silent Majority’ caused by NRB.

But, what do you do when the majority of your client base is seemingly inaccessible?

Awareness is Half of the Battle 

The good news is that a number of providers in the CX space are increasingly aware of the issues inherent with traditional feedback methodologies and the resulting biases.  By working with a provider that is transparent about these issues – and pro-active in terms of providing ways to counteract them – there’s an opportunity to tap into that once ‘Silent Majority’ and in turn gain a competitive advantage.

Here’s a selection of points to consider if you’re looking to build an effective customer feedback program that accounts for and has the potential to eliminate NRB.

  1. Examine where your data is coming from

When looking for a partner or vendor(s) to support your CX efforts, consider where the data being collected to support their recommendations is coming from.  How large is the audience being polled?  Are you receiving enough responses to be actionable on a daily, weekly or monthly basis?  Is your data at risk of being unrepresentative and misleading, NRB?  Are you collecting enough data at the store level to support in-store test and learn and pilot initiatives in real-time, thereby improving the agility and ability to adapt more quickly to a constantly changing retail environment?

  1. Revisit your goals for the program

While many CX platforms are very good at focusing on feedback that allows for ‘brand level’ analysis, building a data set that can be used at a ‘store-by-store level’ is often the greatest challenge and, frankly, the biggest gripe of most store operations teams.  Look for providers that are able to give you both a brand overview as well as more granular store level precision.

If the ultimate goal of the program is to drive measurable improvement, having visibility (ideally down to the hour) into execution, associate behaviors and customer perceptions for every store will be critical.  While most KPIs are rolled up to the brand level, improving performance starts within each individual location, which requires the ability to tap into the thoughts and perceptions of the majority of customers that shop that location each day.

  1. Explore the potential of collecting feedback at point of sale (POS)

Collecting feedback as part of the checkout process has proven to yield the highest customer participation rates in the industry, with many retailers experiencing response rates well over 65% depending on the placement of the question(s) within the payment journey.

Note: To ensure the highest possible response rates with minimal interruption, asking one question per customer (with a set of rotation questions throughout the day) is a best practice.

Another critically important benefit of integrating surveys directly into the payment journey is the immediate understanding of the link between Customer Experience and sales.

Having the ability to share with each store how their individual level execution and the customer experience they are creating impacts their financial performance, specifically, is the key to improving store performance each and every day. And it’s this aggregation of continuous small improvements across the estate which will drive those brand level KPIs through the ceiling.

So, the next time you’re considering whether your CX data collection practices and resulting datasets are fit for purpose, think back to those pollsters on the night of November 7th, 2016.  If something doesn’t feel quite right, perhaps it’s time to ask, am I missing critical information that could fundamentally change the trajectory of our organization?


Sam McKeveny is the VP Enterprise Sales for North America.  If you’d like to reach out to him, he’s always happy to discuss how TruRating can help you or your business – try him by email or feel free to connect on LinkedIn.

For more like this, check out our recent posts on the issues with mainstream CX today:

Has an experience-focused HMV found its mojo again?

For those with an interest in the retail landscape, the opening of HMV’s flagship store the Vault presents yet another interesting example of a well-established retailer taking an ‘experience-first’ approach.  Considering how things were looking for the brand at the beginning of the year, the fanfare which the opening of the Vault is a receiving, is remarkable in more ways than one…

The story of HMV is a familiar one.  Once one of the most recognisable brands in the UK – shopping for records in HMV was a cultural rite of passage for many a British teenager – the seemingly unshakeable giant, found itself in hard times with the rise of the streaming generation, and a global decline in CD and DVD sales.

While it’s certainly true HMV suffered in some part due to an inability to keep up with the rapid changes in the industries that were once its stock and trade – there was sense if you entered a store in the years between it’s two periods of administration, of a business that simply wasn’t quite sure what to do with itself.


Putnam showing of his record collection in the newly opened HMV Vault

Some recent innovations – a partnership with the independent cinema branch Curzon in South London and an attempt to capitalise on the vinyl boom – showed attempts to innovate in the face of increased customer demands, but the things that made shopping at HMV special in the first place – knowledgable staff, interesting stock – were slowly being eroded by the all-encompassing convenience of online.

For self-admitted vinyl junkie Doug Putman (the man behind the acquisition of 100 HMV stores in February of this year) the answer to the question ‘How does a well loved brand get its mojo back?’, appears to be double down on those aspects of the record store experience that simply can’t be replicated online.

With a huge selection of over 25,000 vinyl records (plus 80,000 CDs), and a projected lineup of in-store signings, performance and DJ sets, the Vault feels like a store designed by a team who truly understands what its audience are looking for from a retail experience.

Speaking to Retail Gazette, before the Vault’s grand opening, Grahm Soult observed that many recent examples of successful retail take-overs have been driven primarily by the passion of their leadership, “If you’re trying to rejuvenate a brand and appeal to people’s emotions and senses, it needs someone who really gets it”.

It will be exciting to see whether Putnam’s vision for HMV can translate into a new era of destination stores, one that not only creates happy memories for the next generation of music fans, but sets an example for experience-driven retailers everywhere.


In search of the retail metric of the future…

With the opening of not one but two ‘product-less’ concept stores (Nordstrom Local announces openings in New York), it seemed timely to re-examine a recent blog post in which we explored two arguments against the use of ‘traditional metrics’ in a rapidly evolving retail world.   The opening of a store that literally cannot measure sales provides a refreshing (and exciting!) context to reflect on those positions in an interesting new light….

Are traditional retail metrics dead?

In the article “The Way We Measure Retail Store Performance Needs to Change” retail M&A banker Richard Kestenbaum puts forward a well-reasoned and sensible argument for why retailers need to evolve their thinking when it comes to measuring store performance.

Retailers in the past relied on two key metrics, both sales driven, as a general gold standard for measuring performance – sales per square foot and store income statements.

Sales-per-square foot was used as a base-level indicator of performance; crucially, one that gave retailers to chance to make store-by-store comparisons, regardless of the size of each location.  While it may not have accounted for a host of important factors (age of store, local demographics etc.) it did at least provide a standardized basis for competitive analysis.  Combined with the evaluation of store income statements – a more localized viewpoint that treated each store as though it were an independent business – the two were presumed as sufficient by the majority of retailers.

The modern consumer’s relationship with physical retail is much more complex than it once was, having evolved beyond the point of that only looking at success from a ‘sales’ perspective can accurately represent.

Stores are no longer mere warehouses for goods, but rather interfaces for a wide range of interactions.  Customers today may use the store as a pick up and drop off point for online purchases, while retailers may use their physical locations to host experiential events, or even simply view as a showroom for product.

While traditional KPI’s are not without value, if our relationship with stores has evolved, so too, argues Kestenbaum, should our success measures as a result.

The Store as Media? 

In, “Measuring the Store of the Future“, ‘Retail Prophet’, Doug Stephens goes a step further, denouncing retail’s traditional KPIs as mere ‘industrial-age metrics’,

Judging a store’s performance simply by regarding its most recent sales results is like evaluating a patient’s health by asking what they had for breakfast that day.” 

For crystal-ball futurist Stephens (in an argument echoing the thrust of his 2017 work Re-Engineering Retail) it is not simply how much product a store can shift that represents its effectiveness, but rather how well the store is working as a ‘channel’ for the brand.

In an increasingly saturated digital space, reaching anyone online through targeted media becomes increasingly cost prohibitive.  Stephens argues that the real value of the store is its potential to reach an audience directly – in the ‘real world’. “Your stores are your media,” Stephens declares, “you’re just not measuring it” – yet.

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A glimpse into the future? Customers wait for an event outside a Supreme store in London.

While looking to establish a more accurate method for performance measurement is a valuable endeavour, the parallels Stephens looks to draw to contemporary digital metrics (‘one positive in-store experience’ as the equivalent to a single digital impression or click through) feel perhaps a little too out there for some of the more literal-minded in the C-Suite.

Measuring the success of the store that doesn’t sell anything

Opened last week, Nordstrom’s “Local” concept store, is an 1,800 ft Upper West side behemoth, that doesn’t stock any product at all.  Customers can book ‘consultancies’ with stylists, or use the locations as a place to return products they’ve bought from other retailers (see our recent post on the announcement that Nordstrom will accept returns from Macy’s & Kohl’s in their stores).

With such a radical re-thinking of the traditional store experience, are metrics as sales per square foot even possible?  Speaking to Bloomsbury, James Nordstrom, announced that the success of his latest stores would be measured by increased market share – nary a sales metric in sight.

Is this what future of retail will look like?  No longer as a place of pure commerce, but rather something closer to the original vision of Harry Selfridge – the store as a place where people come to socialise and chat, with the incidental occasion of making a purchase an added bonus.

Have we lost that loving feeling?

In a recent interview with Forbes, TruRating CEO Georgina Nelson, observed a serious problem in contemporary retail, “Traditionally there has been something of a disconnect between customer experience and store operations… without a consistent way to measure it, how do you operationalise the customer experience in-store?”

In a world where customers no longer have the patience to put up with poor experiences, the need for a simple yet unobtrusive way to gauge customer sentiment in ‘real-time’ is more important than ever before.

If your customers are unable, or worse, unwilling to let you know how they feel about your service, then whatever the metric you land upon for measuring success, will ultimately be of little matter.


To find out how TruRating’ point-of-sale customer feedback solution can help you to understand your customer experience and deliver rapid innovation in real-time, get in touch with one of the team today for more information. 


Dirty Floors and Retail Basics

While there has been a tendency to paint e-commerce as the thorn in the side of traditional retail, a  recent article in Forbes – Cleanup in Aisle 5? – suggests there are some more fundamental problems at play for the brick & mortar crowd.

As reporter Joan Verdon notes, a study from facilities management platform ServiceChannel has found that retailers who neglect store basics in an effort to cut costs are hastening their own demise…

“In a survey of 1521 consumers, 70% customers said they recently have had a negative experience with a messy store, ranging from dirty bathrooms and broken toilets, to disorganized shelves and burned out light bulbs.”

In an age where competition in the retail sector is at an all-time high, the fact that “over two-thirds of customers said they have walked out of stores because they were messy or disorganized” feels like a shocking statistic.

It seems obvious on paper.  If you’re not unable (or unwilling) to uphold basic hygiene standards, you’re not going to be able to count on repeat visits from your customers. So why is it that so many businesses are cutting back on store maintenance and investment in basic improvements?

Partly the approach might be explained away as an attempt to find a quick fix to a more difficult problem.  With rising costs and lagging sales, store maintenance – “a non-sexy part of the business” – can be one of the first things to suffer.  While a new breed of retailers who understand the importance of providing a consistently excellent (emphasis on ‘consistently’) experience have emerged, there remains a worrying trend to expect customers to reward lacklustre standards with continued loyalty.

Another issue lies in the outdated relationship that often still exists between consumer and business.  Many existing survey methodologies deliver poor response rates, providing little visibility into actual on-site conditions and the fundamentals that impact sales.  While a single store manager may be able to see the floor is a mess, from an operational perspective, it can be difficult for companies to measure and stay on top of such issues business-wide.  If customers are walking out because of poor conditions without telling you – clearly there’s a problem. 

While boardrooms may be under pressure to make cuts, failing to invest in basic fundamentals such as cleanliness is head in the sand behaviour. With four out of five shoppers saying they would “rather have a clean store than ones with the newest tech”, and two-thirds saying “retailers are forgetting the basics… in the rush to add tech”, it seems that for some, a back to basics crash course, may be required before it’s too late.



What lies in store for the future of retail metrics?

Typical – you wait an hour for one article about the inadequacies of our current methods for measuring retail performance, and two turn up at once.

Recently at TruRating Towers we came across two interesting articles both questioning the validity of today’s most commonly used retail metrics.

Writing in Forbes, Richard Kestenbaum’s “The Way We Measure Retail Store Performance Needs to Change“, puts a straight forward and well-argued case for change.

Historically, there have been two metrics fundamental to measuring store performance:

  1. Sales per square foot
  2. Store income statements

The first was often used to provide a base level indicator of performance that allows for store-by-store comparison, regardless of the actual size of each location.  The second is a more localized metric, that allows management to review performance as if each store effectively operated as its own business.

While these were once stable and generally industry-normative indicators for judging a store’s performance, the relationship the modern consumer has with physical retail locations is more complex. Stores are no longer mere warehouses for selling and holding goods but operate in a variety of ways including:

  • Boosting online sales in the local area (the store as billboard)
  • Pick up and drop off point for online purchases and returns
  • As a venue for ‘experiential’ events

While traditional KPI’s are not without value in this new world, our relationship with stores has evolved, and so too, argues Kestenbaum, should our success measures as a result.

In, “Measuring the Store of the Future“, Doug Stephens goes a step further, labelling retail’s traditional KPIs as ‘industrial-age metrics’, “Judging a store’s performance simply by regarding it’s most recent sales results is like evaluating a patient’s health by asking what they had for breakfast that day.” 

Stephen’s hypothesis, echoing his 2017 book Reengineering Retail, is that we will judge the worth of the store of the future in terms of it’s ‘media value’ more than anything else…

But what does this mean?  As the digital space becomes increasingly saturated and reaching anyone online via targeted media becomes near impossible, the value of the store as simply another channel by which to reach customers becomes increasingly tenable, “Your stores are your media,” Stephens writes, “you’re just not measuring it.” (Yet!)

Image result for customers queuing in-store event
‘Store as Media’ – a glimpse into the future?

For Stephens, the retail metric of the future will be closer to our existing digital measurements e.g. positioning ‘one positive in-store experience’ as equivalent to a digital impression or click through.  Stephens proposes a method of value calculation that utilizes NPS scores to attempt to derive a quantifiable $-comparison to establish each store’s ‘media worth’.

While certainly thought-provoking, the idea of evaluating store success purely by this kind of hypothetical metric seems a little way off yet.

At TruRating, we believe that ‘Experience’ is the metric that contemporary retail needs to focus on.  While every customer experience is subjective to a degree, providing a consistent way to measure the majority of customer interactions, across a full range of experiential metrics, is the closest one can get to something like an objective truth when it comes to CX.

To put it in simple terms – if you want to understand your business, it’s a necessity to ask your customers about it frequently.  And if you can map that customer sentiment to transactional point-of-sale data while you do it?

Well, you just might be on to something!

NPS: where next for the Net Promoter Score?

NPS was developed by an employee of Bain & Co consultancy in 2003, to provide a way to measure customer satisfaction as it correlated directly to increased sales.  The method – traditionally a simple one question survey – asks customers to rate their experience on a scale from 0-10.  An NPS Score is derived by subtracting the percentage of customers who rated 0-6 (“detractors”) from those who rated 9 or 10 (“promoters”).  Those who score 7 or 8 are considered “passives” and not counted in the calculation.  While the score has been massively popular in boardrooms across the US, it is not without its critics…

A recently published story in the Wall Street Journal – The Dubious Management Fad Sweeping Corporate America ­– is one of the more damning recent examples.  Based on an investigation of the company reports of over 688 S&P 500 Index businesses, the piece questions the ‘cultlike’ following NPS has developed, and while not outright claiming it to be a false indicator of performance, enough questions are raised to suggest the authors aren’t fans.

Part of the appeal of a system like NPS to the busy executive must surely lie in its apparent simplicity.  “Push the score up and you make more money”, provides a simple goal for a distracted mind.  And while there is evidence to suggest that NPS may be reasonably effective as a superficial performance indicator, good or bad, it is much more limited as a tool to show businesses where they should be focusing their valuable time and energy.

Though expanded versions of NPS have been developed to include follow up questions asking why a customer is scoring them a 7 rather than a 9, response rates tend to be so low (5% according to the WSJ source) as to be almost meaningless as a realistic representation of actual customer sentiment.  The glut of companies in recent years whose sole purpose is supposed to help to businesses improve their NPS, smacks of naivety at best and opportunism at worst.

iStock-1086229740.jpg‘Managing to a metric’ comes with its own cultural baggage for organizations too.  Companies who focus solely on NPS, tend to be very good at creating employees who are very good at, well, achieving high NPS scores.  The ‘one-size fits all’ design of NPS can also offer a somewhat reductive way to view the lived complexities of the modern retail environment.  Businesses who listen to the needs of their customers as a strategic goal are likely to see an uplift in NPS regardless.

In our own work, we’ve noticed that more often than not context is key (something not always captured by NPS as a standalone figure). Analyzing the data from one of our clients, we noticed that both ‘Indifferent’ and ‘Promoter’ customers tended to have very similar profiles of spend and basket size.   For this business, NPS wasn’t a great predictor of spend in the short term at all.

Only by looking across a much longer time period were we able to identify that that ‘Promoters’ (and even then, only those who scored absolute highest) were more likely to return and make subsequent visits.  While this aligns with the NPS philosophy and suggests good news for businesses who rely on subscription models or customers who make frequent repeat visits, for the business looking to maximize the value of a single but high-value transaction, an NPS score might mean very little.

At TruRating, while we offer a version of the NPS question within our toolkit, it is only a small part of what we do.  By giving businesses the ability to ask questions across a range of metrics, including specific initiative-based questions, tied to a response rate of up to 80%+, we are confident in the claim that we offer merchants a much more robust and actionable solution.

The Amazon Fake Reviews Trap: Freakin’ Cheatin’ and What Businesses Can Do To Avoid It

It’s all over the news about Amazon and fake reviews and yet—is it really news? Amazon does its best to tackle the fake review problem but are any of us truly shocked to find that they’re still being gamed?

In a world where “fake news!” has become a common battle cry, what is perhaps surprising is that increasing numbers of consumers rely on reviews to make a purchasing decision, particularly when buying online.

Indeed, 97% of online shoppers say they are influenced by reviews, and it’s been found that 85% of people rely on reviews as much as they do personal recommendations from friends and family. A more recent study found that product reviews are the most important factor influencing purchase (88%), over brand name (71%), social influencers (10%) and celebrity endorsements (5%).

The evidence is clear—if you’re selling something, whether online or off (56 percent of consumers read reviews on their mobile devices while browsing in-store), you need reviews to help convince your customers that they’re making the right decision before they pull out their wallets.

So how do businesses protect themselves—and their customers—against the pitfalls of fake reviews?

Make it really, really easy

When it’s quick and painless for customers to rate, most of them will! Estimates of the proportion of consumers willing to leave reviews vary, and Amazon are understandably playing their cards close to their chest, but recent research suggests it’s between 3-10%.

However, by asking one quick question at the point of payment and answering with a push of a button, we’ve found that up to 90% of customers are happy to leave feedback.

With such a massive volume of validated customer ratings, even if someone did try to game the system with fake ones, they would have little to no impact. After all, if the manufacturers could afford to pay 90% of purchasers for fake reviews, they probably wouldn’t need to.

Keep it anonymous

People are more likely to leave honest feedback, and trust that feedback from others is honest, when it’s completely anonymous. This anonymity would put a further roadblock in the path to cheating businesses paying for false positives. And perhaps just as importantly, it prevents over-eager restaurant managers pursuing customers who left a negative review.

Don’t sweat the small stuff

Or in other words, don’t fret too much about the odd negative review. Think more about the sheer number you get.

Some recent and very fascinating findings indicate that shoppers pay far more attention to the volume of reviews than they do to the number of negative ones. Out of two products with the same score, shoppers will tend to opt for the one with the most ratings, even though the statistics mean there’s more chance the poor ratings are accurate. In fact, products with only perfect ratings are mistrusted as too good to be true—having a few lower ratings in there appears to be more convincing.

Remember, the main objective is to get honest feedback from genuine customers. That means that the occasional issue is bound to arise, as no business is perfect—not even Amazon! As a business, be prepared to listen to and act on what your customers are telling you—and that might mean occasionally hearing unpleasant truths.

The good news

Businesses that follow this advice have found it easier to make their customers happier, increase loyalty, retention, and ultimately, spend.

And they don’t have to worry about fake reviews.

Jill Bentley

Would You Recommend NPS to a Friend or Colleague?

I’m 7-ish.

NPS, or Net Promoter Score, is a tool companies use to measure customer loyalty. It’s based on the question, “Would you recommend (company X) to a friend or colleague?” and is traditionally asked on a 0-10 scale (shorter scales are becoming more popular, however.) Though respondents are only shown the extremes of the scale, they are broken down into three categories—detractors, passives, and promoters. The percentage of detractors is subtracted from the percentage of promoters to yield the Net Promoter Score.

I love the question, but have reservations about how it’s used and downright loathe how NPS is calculated—7-ish.

The question

The question “Would you recommend us to a friend or colleague?” is powerful because it captures, in one stroke, both satisfaction and loyalty. Among the 24+ million ratings we’ve received, it’s the single question that ties most to spend. In retail, customers who rate the question highly spend on average 26% more than others (we get all the transaction details associated with each rating, so we can actually link satisfaction to spend—no voodoo math here.)

The application

Of course, in isolation, the question is limited. It doesn’t tell you why, and it isn’t very actionable—you can’t go into stores and exhort associates to “make customers recommend us more!” Imagining that conversation just makes me sad.

But it is a monster for internal benchmarking, both over time and at the store level. Assuming adequate sample, the ebbs and flows of your customers’ ratings should mirror how effectively you’re driving their loyalty. So, for example, if a dip corresponds with an adjustment to your labor model or a category reset, that’s quite instructive. And, again, assuming adequate sample, stores with your highest scores are where your best practices and top performers are living. What are they doing to drive loyalty that others should be doing?

I like the question less for external benchmarking. Companies will generate their own scores by asking their customers directly and then rely on survey panels to gauge their competitors. In mixing methodologies, you introduce enough variables to make the comparisons moot—timing, survey design, selection bias.

Compounding the issue is the fact that respondents tend to interpret the question very literally. I was recently talking to the head of CX at an exceedingly well-managed children’s clothing retailer who bemoaned that her score lagged retail apparel NPS benchmarks, despite incredible brand equity and outsized financial performance. We realized that many of her customers are in fact less likely to recommend her company because a lower proportion of the population is in the position to receive a recommendation for a kid’s clothing company. We all wear clothes, but only some of us have kids. For internal benchmarking, variance in interpretation should impact your scores evenly. For external benchmarking, it will have a disproportionate impact on each company within your industry and introduce way too much noise into the data.

The calculation

Honestly, we spend more time talking to our merchants about how an NPS score is calculated than we do discussing what we can learn from it. The math isn’t hard—it’s just different from the way we calculate everything else. What can be learned from a net score that can’t be learned from an average? From our analysis, nothing. Across all of our outlets, there’s a 93% correlation between their net and average scores (see below.) We even found that net calculations tended to dampen trends, obscuring crucial insights. So if you want to hide a decline in your customer’s loyalty, go for it. If you want to catch the decline ASAP, we recommend an average.

That dampening effect makes sense when you think about it. A 0 has the exact same effect on your NPS as a 5 does. So if your new labor model prompts someone who’d previously rated you a 5 to then rate you a 4, and then, as you make further tweaks, a 3, you’ll never see that you’re denigrating that customer’s experience until they’re gone, and it shows up in your bottom line. Averages, however, catch that change and are thus far more instructive for internal benchmarking.


So how likely am I to recommend NPS to a friend or colleague? I love the question as a barometer for how you’re doing today versus how you were doing yesterday. But it’s too noisy for external benchmarking and the net aspect diminishes its value. So I’d give it a 7—“passive” per the net reading of the scale, which is a bizarre label for someone who’s just written 782 words on it.

If you’d like to learn more about TruRating for your business, visit our website and get in touch.


Are Customers Really Too Busy to Give Feedback?

52% of senior leaders believe customer experience is the “most important way” to differentiate their brands—that’s great, but many brands struggle to find out exactly what their customers think of their experiences, making it difficult for them to make informed improvements.

We believe that if you make the process of collecting feedback quick and simple, the majority of your customers will give it to you. Unfortunately, many retailers fail here, with complex forms to be filled out or online surveys that are disconnected from the in-store shopping experience, leading to low response rates (less than 2%!) and the false perception that customers are too busy to tell you what they think.

It’s not just us that share this point of view, as this recent article suggests: “In many instances, customers welcome the chance for their thoughts to be heard—particularly at the point of purchase or in dealing with a business, when the experience is fresh in their minds.” In other words, customers would love to tell your business what they think, provided you make it timely and easy for them to do so. 

At TruRating we’ve been working hard to help retailers collect mass, validated feedback at the point of sale by simply asking one question on the payment device when a customer pays. Sounds simple, right? And with a typical 88% response rate, we are disproving this “customer is too busy” myth while providing our partners with invaluable insight to help improve their customers’ experience.

Chris Hannay

UK Retail: The Survival of the Fittest

For those of us who’ve been a part of the UK retail industry for any length of time, April headlines are the source of many knowing smiles—bouncing madly as they do between projections for the perpetual death of the high street, and better-than-expected announcements from the larger brands who compete on it.

Yes, there are some undeniable and well-known truths:

  • Online shopping is changing the game
  • Households are tightening their belts
  • Millennials are much pickier than previous generations

But beyond that, can we definitively say that brick-and-mortar is crumbling?

There are those who say yes—changes to the way we shop are too far gone to be rescued. I know it’s a subject keeping many of the retailers that I talk to each week awake at night. But I believe that, somewhere in the noise, these better-than-expected announcements herald good news—that smart, savvy high street stores who play the customer game right can still win, and flourish.

Because I don’t believe it’s absolute spend that’s changing the game—i.e., money disappearing. There is money still there to be had and our own data shows that quite clearly. What’s really changing is consumer sentiment—that is, the increasing demands that consumers want met before they part with their hard-earned cash. They don’t just want a product, they want an experience—a value exchange—a bit more bang for their buck.

So, as the bright spots in the news show, a winning retail growth strategy is very much one that’s built around the total consumer experience. One that blends the right elements of product value, customer service, channel experience and brand perception into a single, complete engagement that drives the customer to spend more.

How do you get that mix right? Well, here’s a pretty frank quote from a recent PWC sector review: “Knowing the consumer, what they want and how they want to buy, will become more important than ever.” So, in other words, listening to your customers more closely, and linking what they say to their spending habits is how you get it right.

But where to begin? Well, it should be a pretty simple step-by-step process:

  • Start with giving the customer a voice—at the right time and in the right place—to tell you what you need to hear
  • Take their voices together and quickly and effectively qualify them against the different areas of your business that make up their experience
  • Play a bit of test-and-learn game, a game of marginal gains, where you tweak each element and track what works best
  • And of course—repeat, repeat, repeat

I know it doesn’t sound like rocket science—it’s not!—but until TruRating came along, it’s been surprisingly hard to do. Mainly because retail has been a little slower than many other verticals in grasping that simple solution—making technology do the hard graft.

The retail game is not a sprint—it’s a marathon where you must continually tweak and adjust elements of your performance to meet customer expectations and brand perceptions. I firmly believe that technology, in many different guises, holds the answer, and over the next few weeks I’ll be adding to this blog to go through what that means. I’ll be looking at the concept of “getting fit” for your business, and the different areas you can address to make marginal gains on your profits.

So stay tuned. And, in the meantime, do check out the PWC report linked above. It’s well worth a read.

Jill Bentley