The phrase “The customer is always right” has been repeated in the retail industry for more than a 100 years, but it might be time for an update.
There’s debate over who was the first to coin the phrase, however, Harry Gordon Selfridge, founder of the London department store, Selfridges, is attributed with popularizing it in 1909. He used “The customer is always right” to prompt employees to deliver exceptional customer service and for customers to expect exceptional service too. Since then, the phrase has been repeated so many times, it exists as a tenet more than a quip.
Tenet - a principle, belief, or doctrine generally held to be true; especially : one held in common by members of an organization, movement, or profession
Quip - a witty or funny observation or response usually made on the spur of the moment
Now, a century later, most have come to feel disdain for the central tenet of retail. Type the phrase into Google and you’ll find plenty of articles about how the tenet is wrong and few in its favor.
- Huffington Post: Top 5 Reasons Why 'The Customer Is Always Right' Is Wrong
- Forbes: No, The Customer Is Not Always Right
- Inc.: 3 Reasons Why the Customer Is Always Right ... Is Wrong
Too many customers have abused the privilege of always being right at the expense of employees. Gordon Bethune, former CEO of Continental Airlines made the point:
“When it’s a choice between supporting your employees, who work with you
“The customer is always right.” drove the customer-centric mindset in retail for a long time. But now, it might be time to let it go and adopt something more fitting
Possible Tenets of Retail & E-Commerce
Let’s take a look at a few contenders for a new industry-wide tenet.
1. Personalization Sells
It’s well known that you can sell more when you know who your audience is. It’s also been established that personalizing a customer’s experience can increase conversion rates even further. And with emerging machine learning technology promising us hyper-personalized shopping experiences, we’re sure to see even greater results.
For this reason, we could adopt “Personalization Sells” to take the place of “The Customer is Always Right”. It carries over the same customer-centricity and accounts for our new and improved technological capabilities.
2. Protect Your Data
Just like any retail business would close the safe and lock the doors, an e-commerce business must do the digital equivalent. Unfortunately, cybercrime is becoming increasingly sophisticated and challenging to stop. In tangent, as more transactions and data are exchanged on e-commerce sites, online retailers become an even larger and more attractive target.
A data breach is an expensive affair to correct. And even then, there’s hardly a true solution. Rather, it’s like putting out a fire—it can be done, but there will definitely be damage. In addition to the costs associated with the aftermath of a data breach, the brand’s reputation is tarnished as well.
To adopt the tenet “Protect Your Data” is to put caution first.
3. Stay Connected to Your Supply Chain
Supply chain management is no joke. It’s the lifeblood of retail.
The tenet “Stay Connected to Your Supply Chain” is a way to remember that the business is larger than the marketing strategy and homepage design. There’s an entire network of interdependent links that need to be maintained and optimized.
4. Ship Before Your Competitor
While eating breakfast this morning, I added a few items to my Instacart cart and selected a delivery time for just two hours later. My groceries arrived well before lunch.
Same day delivery is awesome.
A 2014 article from McKinsey & Company titled “Same-day delivery: The next evolutionary step in parcel logistics” opens with the bold statement:
“Same-day delivery has the potential to fundamentally change the way we shop. It integrates the convenience of online retail with the immediacy of bricks-and-mortar stores.”
If you’re competitive on product quality and price, the next frontier is shipping.
Adopting the tenet “Deliver Before Your Competitors” reminds us that we need to win even on the last mile.
5. Optimize for Revenue
Optimization is one of the most exciting parts of e-commerce. Companies have been able to increase revenue with just small tweaks to website design, copy, and more. Optimization turns business into a continuous science project of testing theories and learning from the results.
Split tests have made it possible to end the “Man Men” style of business where hunches and instincts are refined over a glass of whiskey and (hopefully) turn into success. Instead, companies can determine definitively if one concept is better than another with relatively low investment and risk.
There are unlimited ways to optimize your business. Holding the tenet “Optimize for Revenue” keeps your optimization efforts focused on the bottom line.
6. How Will You Measure That?
Closely related to optimization, is the tenet “How Will You Measure That?”
Today, it’s easier than ever to track and view the progress of your business. The big data, analytics and business intelligence market is estimated to be worth more than $200 billion dollars. Large investments this field mean that retailers can have their pick of the many niche analytics options.
With an abundant capability to measure progress, retailers should be sure to measure the impact of business decisions large and small. This starts by employing the help of break through technology, talented data scientists, and analysts. From there, a cultural shift must happen to adopt the tenet “How Will You Measure That?” to get everyone on board.
7. Sell Products People Want
Finally, we get to the heart of it all: the product. Today, what you sell and the quality of your product matter more than ever.
Before the internet and e-commerce took off, most purchases were limited to a geographic market. If a person wanted to buy the best widget, they were limited by the distance they were willing to travel to get it.
Now, with e-commerce, online reviews, and expedited shipping, the best widgets in any physical geographic market have to compete with the best widgets from around the world.
E-commerce gives retailers access to a larger market but it also increases competition. Adopting the tenet “Sell Products People Want” reminds us that beyond all the technological capabilities we have to better our business, retail is still about selling the goods and services people want.