As a leader in the “Boomer” consumer revolution (I was born in 1946 – so I am at the official front of the boom), and by the fact that I went to work in 1971 for a regional department store at the age of 22, I had the unique experience of always trying to improve the retail experience to impact the company’s revenue by finding more customers and increasing the loyalty of the customers we had. Below you will find articles exploring my view on the evolution of customer loyalty throughout 3 different decades.
My retail career had many responsibilities in the 70’s – as a merchant for things like children’s wear, boys wear, and as a home merchant for records, books, toys, luggage, sporting goods, stationery, housewares, lamps, pictures, mirrors and drugs. These were all the departments that a moderate department store had on their main floors in 1970, and these are all the areas of merchandise that were replaced by the huge explosion of “ready to wear” from 1975-1990.
I opened my own coffee shop “Treats” in 1980, having the fourth espresso machine in Seattle (the beginning of the coffee revolution), and returned to the department store in 1984 as Director of Training and Communications, giving me the opportunity to change the service culture of a regional department store of 5,000 employees. In 1984, I got the opportunity to manage the store’s marketing efforts, including its credit card marketing, as well as heading up the Corporate Federated Marketing Team for over 11 years. I left the department store business in 1996, but stayed close to consumer loyalty as a private consultant with emphasis on brand identity and organizational culture change.
Then I spent 6 years as the person in charge of Alumni Relations for the University of Washington with its over 300,000 alumni, most of whom live within 40 miles of campus.
Through all these experiences, I focused on trying to figure out what drove consumer behavior – how do you keep customers loyal and how do you help consumers decide to part with their hard-earned cash and spend it on a product, a wish or a cause that was in a marketplace full of choices, increasing sales and keeping customers loyal.
The following are a series of retail stories that will very clearly define the history of Customer Loyalty. Each comes from a real experience and only as I look back am I able to clearly see how the Boomer attitudes and behaviors changed the nature of retail and the concept of loyalty. I have also created Retail Overviews, each reflecting the trends and concepts that took place for three specific decades – 1970-1980, 1980-1990, and 1990-2000.
In the early 1970’s, there were 6 positioning factors that most retailers tried to own a part of: Quality, Value, Price, Selection, Service, and Image/Cool. In many ways throughout this 35-year period when most of the retail growth was driven by people “wanting something”, these factors represented the discussion and tactics of retail management. Today, as we move retailing toward a “need something” environment, value, quality and customer experience are becoming the primary drivers in the buying decisions and customer loyalty.
I welcome you to read through and leave your comments/opinions on the articles below reviewing the Retail Environment over 30 years.