Apple and Anthropologie
Two of the best examples of customer-centric retailing today are Apple and Anthropologie. Customer-centric retailing begins with the question, “What will my customers buy from me?”
Apple is perhaps the very best retailer there is right now. When was the last time you went by an Apple store that wasn’t packed. For everything that they do exceptionally well, their success has clearly been driven by the simple fact that they have the most in-demand products on the planet.
The lesson for independent retailers is in Apple’s history of product development. Once upon a time, Apple was a computer company, which had a small but rabidly loyal customer base. They made Macs. Then, Steve Jobs, brilliant many times over, realized that one of the primary things his customers used their Macs for was listening to music. So Apple extended their technology to small portable devices for listening to music. The iPod almost single handedly made Sony Walkmans and compact discs obsolete. Then Apple realized that they could sell their customers the music files they listened to on their iPods. iTunes completed the obliteration of the traditional music business. And thus, a computer company came to dominate the music business, by continually asking, essentially, “What will our customers buy from us?” And they haven’t stopped there.
I have long admired Anthropologie’s customer-centric strategy (if not always their execution of that strategy). If you come at Anthropologie from a product-centric point of view they can be a little difficult to pin down. They’re a fashion retailer, but carry things that few other fashion retailers sell, like home furnishings and décor, and all manner ok knick-knacks. Anthropologie is all about their carefully targeted customer: young, urban (or urban-inspired), professional women. Their strategy is all about selling that customer whatever fits into her lifestyle, whatever she will buy from them.
I went into a couple of Anthropologie stores over Christmas, looking for something for my 25 year-old daughter. Anthropologie is her store of choice, “Dad, I’d love something from Anthropologie.” On both trips, I struggled mightily with understanding how different things could be worn together, found it all a little confusing and overwhelming, until I realized that that was exactly the point. I wasn’t supposed to get it. I’m the Dad, my daughter is the target customer. If I got it, that would have meant they weren’t focused as sharply as they needed to be. My daughter was more than happy with the gift card I gave her. She knew exactly how to put it all together, and was happy to show me what she bought.
These two retailers are excellent examples for independent retailers of how to grow their businesses. There’s a lot that can be learned from each. Neither is constrained by product-centric thinking, neither is captive to category management or full-line assortments. Each focuses on proven customers, and asked the question, “What else will my customers buy from me?”