Mitchells Takes Clienteling to the Next Level

From the very in start — in an 800-square-foot former plumbing supply store in Westport, Conn. — Mitchells has been all about the customer experience. Ed and Norma Mitchell, who opened the store in 1958, wanted to "hug" the customer, and one of the well-known founding stories of the business is that Norma served coffee each day to help customers feel at home. More than 50 years on, although it is larger now — but still independent and family-owned — Mitchells has worked to maintain that same spirit. Today, the coffee pot Norma brought to work each day has been retired, but customers can enjoy lattes and M&M's, while children flock to the "Kiddie Corner."

Operated by the second and third generations of the family, Mitchells has grown — to 25,000 square feet — and the retailer has added stores to its portfolio. In 1995, it acquired Richards of Greenwich, a luxury men's retailer, which the company expanded in both square footage and scope; it now includes a women's department. In 2005, it acquired Marshs of Huntington, to which it also added space and departments, and most recently, in 2009, it added the Wilkes Bashford stores of San Francisco and Palo Alto to the mix and with that purchase formed "The Mitchells Family of Stores."

As technology began to change the way customers shop, Mitchells strove to recreate the same high attention to detail and customer engagement in digital format that it provided to its customers — which include more than 500 CEOs and heads of state — in store. Mitchells wanted to extend the environment of customer intimacy that has defined its operations from the very start to the digital world, and it turned to ThoughtWorks to help develop a platform that would enable true one-to-one, as well as one-to- many, marketing. The result is that Mitchells' sales associates now curate individual stye recommendations with personalized communication for their clients -- overall store traffic has increased and there has been a tremendous pickup in sales.

The new platform built for Mitchells allows sales associates to much more easily access robust customer information such as preferences and purchase history, along with photos (called "m-pix") and product information, such as designer, size, and inventory details, so that they can customize offerings to their clients more easily. The platform has automated the labor-intensive process of searching for items that customers like and then reaching out to the customer. "It's the digital extension of a relationship," says Andrew Mitchell-Namdar, vice president of marketing and creative services. "For example, if you receive new Dolce & Gabbana merchandise, you can easily search to see which of your customers like this brand, and then send them an email with photos of the specific items you think they'll like."

In addition to this highly targeted, curated outreach via email, the platform also provides sales associates with visibility into inventory across the stores and enables them to share that insight with their customers while they're right there in the store. "It's a virtual closet for our customers," says Mitchell-Namdar, who adds that it really gives the retailer a way to really expand the reach of its inventory.

To give sales associates access to those rich images, the company hired three photographers who since December have photographed close to 15,000 SKUs, or about 50 percent of inventory -- 85 percent in key categories, says Mitchell-Namdar. Three other employees create product descriptions so that sales associates can quickly hone in on the merchandise that best suits their clientele.

"We had no trouble trying to get sales associates to adopt this platform," says Mitchell-Namdar, noting that employees were already taking photos on their mobile devices and sending them to customers. Now they can do the same thing in a much more efficient, larger-scale, high-quality way, he says. Photos are tied to inventory, so when there are no more of a particular item, the photos are automatically deleted.

Mitchells hasn't performed any metrics yet, but it's clear the platform is working. Mitchell-Namdar recently saw a customer purchase three Zegna suits, and was told by a sales associate that it was the result of m-pix. The client received a photo, liked the suit, came into the store to buy it, and picked up two more while he was there. "The system really deepends the relationship between the customer and the associate," he says, noting that dates such as birthdays and anniversaries can be built into customer profiles to extend that connection even further.

Next up for the retailer? Adding e-commerce to the Mitchells' information-rich website. That's the next step, says Mitchell-Namdar. Then when customers receive emails from sales associates, they'll ne able to go directly to the website and make a purchase. 

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