App Lets Neiman Marcus Know When Best Customers Arrive

Discussion
Mar 05, 2012

Neiman Marcus is testing a new iPhone-only app that enables store associates to know when a customer arrives in the store and allows them to interact with her. At the same time, the app lets customers know when their favorite store associates are working the store.

The new app, NM Service, is being tested in four stores this spring — in Austin and Dallas in Texas and San Francisco and Palo Alto in California.

Developed by startup firm Signature Labs in San Francisco, NM Service is first downloaded by a customer. Once the customer opts in, location sensors throughout the store pick up signals from her phone and lets her know which associates are at work. Through the app, customers can make appointments or leave messages for associates. They can also mark favorite products, which will automatically be visible to the customer’s sales associates.

Customers also can get messages about upcoming events, new product arrivals, sales and emerging fashion trends. QR codes on signs can be scanned throughout the store to unlock trend and product information through the mobile phone.

From a sales associate’s perspective, the NM Service app provides notifications alerting them when their customer arrives in a store and also provides a Facebook photograph so the customer can be easily recognized. Associates also gain easy access to purchase history and direct access to a customer’s new favorite items.

"The NM Service App allows us to take our service philosophy into the digital era," said Jim Gold, president, Specialty Retail, Neiman Marcus, in a statement.

The Dallas Morning News reported that, while privacy concerns remain, Foursquare and other coupon apps are showing that at least some consumers are willing to trade off location information for other benefits as they shop.

A Neiman Marcus spokeswoman Ginger Reeder told The Dallas Morning News that the focus for the upscale chain is on enhancing the sales associates and client relationship. Neiman Marcus has found that customers who shop with the same associate three times spend almost 10 times more than those who go to a random sales clerk.

Discussion Questions: How receptive do you think customers will be to apps that enable store associates to know when they enter the store? What are the likely benefits to customers as well as associates?

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19 Comments on "App Lets Neiman Marcus Know When Best Customers Arrive"

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Dan Berthiaume
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Dan Berthiaume
5 years 9 months ago

The benefits are pretty obvious — customers obtain personalized in-store service from associates who know their preferences and needs, while the associates have a better opportunity to make up- and cross-sales. The whole program makes the in-store experience more like e-commerce, which at this point in the evolution of retail is a good thing.

Phil Rubin
Guest
5 years 9 months ago

The most successful startups (e.g., Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, etc.) are those that make traditional offline activities much easier — http://tinyurl.com/6sjnqza — and Signature Labs is out to solve a huge problem for retailers: helping them identify customers when they walk in the door. Rather than RFID cards and facial recognition approaches, which can be perceived as really creepy, this approach has huge potential based on some of the features it includes, namely letting the customer remain in control of the relationship and communication.

There are different customers types and those that want and expect immediate recognition and service will have a much better experience with this app. Likewise the associates who want to know when their customers walk in the door, greet them and, as Stanley Marcus and John Nordstrom always said, “sell to them.”

J. Peter Deeb
Guest
5 years 9 months ago

I think NM customers will be very receptive to this new service. The typical, good NM customer wants the high service level that they are accustomed to and this app can lead to better interaction with trusted store associates and an opportunity to increase sales for NM. Utilization may also be a time saver to the customer as they use the app information to find items and if they are greeted early in the visit by a store associate. This will be interesting to follow.

Lisa Bradner
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Lisa Bradner
5 years 9 months ago

For a brand like Neiman Marcus, I think its customers will be VERY receptive. Engaging with a luxury brand known for its service makes a tremendous amount of sense. Are customers going to be equally willing to engage with their drug chains and mass merchants? In aggregate I doubt it, but niche groups (new moms, people managing chronic conditions, etc), absolutely. There are privacy issues to every touchpoint we create. Like e-mail, though, this involves a thoughtful decision on the shopper’s part whether to engage and is in her control. It makes a ton of sense and is a win for both the brand and the shopper.

Bernice Hurst
Guest
5 years 9 months ago

Easy peasy — associate knows what customer does/doesn’t like so reduces time needed to find something they’re willing and eager to buy. Plus associate increases opportunities for earning commission — while spending less time persuading customer to buy. This is what I call personal shopping.

Cathy Hotka
Guest
5 years 9 months ago

Everyone wins here, and it’s a natural for a company like NM that is highly customer-focused. Perhaps they’ll provide some inspiration to other retailers to look for ways to engage their own shoppers.

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
5 years 9 months ago

iPhones can remove the fences around a mystery. For customers who crave preferential treatment, this is utopia, providing two or more designated customers don’t arrive for pampering at the same time. Then the bloom on everyone’s egos could fade a bit.

I confess I don’t know, but there may still be some customers who love a mystery even in this era of quick revelations via technology. Those would-be customers might become bored by their isolation until their boredom becomes a mystical experience that leads them to other sales counters. Does concentrating on the desired clerk-customer relationship — that joyously net 10 times more sales volume than those going to a random clerk — offer Neiman Marcus an allowable way to reduce casual customers volume by 70% yet still maintain targeted sales volumes? Is it discriminating to focus on discriminating customers? Who knows? But it sounds like it’s easier on those involved.

Doug Pruden
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Doug Pruden
5 years 9 months ago

I agree with Lisa Bradner. For Neiman Marcus, where personal service is expected by the customer and delivered by the store associates, this makes tremendous sense. It should be a win-win. Let’s not, however, make the jump into thinking that we can extend the concept to most retailers. I’m sure the technology is capable, and it might work for a very select segment of high value customers, but for most the human resources just can’t be there to provide the level of service and build the relationships.

Ken Lonyai
Guest
5 years 9 months ago

The comments here have mostly nailed it: for NM and their clientele, this sort of thing may work for now. Ultimately, as more stores adopt this approach, it may lose its luster and become a new way for salespeople to hassle customers.

Shopkick is a more general incarnation of this concept. It’s all just an extension of location-based apps and marketing with indoor location identification technology being a challenge that has yet to have a solid solution. Once cracked reliably/feasibly, everyone is going to attack (yes attack!) consumers at the point of sale, with personalized displays, signage, sales engagements etc.

Privacy issues and concerns for information overload have yet to be tested with this coming onslaught — but they will be.

Mel Kleiman
Guest
5 years 9 months ago

This is not an app that has to go over big, it just has to go over with that group of customers that like/love the NM experience.

This looks like it is one of those apps that is truly going to bring customer service to the next level; which also means increased sales.

Ben Sprecher
Guest
Ben Sprecher
5 years 9 months ago

Simple, clean, smart.

Customers get an even higher level of service, and feel that they have a personal relationship with a trusted associate, which is a huge competitive moat for Neiman.

Associates can be that much more personalized and accommodating in their interaction with the consumer, which means more sales and a more positive experience all around.

Steve Montgomery
Guest
5 years 9 months ago

What I like about the app is that the customer opts in, giving them control and there is a definite benefit for doing so. However, I do agree with Ken and others who have stated that this can easily migrate from a benefit to a hassle for the customer.

Will be interesting to see what happens when the staff recognizes a “buyer” versus a “shopper” and the favorite store associate is not present. Will it result in “clerk wars” over the customer?

Lee Kent
Guest
5 years 9 months ago

High-end brand customers tend to enjoy attention and are often very loyal to their brands so this should be well received. This is a great example of clienteling in our mobile world. While I see this as a beneficial wind for high-end brands, I would like to see this sort of clienteling blended into, say, Foursquare for other brands. Our busy consumer really does not want to have an app for every store they like to shop. Just sayin’.

Martin Mehalchin
Guest
5 years 9 months ago

We’ve seen this as an obvious opportunity for a while now and kudos to NM for being among the first to implement. Most customers will be receptive, and when managed well it can be a boon for associates and the retailer as a whole. I look for this concept to spread to many other department stores, as well as category killers like Home Depot and Best Buy.

Marge Laney
Guest
5 years 9 months ago
I’m going to be the naysayer on this one. These apps sound great until they’re released into the wild and random human behavior takes over. Here are some of the things that could go wrong: If I’ve opted into the service, how long should I wait to be acknowledged once I enter the store? What if I’m never acknowledged? If I’m with a sales associate, how will I feel when the associate continuously checks their phone and continuously glances at passing customers trying to find someone? Or worse, what if I’m passed off to another associate when one of their big spenders enters the store? What if I’m approached by a sales associate who thinks I’m someone else? Finding and connecting with those customers could get weird and kind of creepy. I do like the fact that customers can get messages about upcoming events, new product arrivals, sales and emerging fashion trends. And the QR codes on signage around the store are great too. Why not just leave it at that? Giving customers personal attention… Read more »
Craig Sundstrom
Guest
5 years 9 months ago

I’m going to be the buzzkill on this one; I suspect sales associates and (high-volume) customers already have a pretty good idea of each other’s schedules, and this merely pushes that knowledge from “personal relationship” into the area of “intrusive.”

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
5 years 9 months ago

This is something I think has strong appeal and will succeed. However, it is not for me.

Anne Bieler
Guest
Anne Bieler
5 years 9 months ago

Yes, this will connect NM shoppers to a better experience — as their choice. The ability for the shopper to customize is key; knowing preferences ahead of time just makes it easier for both shopper and sales associate. Good selection, easier navigation, understanding of choices — all go to a better in-store experience.

Christopher P. Ramey
Guest
5 years 9 months ago

This will be successful for a small percent of NM’s customers. Perhaps not enough to roll-out to all the stores.

The affluent expect/deserve to be served. Whether they allow anyone/technology to follow them is another issue. This may fall into the category “just because you can doesn’t mean that you should.”

Having written that, this allows for management to acquire some very interesting metrics about customer behavior.

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