Canadian Clothier Gets Personal

The CIO of Reitmans needs sales associates to know a customer's history before the sale starts. Given that most customers use loyalty cards at the end of shopping, that's a tough sweater to pull on.

In the retail world, selling clothing is mostly about convincing customers what looks good on them. And it certainly helps if the salesperson already knows whats in that customers closet, what her favorite colors are, her price range and her size.

Thats why Douglas Deruchie, the CIO of Canadas largest retail clothing chain, is spending a good chunk of his IT budget on outfitting some 900 stores with new Point of Sale (POS) systems. Making purchases easier is a small goal, but making those purchases more likely is a much bigger one.

"Were putting in place a CRM program that would (make sales associates) be virtually online. A sales associate could immediately see the vital statistics of that customer," said Deruchie, who also serves the $912 million Reitmans Canada Ltd. chain as its Chief Financial Officer.

Reitmans stores operate under various names, including Smart-Set/Dalmys, RW & Co., Penningtons Superstore, Thyme Maternity and Addition-Elle, on top of some 343 stores that simply call themselves Reitmans.

Although its becoming a retail cliché that customer service is critical, for the Reitmans chain, its more true than for most. The chief market at Penningtons, for example, is plus-size women. Not only is that a substantial and growing retail segment, but its also a very much neglected one, with plus-size women often having few stores that offer a lot of appropriate options.

"These women are incredibly loyal customers, as long as you give them the proper fit," he said. "We have a very loyal customer base."

Part of that customer service is for new associates to not have to ask sizes and to steer the customers toward styles and color that would be the most complimentary. Deruchie wanted that to be done as discreetly as possible and as early in the shopping experience as possible.

With that goal in mind, Reitmans has been deploying a true CRM program, with customized coupons being e-mailed and prospects being called on the telephone. "With our customer database, we are continually analyzing, looking for a way to drive the customer to the store," he said.

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