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CORDER’S COLUMN: My word of the year for 2020: Clienteling

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Rob Corder, managing editor, WatchPro and managing director of Promedia. (Photo by Ausra Osipaviciute/ITP Images)

Last month the Oxford English Dictionary published its annual Word of the Year report, except that this year there was a twist because there were so many words worthy of the title that it decided to rebrand the promotion as Words of an Unprecedented Year so that it could include a number of news-driven terms such as bush fires, covid-19, lock down, circuit-breaker, moonshot and Black Lives Matter.

Closer to our world, I would add a few more: kerbside collection, virtual showroom and clienteling.

This is a year when brick and mortar stores became mini ecommerce warehouses and overpriced collection points for four months as the government responded to concerns over covid with non-essential retail closures across all nations of the UK.

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I suspect kerbside collection and virtual showrooms will fizzle next year, hopefully consigned to the past along with zoom calls and web-based product launches.

With people starting to receive the first covid vaccines today, we are told life will be back to normal by Easter, and I for one cannot wait to be back out around the country shaking hands and air-kissing every single one of you.

Clienteling is a recognition that, at the top end of the watch and jewellery market, there are comparatively few customers whose repeat business is critical to commercial success

Clienteling, though, is here to stay, not least because luxury boutique owners have been heading towards it for several years.

Clienteling is a recognition that, at the top end of the watch and jewellery market, there are comparatively few customers whose repeat business is critical to commercial success.

These customers do not necessarily demand special treatment, but they will certainly take their loyalty elsewhere if they are not delighted with a retailer’s quality of service.

These customers are not necessarily individuals. Far more valuable are families who come to the same jeweller for every celebration: anniversaries, graduations, christenings, weddings and birthdays.

Clienteling means building and maintaining professional and/or personal relationships across generations, and the finest proponents in this country — Boodles, Berry’s, Laings, Pragnell, David M Robinson, Watches of Switzerland, to name a few — are masters.

Lock downs have forced every jeweller to become acquainted with clienteling, although too many lack the rich information on their customers to perfect the art.

John Robinson, managing director of David M Robinson, once told me he has 70 pieces of information on each of his VIP clients. This is the attention to detail that means he is one step ahead when it comes to important upcoming dates in a customer’s life, ready with a unique engagement ring or anniversary gift.

Clienteling also sets advisors free of physical stores. That has been critical this year, but will continue to be desirable in normal years.

Customers may prefer to see watch and jewellery collections in the comfort of their own homes and that might mean the difference between needing two VIP suites in a store, or just the one.

Bond Street brands like Piaget, Chopard and Cartier are trying to close the gap on the multibrand jewellers who know their local customers best, which means clienteling is becoming a competitive race.

Every high street jeweller will be doing their own version of clienteling, but few are investing enough in the data that drives its success. That needs to change.

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