FINANCE

September retail sales rose more than forecast

BY CSA STAFF

Washington, D.C. — A report released Monday by the Commerce Department showed that retail sales in the U.S. climbed more than anticipated in September, boosted by unexpected increases in household spending.

Sales advanced 1.1% in September, on the heels on a 1.2% increase in August that was the biggest since Oct. 2010. The median forecast of 77 economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for a 0.8% rise in September.

Still, there are concerns that escalating energy costs and looming tax changes at the end of the year may prevent consumer spending from strengthening much more.

There is “some resilience on the part of the consumer,” Michael Feroli, chief U.S. economist at JPMorgan Chase & Co. in New York, told Bloomberg. “We are going to continue to see slow, but steady, growth.”

Twelve of 13 major categories showed gains in September. Retail sales excluding autos increased 1.1%, the most since January, and surpassing projections of a 0.7% gain and led by electronics retailers’ 4.5% jump in sales.

Spending increased 0.6% at clothing stores and 0.3% at general merchandise stores. Retailers benefited from demand for back-to-school items, with September same-store sales topping analysts’ estimates at discount and specialty-apparel chains such as Target and TJX Cos.

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News

Improving customer experience through premium technology support

BY CSA STAFF

In today’s connected world, complex technologies are creating richer consumer experiences, but are also creating greater expectations. With the explosion of connected and mobile devices in recent years, consumers now have better control of their interactions with the companies whom they choose to do business with than ever before. This is good news for the consumer electronics industry as it represents an excellent opportunity to engage with customers on a more regular basis. One such touch point enabled by this seismic shift in technology is the potential for real-time premium technical support that helps solve problems and engage customers with their existing products. More important, however, the opportunity provides retailers with a chance to grow their relationships with customers, improve loyalty and optimize revenue.

A recent Forrester report, “The Business Impact of Customer Experience, 2012,” shows companies that garner high customer experience scores have a strong tendency to demonstrate and drive higher customer loyalty. Premium technology support not only positively affects the customer experience, but also addresses a growing need within today’s increasingly complex connected world. The tips below will help businesses across retailers integrate the customer experience while addressing technical pain points:

1. Know the customer
Yes, it can be as easy as it sounds. Today’s technology makes viewing a detailed profile that includes a customer’s purchase history and preferences readily available. Implementing a premium technology support program that allows consumers to contact their very own personal “tech concierge” without immediately being prompted to answer a litany of background questions will demonstrate impeccable organization and true dedication to the customer experience.

2. Be proactive
There will always be issues too complex for consumers to handle on their own. Don’t wait for customers to react to service inconsistency — instead, let them know in advance there is a problem and how it will be resolved. Regular updates to devices that protect against viruses and malware should also be provided.

With an even deeper connection to the bottom line, proactive support can also stem the tide of No Trouble Found (NTF) returns. NTF returns are made by customers who admit there is nothing wrong with their newly purchased device, but they were not able to set it up properly. Such returns are a serious financial drain on retailers and the cost of processing, shipping, and restocking the return can eat up to six percent of overall revenue intake. Reaching out to the customer proactively and offering technical support and device set-up instructions can intercept those returns and improve the customer’s perception of your brand.

3. Make call transfers seamless
Sometimes customers need to be transferred after calling for support — it’s inevitable. The key to improving the customer experience in such situations is utilizing the proper technology that allows for seamless call-forwarding and provides a call history so agents and automated systems are up-to-speed on a customer’s issue before even accepting the transfer. Hasty transfers to voicemails, in addition to feeling as though no one understands the problem or can find a resolution, create a dreadful experience. The proper tools will ensure such an experience keeps customers satisfied and does not turn into a negative online review for the world to see.

4. Keep it simple
Above all, however, it is essential to keep it simple and not make customer support as complicated to customers as the issues and devices are themselves. Instead, strive to provide the technical expertise they expect when calling by providing simple explanations, easy resolutions and a genuine show of care and support.

Consumer electronics retailers often provide a “one-and-done” customer service that won’t work in today’s market. Nearly one billion connected computing devices (including smartphones, PCs and tablets) shipped last year and that number is expected to double by 2016. With more consumers connecting, it’s important to maintain relationships via these channels to foster the relationship and encourage future purchases. Retailers that recognize this shift and invest in the customer experience accordingly will undoubtedly fare better than competitors.

Jordan Socran is VP business development at Radialpoint, which helps technology brands grow revenue by creating and managing white-label services businesses. He can be reached at [email protected].

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OPERATIONS

Webinar Today: Customer centricity at Chico’s FAS

BY Staff Writer

New York — Learn how Chico’s FAS is staying ahead of the information evolution and providing personalized customer interactions at a Chain Store Age webinar on Thursday, Oct. 18 ( 2 p.m. ET, 11 a.m. PT). Bob Murray, architect of Chico’s Store Technology, will discuss such top-of-mind imperatives as loyalty, mobile, and seamless digital connections with the customer in the omni-channel market space.

Click here to register for the webinar.

Speakers:
Bob Murray, Store Technology Architect, Chico’s FAS, Inc.
Vic Miles, Technology Strategist, Retail Industry, Microsoft Corporation
Keith Champeau, National Director of Business Development, Fujitsu

Moderator:
Marianne Wilson, editor, Chain Store Age

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