Know your customer and technology will fall into place

Originally posted on as a guest post by Skidmore Studio President, Drew Patrick.

Back in the day, shopping was a simple affair. People went to the store to buy things. Then the internet happened. In order to keep up, traditional brick-and-mortar retailers rushed to create an online experience for their customers. Most didn’t do a great job. The digital realm was a new frontier, and they just wanted to have some sort of presence.

But merely “having an online presence” doesn’t cut it anymore. The entire customer experience matters and the integration of your in-store and digital experience is what separates the success stories from the failures.

To be well-integrated starts with building and nurturing a strong brand foundation. If you truly understand your customer and what they value from you, you can ensure high-quality customer experiences—whether they’re in the store or in the digital world. The buzzword for this today is omnichannel. Call it what you want, but to me, it’s just good old-fashioned branding. And, regardless of where you started, it’s more important than ever.

If any of you primarily brick-and-mortar retailers are questioning the importance of your digital experience, check out this stat: In 2019, 80% of shoppers are using their mobile devices in physical stores to look up reviews, compare prices, or find alternatives. In other words, your digital experience matters, even for customers who’ve already set foot in your store!

One brand that’s been celebrated for its creativity and success in this omnichannel world is Sephora, and they’ve done a couple of things that set them apart. First, they’ve taken what’s worked all along for their in-store experience and leveraged digital experiences to enhance it. Sephora has long been known for “assisted self-service” in the beauty & personal care industry. Rather than keep cosmetics behind glass and require uncomfortable interventions from salespeople, they put everything on the floor and allowed customers to explore.

Now, is tied to the Sephora mobile app, which includes a user community where you can get peer opinions on the spot. You can get a “facial scan” to help you choose products that will save you time. It’s not just tech for tech’s sake—it’s personalized and customer-centric. Both online and in-store, technology helps Sephora customers shop, regardless of where they choose to complete their purchase. For more on the Sephora customer experience, check out this podcast.

Working in the other direction, Skidmore Studio was able to help local brick-and-mortar chocolatier BonBonBon to successfully transition to online sales. When the owner and founder Alex Clarke came to us, she presented our team this challenge: “I only want to sell online if I can create an experience as I have in my stores.”

What did Alex mean, exactly? The first thing to note is that she and her staff are bursting with personality. When you walk in their shop, the vibe is all smiles, laughs, and music, and you never know what flavor combinations might be available that day. One of the coolest aspects of the shop is that, unlike most traditional chocolatiers, you can buy chocolates in any combination and volume you prefer. If you want one bon, five bons, or a mix of 19, you can get it. That’s an easy-ish feat in store but presents a great challenge online. For Alex, though, it was critical to maintain this “choose your own adventure” experience—it was the only way she felt comfortable entering e-commerce. (Lucky for both of us, we were able to deliver.) Check out their site, and you’ll get a taste of what makes them so special.

While Sephora is a multi-billion-dollar international retailer and BonBonBon is a local business with emerging online sales, they’re both successful for similar reasons. First, they took the time to truly understand what makes them special to their customers. Then they understood the importance of maintaining the integrity of their customer experience, regardless of whether it’s in-person or online. Neither introduced technology for the sake of having technology. It was for the sake of providing an on-brand, enhanced customer experience at every touchpoint.

As owner and president of Skidmore Studio, Drew is a thoughtful strategic partner, relationship builder, and fierce advocate for the studio’s creative team. He’s passionate about helping good organizations grow through branding and fostering a workplace that’s happy, healthy, and sustainable. Prior to purchasing the studio in 2018, Drew worked at Skidmore for nine years in the roles of CFO, COO, and president. He received Crain’s Detroit Business CFO of the Year Award in 2013. Under his leadership, Skidmore has been recognized as #6 on Crain’s Coolest Places to Work in Michigan in 2018 and one of the Michigan Top 50 Companies to Watch in 2019.