Truly customer-centric retailers are thin on the ground. An exception is Ao.com (formerly Appliances Online).

Truly customer-centric retailers are thin on the ground. An exception is Ao.com (formerly Appliances Online).

It’s no surprise that the business’ revenues rose 82% between 2011 and 2012 and it’s now looking at flotation - its highly compelling proposition is matched by a customer feedback loop that puts its shoppers at the heart of all it does.

One great example is the way chief executive and founder John Roberts deals with social media feedback. He writes to delivery drivers personally to tell them about customer complaints, and highlights those who were praised. More importantly, he writes to customers explaining what action he’s taken to address complaints.

Imagine if all retailers used this approach to delight customers and take market share.

Tesco could extend its approach of FMCGs funding in-store marketing activity by adding ratings and reviews to its grocery products online. Suppliers could fund prizes for customers who create reviews.

John Lewis could use social media to highlight customer feedback on store-based partners who would be rewarded for positive comments.

Would Amazon’s distribution centre staff concentrate even more if they’d just read about a child not receiving their birthday present on time because an incorrect order was sent out?

Closing the feedback loop helps all staff to see their actions in terms of potentially satisfied or dissatisfied customers.

If Ao.com can directly increase sales by turning customers into advocates using social media, retailers in more emotive product categories must be able to do likewise. For example, Pets at Home could put Facebook at the heart of its website as Ao.com does. After all, how many pictures of people’s pets do you see on the social network every day?

Finally, perhaps WHSmith should address customer concerns via social media rather than burying its head in the sand when things go wrong (it hasn’t tweeted or updated its Facebook page since its apology for the inappropriate self-published books it was selling via its site).

If you ignore your customers long enough, they will go away.

  • Martin Newman, Chief executive, Practicology