Why is Next so successful in spite of the High Street's struggles?

6th May 2014

Next is now the biggest fashion retailer on the High Street. In the annual results published last month it usurped Marks and Spencer’s throne as ‘king of the high street’ and is now valued at £10.6bn. But, with M&S struggling despite their 130 year history and broader product base, how is Next setting itself apart?

The answer seems to be a combination of customer-centric thinking and technological implementation that helps make customers feel connected, listened to and, ultimately loyal.

An ear to the customer grapevine

Throughout Next’s expansion, from catalogue retailer to multichannel operator (incorporating online, retail, mobile and tablet) the company has kept the needs of its customers and how they shop front of mind.

Next has, unsurprisingly, successfully capitalised on the rise in online demand (up 12.4%) alongside the expansion of High Street floor space (by 4% in 2013). The more interesting strategy and one that exemplifies how it is listening to its customers’ needs is the introduction of a four season buying cycle rather than the traditional two in a bid to increase the availability of cold weather clothing in January, February and March and warm weather garments in August and September.

Next chief executive, Lord Wolfson, says: "What I think has changed is consumer purchasing patterns. Over the last 20 years, consumers have shifted their purchasing habits so they shop for smaller amounts of clothing more frequently and closer to the time they need it. And that means the old way of structuring ranges isn't appropriate anymore."

Click and Collect, one of 2013’s biggest success stories, also had its impact. With Next offering next-day to store delivery for free it offered customers a service they’d demonstrated a desire for - with speed and convenience. The business has also made a conscious decision not to alienate its roots; despite adapting to meet the needs of the modern technologically-savvy customer, the traditional Next Directory is still available for those that prefer a tangible catalogue experience.

A face of the business that’s responsive and accessible

Next also has an ace up its sleeve. The great multichannel experience it offers doesn’t stop at the point of sale. A heritage based in remote communication with customers, rather than exclusively in store, might be offering a significant head start to the retailer. As other businesses try to expand and adapt its customer service to a different sales model, Next is simply expanding across the channels; meeting customers where they want to be with a cohesive customer service model built around the needs of customers ordering products remotely.

Email it, Tweet @NextHelp, post on its Facebook wall, call it on the phone (or ask it to call you) and customers get a helpful, friendly response within minutes. Particularly on social media the approach taken by Next is extremely valuable; customers are already using these channels to take care of all their daily needs, including shopping and contacting brands. In Next’s case it has simply taken the decision to own those social channels, to be there, be easy to find and to respond quickly to the problems their customers are airing for the entire world to see.

Next knows that the voice of the customer on social media can be a force to be reckoned with or, if harnessed correctly, it can be a significant advantage. Social media is viewed as an enabler of direct communication between the customers and the business and every issue is an opportunity to make them into a champion of your company. Take this example from the 31st March:

A voice that echoes to the bottom line

Research  by Zendesk in 2013 showed that 82% of customers would use a company again if they received excellent service and 62% would recommend that company to friends or family. Providing excellent service, such as Next’s example above, isn’t just fixing a problem - it’s an investment in customer loyalty which in turn encourages positive word of mouth. Good customer service equals a strong  marketing message! Potential customers could be following you on Twitter or Facebook and seeing interactions can positively affect their view of a brand; if they know they treat their customers well it can only be a good thing.

The cold hard fact is that there has been a “consumer awakening” and customers are now in charge. While it used to be expected that customer inquiries would be answered in a couple days, now customers expect answers in hours, if not minutes.

Become a hero to your customers, become a hero to your stakeholders

Businesses, like Next, which recognise this, and the special challenges that it presents, are poised to be the new 21st Century customer service heroes. But these are heroes that will never get to rest on their laurels. Consumers and the marketplace are fickle beasts and businesses always need to be ready to either up their game or adapt to something new.

Next obviously recognises this; Lord Woolfson wants to increase staff customer service skills which he believes are “good but not consistently outstanding” - further emphasising the commitment to customers. He continues that they still have “the opportunity to improve both the consistency and quality” of their customer service. This is certainly something to champion, always striving to put the customer at the heart of your business and not accepting ‘good’ as ‘good enough’.

This is the best possible business strategy that has proven to reap the financial rewards.

Nick Peart is marketing director EMEA at Zendesk.

Learn more about visionary customer service from industry leaders at Zendesk's The Art of Customer Satisfaction even in London on May 28th. For more details and tickets click here

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