Stephen Sondheim once said, “having just the vision’s no solution; everything depends on execution.”

No truer words have ever been said for retailing, because execution is what separates the good from the great merchants.

I remember vividly responding to a Sports Authority newspaper ad that offered a $25 Gift Card for any purchase of $100 or more. Unfortunately, I was disappointed to learn after my purchase that the gift card was only valid for one specific week, so it was not about rewarding the customer, it was about deceiving the customer, making the customer feel like a pawn in Sports Authority’s grand scheme to limit redemption rates by inconveniencing and undervaluing them.

For all their “smoke and mirrors” about the customer, Sports Authority is NOT “All Things, Sporting Good” as their lackluster slogan and advertising tried to depict. The retailer never evolved into a business that was customer-centric. Whether it’s searching desperately for someone in the store to grab a ladder to find your athletic shoes in the size you needed, to understaffing and over merchandising their congested-aisle stores, the shopping experience at Sports Authority was never pleasurable nor shopper friendly. It was a self-help model that was so frustrating and devoid of customer service that it drove customers to shop online with Sports Authority’s competitors.

It became clear to me and other customers that Sports Authority put profits before customers. And I suspect that their recent announcement of bankruptcy is payback time for all the customers they’ve frustrated, ignored and undervalued all these years.

Lackluster execution is like no execution at all.

Lackluster training programs for staff and high employee turnover rates was a cancer within the SA organization that was never cured. Sports Authority lacked a C-level executive in a customer centric role, lacked integrated business functions across channels and integrated customer-facing tools, lacked a sustainable marketing and advertising campaign that differentiated them in the marketplace, lacked an effective omni-channel marketing strategy and put profits before a pleasurable shopping experience.

Sports Authority clearly misunderstood who their customer is, what he/she wants, and how he/she behaves at all times.

In a new industry study by The O Alliance on how omni-channel marketing must be a customer-centric model, they report that to achieve true customer centricity, retailers must be dedicated to connecting a shopper’s activities online, in store, on social media and via mobile apps to create a universal customer profile.

The study featured five strategies used by retail “leaders” to achieve customer centricity, starting with the need to track a customer’s behavior across channels.

The other strategies included:

Measure success of cross-channel marketing: The study revealed that while 70% of the industry uses cross-channel promotions (i.e. email campaigns to drive in-store purchases), 48% of all retailers still lack the ability to measure the success of these very campaigns. It noted that customer-centric “leaders “ are implementing tools that provide a strategic view into each campaign, allowing them to gauge effectiveness, attribute credit to the proper promotion or channel, and leverage that insight to drive future marketing decisions.

Centralize data solutions. Many retailers still lack the proper integration solutions to effectively manage a cross-channel shopping experience, with 37% of companies not combining e-commerce and in-store transaction data in a central database, and only 9% currently link social media activity to their customer data files. “Leaders,” however, are adopting flexible, cloud-based solutions that allow them to easily access all product and customer information in one centralized place.

Structure a customer-centric organization. While most companies recognize the importance of integrating business functions across channels, it’s the aggressive “leaders” that are actually implementing this change, with 97% reporting they have integrated at least one team to date.

In addition, these retailers are taking steps to address the talent and leadership issues demanded by these changes, with 43% stating that they either have, or plan to have, a C-level executive in a customer centric role.

Brick ‘n mortar and e-commerce.

If you think Sports Authority’s impending bankruptcy and Sears recent announcement to accelerate the closing of as many as 50 of their stores is caused by the growing significance of e-commerce, you’d be missing the whole picture. Sears has struggled for years with weakening sales, unable to keep up with merchants like Home Depot, and general merchants like Wal-Mart, or everything, as is the case with All that is true. But it is equally true that many e-commerce merchants are opening brick ‘n mortar stores to be more competitive.

E-commerce retailers like Warby Parker, Bonobos, and Amazon Books have opened stores because they recognize that physical locations help consumers discover their brands. In other words, open a store, let people touch and feel and try on your products, and then convert them to e-commerce.

Hopefully they won’t make the same mistakes as Sports Authority by not integrating their brick ‘n mortar with their digital channel.

Focus more on the customer.
Ex-Apple head John Sculley says the main task of marketing today is to provide the “best customer experience.” I couldn’t agree more.
Companies don’t have to spend as much on ads, says Sculley, because marketing has moved from emphasizing the product to emphasizing what the customer wants. “Emphasize the customer experience, including the price point, and, if you do these things right, customers will tell other customers,” says Sculley. “Marketers have to constantly look at what’s the best customer experience, what will differentiate. ”
In the final analysis, optimizing the customer experience with a customer-centric strategy is the single most important goal for retailers. And the ones who get it right won’t have to close stores, won’t have to shrink profits, won’t have to go into bankruptcy.

STUART DORNFIELD is an award-winning freelance Creative Director/Copywriter who has worked with more than 200 clients in b2c and b2b industries across digital and traditional channels including retailers such as Office Depot, Men’s Wearhouse, Mattress Firm, ShopKo, Vitamin Shoppe, Value City, Petsmarts, Michaels, Thomasville, and over two dozen more.