It’s one thing to deliver a delightful customer experience to someone looking for the right parka, shoes, or handbag. It’s quite another to help a distraught shopper who has broken a few heirloom teacups to find authentic replacements.
Enter Replacements Ltd., which offers software and services to help customers identify, restore, or repair damaged pieces of history. Since its founding in 1981, the Greensboro, North Carolina-based retailer has preserved and archived more than 450,000 patterns; these represent about 11 million pieces of china, crystal, silverware, and other collectibles.
“We want our customers to continue their traditions, to gather with their family and friends, to give that gift to their family member, to help them start their own collection,” Replacements Chief Marketing Officer Lihn Calhoun told SAP for a new video at NRF 2023. “So we want to find the customers, understand what they’re looking for, and match that together.”
Data and analytics are vital in Replacements’ efforts to connect customers with the right piece, according to Calhoun. This includes how Replacements stores and archives each item; how the company presents products and services to the customer; and how – and how often – to send personalized, meaningful communications.
The COVID-19 pandemic hastened Replacements’ transition to ecommerce and, therefore, smoother, more relevant connection with customers, according to Calhoun. Replacements.com is now a big part of the company’s tech-driven effort to share the highly specific product information it has painstakingly archived – and to empower its customers.
Innovating to Empower Your Customers
Three types of customers visit Replacements online, according to Calhoun. There are generally shoppers who are looking to buy, people looking to sell their vintage pieces to Replacements, and others who are simply browsing or researching.
“One of the things that they’re looking to do is to identify a pattern…[Before the pandemic] you would call us, you would describe it, you would send us a picture,” Calhoun said of the process, which was time-intensive for both customers and Replacements. Today, the company’s Web site features a camera icon that handles the photography and speedy pattern recognition for china and crystal. “It went from potentially days to minutes.”
Benefits of the rollout include helping sellers and researchers identify patterns faster as well as freeing up time for employees to accomplish other tasks, according to Calhoun. And a pleasant surprise was that customers looking to buy were exploring pieces that they might not have otherwise discovered – which has positively impacted revenue.
“We have improved efficiency internally,” Calhoun said, “and we’ve given that power to the user on our Web site.”
How Data Informs Decisions
“Replacements uses technology to improve people’s lives by making it easier for them to gather with their family and friends, create that memorable experience, and pass along traditions,” Calhoun told SAP during the video interview. “That’s what differentiates us, really…We do that so that we can preserve all these amazing pieces.”
Just the sight of a long-forgotten pattern can evoke strong memories, according to Calhoun. Walking through Replacements’ 500,000-square-foot warehouse, she noticed someone unpack the same Corelle pattern that her great-grandmother used.
“Immediately I saw my grandmother’s dining room table – how she pre-set it every evening in preparation for breakfast – and the memory was that strong, that visual,” Calhoun said. “Those memories help us; they feed our heart and our soul.”
That’s why data is crucial to Replacements for both finding vintage items for shoppers – nurturing core customers and collectors – and simultaneously introducing its massive inventory to new audiences, according to Calhoun. These are different demographics who all desire to own pieces of history.
“You should still have your stories, your brand connections, your human connections, the emotional connections,” Calhoun said. “But the data helps you better target and provide the communication to your customer at the right time, the right way.”