Exclusive Q&A: Sweetwater Sound hears the needs of the customer

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Exclusive Q&A: Sweetwater Sound hears the needs of the customer

By Dan Berthiaume - 08/14/2020

An online music retailer is providing a highly tailored shopping experience as more consumers turn to e-commerce. 

Sweetwater Sound CEO Chuck Surack recently sat down with Chain Store Age to discuss how the Fort Wayne, Indiana-based online retailer of music gear and instruments is using intensive personalization to attract and retain customers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

How will retailers use technology to adapt to the "new normal" of COVID-19?
“As e-commerce increases in light of the pandemic, retailers will have to find ways to recreate the personal experience that customers are missing from not physically going to stores. Sweetwater’s number one priority is to build long-term relationships with our customers. 

“As part of this ‘new normal’ caused by COVID-19, retailers will look to technology to leverage insights on the individual consumer that may lead to a more personalized customer experience. At Sweetwater, we do this by getting to know the customer, and once we do, we can better understand their needs. For example, we use a custom CRM information system to track and manage important takeaways from conversations with customers, which helps us better understand preferences. In doing so, we allow customers to categorize themselves, and in turn, we categorize the customer. 

“Based on this, we can build the presentation of the Sweetwater webpage to be more tailored to the individual shopper. This is just one way in which we look to technology to streamline the shopping experience for our online customers.” 
 
What is the post-pandemic future of physical retail?
“Over the last few years, the retail industry has seen a massive adoption of technology to enhance operations as well as the customer experience. During this time, e-commerce has been a necessity for many retailers to continue their businesses and connect with customers. However, this type of communication could never replace the need and emphasis for human interaction. For this reason, I don’t believe that physical retail will completely go away.” 
 
How does maintaining a personalized customer experience help retailers in the current environment?
“The relationship that Sweetwater sales engineers form with customers is essential. It’s never about a sale, it’s about providing the best experience possible during every interaction. Now more than ever, customers are craving personal connections. 

“As a retailer, I believe Sweetwater has a responsibility to be there for our community of customers, and help them feel good in a time where so much is uncertain. For example, during the pandemic, our sales engineers have checked in on our regular customers just to see how they are holding up.
 
“Building personal relationships with customers is what drives customers to keep coming back, and retailers that don’t make an effort to provide a more personalized experience for their customers during this time, will likely lose them.”
 
Can you specifically discuss how Sweetwater has responded to the challenges of COVID-19?
“Throughout the pandemic, while we were never fully shut down, we did have to alter some of our operations. One challenge we faced was operating with a limited warehouse crew. Over the past few months, we were experiencing sales at the same levels that we experience on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. 

“We needed to navigate how to keep up with the demand, while also ensuring the safety of our employees. One solution was to have the leadership team, including myself, step up and help in the warehouse. We also had to adapt to a reality we had never experienced before; a majority of our workforce working remotely. One way we solved this was by routing calls and texts to sales engineers’ mobile devices, and implementing technology that sped up remote access to our proprietary systems. 
 
“We also took steps to ensure we could still provide the same level of customer experience. This means always making sure we are providing a solution. For example, when items have been out of stock due to manufacturing issues, we’ve made sure to suggest similar items. 

“Furthermore, if one part of a bundle item is in stock, but the other isn’t, we’ve sent what we have right away. Many customers have been understanding, and I believe it’s because of our consistent communication. We’ve also taken actions to showcase that the safety of our employees and customers are the number one priority. This has included providing masks and hand sanitizers, and placing floor decals to help with social distancing. Making these measures obvious proves to our customers and employees that we are taking their safety seriously.”