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B&Q Strengthens customer input into business

B&Q, the DIY retailer owned by Kingfisher, says it is responding to the popularity of smartphones, social networking and online buying with a drive to strengthen customer input into its business decisions.

Ian Cheshire, chief executive of Kingfisher, says the retailer is recruiting a new “customer officer” whose role will include overseeing “both what the customer is directly telling us” through online comments and forums, “and what their transactions are telling us”.

B&Q has already begun gathering tens of thousands of comments about its products and services every month from its own B&Q Voice website, as well as online discussion forums and chatrooms.

It is now planning to blend this information with analysis from a new joint venture with Beyond Analysis, a London data consultancy, to strengthen its understanding of the sales information coming from its stores. Mr Cheshire says the venture will be similar to the groundbreaking partnership between Tesco and Dunnhumby, which interprets the supermarket’s loyalty card data.

The venture, he says, “will really create a much, much sharper data-mining capability, and we’ll have all the information coming together in one place, with a customer officer whose job is to make sure that we are absolutely listening to the customer.”

Mr Cheshire, in an interview with the Financial Times in New York, said the retailer has also set up an advisory “youth board” of 16- to 20-year-olds to provide it with insights into the ideas of a future DIY shoppers, and to encourage its managers to remain receptive to input from customers. “The job is to meet three or four times a year, and ask them, ‘OK, if you were B&Q, what would you be doing?’ Particularly about new products, and ideas, but also our sustainability agenda.”

B&Q began working on projects about two years ago with Beyond Analysis, whose team includes a number of former Dunnhumby analysts.

Mr Cheshire said that the trick was to really hardwire it into the organisation.

“Making that transition from being a seller of products to someone who can read what customers are doing is a big cultural shift,” he added.

Before becoming chief executive in 2008, Mr Cheshire spent eight years leading the development of Kingfisher’s online businesses.

He has been a follower of efforts by leading US retailers such as Best Buy, the consumer electronics retailer, to change the way they do business in response to the emergence of new online customers.

“The key thing is to realise that you don’t have control ... But I’d much rather hear what the forums and chat rooms are saying about B&Q, rather than say we can’t let that in, we have to control it,” he said.

Source : Jonathan Birchall - FT.com

12 January 2011
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