Reitmans creates historic opportunities through constant reinvention

4 minute read

Reitmans nods to its iconic Canadian roots as a spirit of reinvention pushes its customer experience into the future.

Deep roots grow a lot of expectations over time – that holds especially true for one of the nation’s oldest retailers.

“There will always be certain customer expectations because of who we are, how long we have been around, and the relationships we have built with families across several generations,” said Lisa Reitman, Vice-president, Customer Experience, with Reitmans Canada. “That’s not a bad thing – it’s a great thing, actually. But it means we have to meet those expectations in everything we do.”

Building on its history

Reitmans was founded in 1926 by Herman and Sarah Reitman. Over the last century, the publicly owned, family-controlled business has evolved from a single women’s clothing store on Boulevard St. Laurent in Montreal into one of Canada’s largest women’s specialty retailers.

Today, Reitmans Canada Limited – known as RCL among its team – operates three different brands: Reitmans, Penningtons, and RW&CO, serving the clothing needs of Canadians with more than 400 stores and a group of ecommerce channels.

That rich history should not be construed as stuffy complacency, however, as the classically conservative company has embraced constant reinvention of itself, its products and its processes, always striving to find a connection between its authentic core and customers.

As one might guess, many of those changes have involved a move into digital over the last decade.

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For Reitmans, ecommerce sales were strong (and growing) before the COVID-19 pandemic – although the company rarely publicly celebrates its digital successes, going so far as to report sales figures as a combined number. But behind the silence was a company innovating. Take its ship-from-store solution. It was initially launched as a fast, sustainable and convenient way to fulfil customer orders. Later, it became a critical survival tool for a pandemic.

“We’ve always wanted to encourage our customers to become more omni-focused and shop both online or in-store. The pandemic sort of propelled them to be that,” Reitman said. “Without that ecom foundation in place, I don’t know what would have happened to us.”

“Customer service is beyond providing the lowest price or offering a price adjustment,” Reitman said. “It’s the understanding that customers feel our products are priced fairly and well-designed, that the quality and fit are right, that they were made in good working conditions. All of these factors make people feel good.”

You can never compete solely on price – there’s always going to be a lower price somewhere. So, what do we strive to stand for? A good value product that offers consistent fit for all sizes and body types. A superior online and in-store experience that is convenient and effortless. An emotional connection for our customers that inspires and empowers them.

Lisa Reitman

Vice-president, Customer Experience,

Reitmans Canada

Reitman saw that emotional connection play out in recent years, as the company successfully navigated both a global pandemic and creditor protection. Personal messages from shoppers celebrated what the stores meant to their families and their communities and encouraged the company to keep moving forward and survive.

“It was all so unexpected, appreciated, and inspiring,” Reitman said. “These last few years have taught us that human connection is so desired and was missed for so long.”

Changing with the customer

When you’ve been in business this long, you don’t panic about customers becoming more confident with their preferences. It happens all the time. But while the sophistication of today’s shopper wasn’t created by the pandemic, Reitman said, its arrival was certainly accelerated by it.

For example, the rise of the purpose-driven shopper is a consideration for all retailers, but that kind of focus seems to be an advantage for a legacy brand already with a long record of community connections.

A company’s values. Its commitment to the community. Its commitment to the environment. Whatever it may be. People today don't shop at places that they don't like or that don't stand for their beliefs. If you don't like the company, don't like what it stands for, people are turned off. People are aware. Customers have high expectations when it comes to social responsibility, workers’ rights, diversity and inclusion, the environment. So, we continue to make every effort to stay ahead of the curve. Social responsibility is critical; it’s table stakes.

Lisa Reitman

Vice-president, Customer Experience,

Reitmans Canada

For Reitmans, that kind of transparent relationship with the customer is part of a larger push.

Surviving for the next century

In order to keep one’s eyes on the future, Reitman has found it helps to open their ears. Part of creating and improving customer experience over the long haul is figuring out exactly what customers want – no brand can invest in everything.

Reitmans counts on its customers to help them prioritize. That’s what sparked the company to think more about the omni experience, enhance online and in-store experiences, even develop a new online marketplace. These were all modern changes aligned with historic expectations of customer service from the company.

“Our loyal fans, our loyal customers push us to do well. They propel us to make things as simple and as good as possible,” Reitman said. “We do surveys. We have data. We have insights. We do pre-purchase surveys, post-purchase surveys. We’re always asking our customers questions about what they want and don’t want, or how they feel about various aspects of our business.

“It’s great to have all this information, but for it to matter, you actually have to take what they’re telling you and do something with it. Otherwise, there’s no point in asking. Listen to your customer. Listen to what they’re telling you.”

What we’ve learned

Reitmans’ evolution can serve as a great example for other legacy brands. They’ve demonstrated that embracing a spirit of continuous reinvention can help a mature brand stay relevant to shoppers.

Consumers will continue to evolve, and the companies that embrace the data that comes out of that evolution will thrive.

Reitmans also demonstrated the inherent value of listening to your customers, discovering what they need and acting on that information.

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