What on earth is ‘clienteling’ and would you enjoy it?

If you’re playing Scrabble and casually drop in the word ‘clienteling’ you might be up for a robust discussion. However, while ‘clienteling’ doesn’t appear on dictionary.com, it most assuredly is a real word in retail land. Go on, Google it.

So, what is it?

Clienteling might be a new term to many (and yeah, the spelling just looks plain wrong!), but it’s nothing more than the expression used to describe the centuries old interaction between shopkeeper and customer. Picture this: Years ago, shoppers would walk into their local high street store and the retailer would greet them by their first name, ask how little Johnny was getting on at his new school, and whether they’d like another pound of their favourite sausages.

It made the customer feel special and kept them returning to the same store. Nice.

In recent times, this level of personal interaction has diminished. Small local stores have been replaced by online shopping and chatty AI bots, faceless self-service checkouts and large, impersonal department stores.

Think about it. When was the last time you were clienteled? (Yes, ok - I made that one up, but you know what I mean).

My warm fuzzies story

I recently went into a department store in my lunch break to purchase a dress for a wedding I was attending in the Cook Islands.

The lovely sales assistant helped me choose my dress, asked me all about my trip, and then carefully wrapped my dress in tissue paper before I went merrily on my way. By the time I got back to my desk, I had an email from her sitting in my Inbox wishing me a fabulous time at the beach wedding. And she said to be sure to come back and tell them all about it.

I actually sat there stunned for a few moments. I honestly couldn’t recall this ever happening before. It made the whole shipping experience such a personal one, and of course, I told every one of my friends about it and encouraged them to go to the same store.

Now, the store obviously had a Point of Sale solution that could record the information I shared (or possibly overshared!) so they were able to follow up my purchase with a personalised email. No doubt, when I head back there again, they’ll be prompted to ask me about my trip.

This is an example of modern clienteling at its best.

The win-win scenario

Today’s clienteling may be driven by computer systems that enhance the customer experience and make us feel special, not just a face in a crowd. But I’m fine with that. I’m happier to part with my hard-earned cash when my purchase comes with a smile and personalised service.

A system which supports a positive customer experience enables sales assistants who are faced with a high turnover of faces to relate in a personal way back to their customers. It makes a better two-way relationship. And it delivers me (and you) a better shopping experience and allows for the sales assistant to enjoy a more convivial working experience.

While the word clienteling may only be worth 14 points in a game of Scrabble, it could be a gamechanger for the modern retailer who is prepared to make the investment in knowing your name.


While she might seem to be on the side of the consumer, Donna Taylor is in fact a retail evangelist and expert in helping businesses reach their potential. To ask Donna a question one-to-one, contact her on LinkedIn.


Great outcomes start with great conversations.