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This article was originally published on Future Stores.

Today’s retail competitive landscape can be easily compared to a land war in unknown territory against ever adapting foes. Fortunately, the wisdom of the ancient past can provide insights and clues about how to survive in this endless struggle. Think about the past while making strategies for the future when considering investments in technology to enhance the retail customer experience.

Still today, many organizations perceived their customers as the ‘enemy’ and do their utmost to take as much payment as possible from this faceless enemy with the least amount of work, thus enhancing profitability. In our new reality, the ancient lessons of Sun Tzu’s “Art of War” can be still applied, but with a twist. Using Sun Tzu’s words, our customers are not our enemy. Our customers are our treasured soldiers.


“The general who does not advance to seek glory,

or does not withdraw to avoid punishment,

but cares for only the people’s security and promotes the people’s interests,

is the nation’s treasure.”

 Sun Tzu (c 500 bce)


Our customers, acting as our soldiers, need to be respected and cared for on a regular basis. They need to feel that you, their general, are authentically looking out for their best interest and would not ask them to take unnecessary risk or embark on foolish missions. You need your soldiers to show up in the morning and follow your instructions. You need them to be positive among their peers and praise you for your wisdom and authenticity. You need them to be loyal.

As a retail general, the challenge is to make it as easy and seamless as possible for a customer to engage with you and your loyalty program. Epsilon and Kobie Marketing are a few of the top solutions in the ‘Loyalty Program Service Provider’ space, and there are many other challenging solutions. The tools are now available to enable your officers to provide your soldiers a memorable experience at any point along their journey.


“When officers are too strong and soldiers are too weak, the result is collapse.”

 Sun Tzu (c 500 bce)


When your customers are your soldiers, you can consider your front line staff your officers. Your officers need to ensure the daily needs and comforts are provided to your soldiers. They need to know the needs and preferences of your customers and be able enabled to respond immediately. If your front line staff are too powerful or too distant, your customers will not feel compelled to engage in creating meaningful experiences together.

In order to minimize the power distance between the sales staff and your customers, discover through analysis of the touch points the moments where interaction on an equal basis should be happening. For example, ‘Mobile Point-of-Sale’ solutions with tablets and other handheld devices bring customer and inventory information. When the customer is ready to purchase, the officer can make it happen immediately.

A major difference between the time of Sun Tzu and today is our officers don’t necessary need to be people. ‘Virtual Assistant’ solutions, such as from the Selfservice Company and Nuance can provide intimate interaction via digital agents, again leveling the field between your customer and your organization.


“If you do not take the opportunity to advance and reward the deserving, your subordinates will not carry out your commands, and disaster will ensue.”

 Sun Tzu (c 500 bce)

When your customers deserve some good news, give it to them. The new battlefield of indoor mobile communications is now upon us, such as with Apple’s iBeacon system. If the reward is meaningful enough for the soldier, either in the form of flash sales, targeted discounts or low friction payment processing, there is a good chance the customer will activate their smartphone to engage.

In the not so distant future, these beacon solutions will allow you to put a variable pricing strategy to work for your soldiers. The prudent general will avoid the temptation to use variable pricing to gouge their customers and instead provide custom pricing for the specific needs and preferences of the customer in a way that builds mutual trust and commitment.   Retaining a long serving soldier is much more valuable than one who is disengaged and disloyal.


“Do not repeat the tactics that have gained you one victory, but let your methods be regulated by the infinite variety of circumstances.”

 Sun Tzu (c 500 bce)


Your officers and soldiers need to be able to deploy across ever-increasing channels while reducing confusion and removing risks to their ability to execute. Customers want their needs met and they will be loyal to the general takes care of them.

However, the landscape where these transactions are taking place is constantly changing. Enter the world of omnichannel experiences. Play to your strength by fusing and merging the different buying moments across the physical and digital playing fields. This sophisticated strategy requires sophisticated processes and information. Fortunately, this technology is becoming more accessible. The big players such as Oracle and IBM have ‘Omnichannel Technology’ solutions that will allow you to get active in the ‘click and collect’ movement.


“If ignorant of both your enemy and yourself, you are certain to be in peril.”

 Sun Tzu (c 500 bce)


Looking forward, the generals that win more battles will be doing so by integrating their mobile app and beacon interaction with their loyalty and inventory data. This will allow these generals to play to their strength, whether it is being a low-cost virtual storefront or providing an intimate physical experience to enhance the digital channels.

When considering any investment in retail technologies, the wise generals who win more battles will focus their limited resources on building a loyal army of customers who will work with their officers to keep you one step ahead of the competition.

Strive to match your purpose with that of your officers and soldiers and you will have started the journey to become an enlightened master of Sun Tzu’s philosophies…


“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”

Sun Tzu (c 500 bce)

chris cv pic black and white
Chris Parker specialises transforming organisations to embrace Customer Experience disciplines with a passionate focus on the role of technology. He is a member of the Customer Experience Professionals Association and the Global CX Panel of expert speakers and works with various affiliated organisations to create value for your business.