Everyday Challenges – Clara Vuletich on ‘Retaining Customers’

Nick Schiavuzzi

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There’s a reason they call it ‘retail therapy’. 

According to Clara Vuletich, what moves us to shop for fashion is different from other kinds of consumer behaviour. No matter which sector they operate in, businesses can learn from the fashion industry when it comes to striking a chord with customers and building a connection.

“Shopping for fashion is emotional”, she says.

Vuletich, who has worked in the sustainable and ethical fashion space for over a decade in roles ranging from design, to education, to research and now as a consultant, feels the fashion industry is going through a cultural shift, but that the emotion attached to personal style is the bedrock of the fashion business generally.

This fundamental, almost primal impulse therefore presents both an opportunity and a challenge for businesses. The opportunity lies in the chance to make an emotional connection with new customers. The challenge, then, is to harness that initial emotional response into an ongoing message that allows businesses to retain those customers.

Vuletich views this challenge as very much being wrapped up in the symbiotic relationship at the heart of the fashion industry, and is a philosophy that is readily applicable to any business that is looking to tell customers a story and make a lasting connection.

“When it comes to consumers and brands, it’s a relationship. And like any relationship you’ve got two parties. Sometimes you have co-dependency, and sometimes it’s a healthy balance. The two are in communication with each other, and they co-exist.”

But the tone of this communication is shifting.

In the context of the fashion industry, things like ethical supply chains, organic and environmentally friendly textiles, long-life clothing, championing recyclable garments and having the relevant codes of conduct in place within businesses, are all part and parcel of Vuletich’s research, and what now forms a large part of her consultancy work for a variety of Australian brands.

Vuletich views these things very much as an investment in building brand loyalty over a long period.  As such, this very much points to a more general idea that taking the time to do things responsibly across all facets of a business – whatever that business may be – is fundamental to building a firm connection with customers in the long term. If you do it right, your customers are more likely to do right by you.

And she notes, significantly, that these changes and new imperatives are being driven by those younger consumers among us – millennials and Generation Z. That is, those people who will be potential returning customers for longer than any other group. So it may well pay to take note of the change they are driving.

“There is absolutely a transition away from the exploitative model that we had throughout the 20th century and I think it’s happening across all sectors. It’s happening globally, it’s happening culturally. There is definitely a transition towards more transparency and more values driven business.”

To put it in simple terms, and when it comes to people generally feeling a connection to any number of socially responsible messages, more and more, younger consumers are now “putting their wallets where their mouths are.”

Significantly though, there needs to be due consideration by businesses about how this approach can be most effective. Rather than try to be all things to all people, Vuletich says that first and foremost, businesses need to take an introspective approach on how to best determine their messages to best fit their brand.

“Sustainability is all about asking the right question for your brand and for your customer. And it’s going to be different for everybody. But it’s possible, you just have to make it right for your story and your brand”, she says.

And so, whether it be sustainability, ethical practices, or any manner of socially responsible business practices, the message seems clear. Finding the right set of values for your business and communicating these regularly and effectively to potential customers is fast becoming a very real investment not only in the present, but also into the future.


This content is proudly brought to you by St.George Business Bank.

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