Retail Success Stories

Exclusive Q&A: How JOANN Retains Customers by Merging Human- and Tech-Focused Store Strategies

When consumers go to a grocery store, generally they’re there to buy the individual ingredients that will eventually make a meal. JOANN stores also sell individual “ingredients,” but the end product is a decoupage photo album cover or a spooky handmade Halloween costume rather than a beef stew.

“Everything a customer comes in to us to buy is a component to make something,” said Christopher DiTullio, Chief Customer Officer at JOANN in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “There are not a lot of individual items that you grab and go, so [the customers] need help. Our team members are a key part of the experience, so we hire enthusiasts and seek to be seen as a friendly, clever ally. Everything starts with the people and the team.”

While the JOANN customer experience is extremely human-centric, the retailer doesn’t shy away from using technology. In fact, JOANN began an initiative to improve the store experience, involving everything from lighting, fixtures, open spaces, work tables and in-store tech, in 2018, with a pilot store in Columbus, Ohio. “It was a tremendous success and it taught us a lot, but then the pandemic hit,” reported DiTullio. “The rollout was put on hold, but that gave us more time to iterate and improve every aspect of the experience.”

Now the retailer is ready to resume rolling out more enhanced brick-and-mortar locations, starting with recent store openings in Paramus, N.J. and Sherman Oaks, Calif. Over the next seven to eight years, the retailer plans to refresh its entire fleet of 850 stores.


DiTullio revealed how the interrelationship of in-store tech, high-level customer service and personalization positions JOANN as an innovative retailer.

Retail TouchPoints (RTP): What roles does technology play in creating the JOANN customer experience?

Christopher DiTullio: We believe tech should enhance the customer experience; we don’t believe in “tech for tech’s sake.” One example is our cut bar counter for fabric. Customers have to wait in line, so it can be a difficult experience. Now, we use tech that allows shoppers to input their mobile number so that they can go do other things while they wait. They get a text when it’s their turn, and there’s also a digital display where they can see their place in line.

Another example is greater use of QR codes. People became a lot more accustomed to using these contactless solutions [during the pandemic], so we’re using them to extend our aisles across the store via the JOANN mobile app. There are endless possibilities via digital systems; for example, team members can help customers complete an order on the shopper’s phone, and we ship items to their homes free of charge.

RTP: The pandemic was a boon to craft retailers like JOANN. What are you doing to retain new customers and continue to satisfy your existing ones?

DiTullio: Last year, we argued that we were an essential retailer because we sold things like mask-making patterns, supplies and fabric. Through efforts to provide masks within the communities where we operate, we got millions of new customers into our ecosystem. They may have come in for mask-making supplies and then realized JOANN can be a full-service retailer for their crafting and sewing needs.

What crafters and sewers need most of all is tips, tricks, advice and “hacks,” and our associates provide that service in our stores. We also see in our stores that our customers love to talk to each other. They’ll ask, ‘What are you making?’ and ‘How are you approaching this?’. We also provide information digitally; we have a YouTube page with hundreds of videos showing how to make, mend and fix.

Additionally, we’re personalizing our digital marketing messaging to ensure we’re giving customers the content they’re looking for, based on where they shop.

RTP: What are some of the most important ways JOANN has become more omnichannel in its approach to the customer experience?

DiTullio: Prior to the pandemic we had already rolled out BOPIS in all our stores, and we were shipping internet orders from 200 locations. When COVID-19 hit, one of the things we figured out how to do over a weekend in March 2020 was to change BOPIS to curbside, and train our stores in how to do it. Now we’re geofencing our locations so that team members are ‘pinged’ when these customers enter the parking lot. We’re delivering orders to people’s cars in two minutes or less — and we measure it.

RTP: As the Chief Customer Officer, what’s your overall approach to customer care?

DiTullio: We like to think that we’re obsessed with what our customers want and that it drives everything we do, so we spend a lot of time on direct customer insights. We work with a third party on measuring NPS [Net Promoter Score] for any customer touch point, digital or physical. And we don’t just measure it; we learn from it and train from it. It’s a conversation every day: What are we doing well? What can we do better? Our NPS scores have never been higher than they are right now.

During COVID and store shutdowns, many retailers stopped measuring NPS since it was such a unique situation, but we wanted to make sure we were taking in all the feedback — for example about things like our COVID protocols and our goal of setting up the safest environment for team members and customers. The customer in this space really does value service, and there’s no better reason for that to be the number-one thing we focus on.

RTP: What’s an important lesson JOANN has learned in terms of the customer experience?

DiTullio: The number-one thing you have to do is continually collect data from your customer, and also from your team members. Often you find the truth is where those two inputs are saying the same thing. Whether it’s service, assortments or where stores are located, it all goes back to the team members and the customers. Our mantra is, we never want to give our customers a reason to shop elsewhere.