Clientbook Blog
January 17, 2023

What’s the difference between a client and a customer?

In historic Boston there's a place to buy fresh produce every Friday and Saturday: Haymarket. It's been around since the 1700s and is the best place in town to get fresh produce from local farms and beyond.

You'll see a lot of customers lined up at the various stands, but you'll never hear the word "client" uttered by any of the stand owners. At these stands, a customer drops in, makes a purchase, and leaves happy with the day's find. Only a few of the stands have grown into full-fledged businesses. Most are content to sell a day's worth of produce to whoever is buying.

If you're running your retail stores like a fruit stand—starting each day with a smile, hoping the lines will be long and that your salespeople close more sales than they lose—your business is made up of more customers than clients. But what exactly is the difference between customers and clients, and why does it matter?

In this article, we'll go over the key differences between customers and clients and how building long-term relationships with your shoppers can elevate your store into a client-based business.

Watch our webinar for more on how to build loyal customers through clienteling

What is a customer? 

A customer is typically someone who shows up to your store and makes a one-time sale, likely never to return to your store unless there's been a problem. Business owners and store associates don't have long-standing relationships with this type of customer, and they aren't given much personal attention or professional services. 

So in our fruit stand example, shoppers coming to fruit stands are customers, where customer satisfaction is measured simply in how the shopping experience was for that day. Customer relationships at your retail store may be like this if your interaction with them doesn't extend beyond the day they're in your store. 

What is a client? 

Unlike a customer, a client is someone your sales associates have a personal relationship with because they interact with them often. Rather than coming in and making casual purchases, like our fruit stand shoppers, clients come back to your store often, usually for high-end purchases—this is especially true in industries like jewelry, fashion, furniture, and music. 

With clients, building professional relationships are part of the customer service. Fostering a client relationship is taking customer loyalty to the next level, where sales associates give personal attention to clients in and outside of the store, checking in with them during important life events and maintaining an ongoing relationship. Clients expect personalized services and recommendations as well as high-quality customer service.

How do I turn one-time customers into loyal clients? 

If you're looking to update your business strategy to turn your customers into clients, the tips below will get you started in the right direction.

Create a personalized shopping experience

Customer-based businesses are about being a little bit of everything to everybody, but client-based companies personalize the shopping experience for their clients. This can look like offering customized deals based on your clients preferences and past purchases.

And data show that this effort pays off—according to the Business Impact of Personalization study, shoppers are 40% more likely to spend more than they planned when their shopping experience is highly personalized.

Stay in touch 

Another key way to convert customers into clients is by keeping in touch with shoppers who have come into your store. Long-term client relationships aren't built overnight, so by reaching out during a birthday, anniversary, or other major event, you'll connect on a deeper level with your shoppers and remind them to come back.

Clienteling, or relationship-based selling, is a technique retail sales associates use to build long-term relationships with their clients. By keeping track of clients' preferences, major events in their lives, and other buying habits, sales associates can offer more personal service and build a strong bond with regular customers in their store, converting them into loyal clients.

Know your competition

Finally, understand who your competition is and what they're doing to develop a strong relationship with their clients. What types of customers are they attracting? What type of relationships are they building with shoppers? Are there differences between clients at your stores and theirs? Are they reaching out with shoppers along each stage of the customer journey?

By answering these questions, you'll learn what customer service strategies you need to implement to retain the customers you already have as well as attract the ones currently shopping with your competition.


Customers aren't clients, but clients are the best customers you'll ever have. Whereas customers drop in and make a one-time purchase, long-term clients become part of the family, trusting you to not only deliver the best product and service, but to know their needs before they do.

Clients rely on you to remind and guide them. They trust your taste, your advice. They appreciate your attention to the details in their life and the occasions you make better. And the only way to do that for the thousand or so people who started as customers and became clients is to use the right tool.

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