Michael Kingston, AnnTaylor Stores Corp. senior vice president and chief information officer, recently took his SUV to the dealership where he leased it two years ago. While waiting for the service advisor, he helped himself to a decaf cappuccino and noticed one of the managers feverishly typing on a computer.

This story first appeared in the October 15, 2009 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

“I recognized him as the person who had, a couple of years back, leased me this vehicle,” Kingston recalled. “About a minute or so went by and he approached me, addressed me by my first name, asked me how Ann Taylor was doing, asked me how much we were investing in information technology this year, and how we were going to leverage social networking to improve our business model.

“He saw me walk in, punched in my information, walked over, and I had no intention of going in and buying a car that day but came very close,” Kingston said.

Information technology — particularly when used to compile customer data — can play a major role in making a sale. That was one of the key points Kingston made during his presentation “Dusting Off the Old Playbook: Leveraging Information Technology to Drive Customer Engagement.”

See a highlight from Michael Kingston’s speech as he discusses conversion>>

Kingston pointed to the “new normal” of the recession era in which fashion brands compete not just against each other, but also with a customer’s ability to pay utility bills and manage retirement savings. “The game has changed for many of us,” he noted. “Our consumer has hit the reset button and keeping her engaged has become more challenging than ever.”

Knowing the customer is essential in this climate.

“Make her feel special by making it personal,” Kingston said. “Know her preferences, know what size she wears, what color she likes, or what style she prefers. Know how often she shops with you and how much she spends. Know what she has purchased in the past.”

To get customers to volunteer information, Kingston said e-commerce sites, point-of-sale transactions, branded card and loyalty card programs, and interactions with the call center are useful tools.

“Mining your customer data to get consumers for printed or digital marketing sure increases your chance for driving traffic, sales and profits,” he added.

Social media, meanwhile, can be effective in generating buzz and gathering instant feedback. Ann Taylor has almost 20,000 Facebook fans providing responses about their experiences with the brand.

“The ability to solicit input via social network mediums…can become a big differentiator to your business,” Kingston said.

“A lot of this is about changing the culture and recognizing the fact that things are moving at a very quick pace, and the old ways of working and implementing technology don’t always work in this new environment,” he added.