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So, let me tell you a little story about how retail can work really well…

My daughter Ali has just completed her sophomore year of college, studying law and criminal justice at Quinnipiac University. She lives at home and commutes, and one of the things that keeps her going is Starbucks coffee … she'll often pick up a cup after a long night of studying and before driving up to school, and I think she'd say that for her, it has helped her make the most of the college experience. (She gets terrific grades, so I'm happy to absorb the cost of $4 lattes. Seems like a small investment compared to tuition.)

In fact, she goes to the local Starbucks, in Darien, Connecticut, so often that many of the folks who work there know her by name, and know what she'll be ordering as soon as she walks through the door. Recently, though, just because of how her schedule has worked out, she's been going to the Starbucks closer to school, in Hamden.

The other day, I was in the Darien Starbucks getting a cup of coffee. One of the folks who works there, a woman named Nikki, recognized me from having been in with my daughter from time to time, and asked how she was doing. "She's great," I said. "Her schedule has just been crazy, and now she's taking her finals. But I'm sure she'll be in one of these days."

What I didn't know when I said that was that Ali stopped by the local Starbucks on her way to school a few hours later, and when Nikki saw her, not only did she make her coffee, but she put a little note on the lid of the coffee cup: "Good luck on finals!"

Ali said that the note made her day. And I thought that this was really special - that this one employee connected with one of her customers in a way that transcended the usual. That's what smart retailers do. Sometimes they need computers and data and all sorts of software. But sometimes, all they need is a smart and savvy employee like Nikki, working with her eyes open and making a difference one customer at a time.

This may seem like a small thing. But it made a difference.

KC's View: