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Gucci, Jimmy Choo Do luxury Curbside Pickup in 2021. In order to survive Covid-19, luxury retailers are forced to master something they have always avoided: impersonal transactions.
The pandemic has taken US high-end retailers a long way from their roots in delighting shoppers with stylized, personal – and unfortunately high-touch – service.
Think makeup and jewelry counters, personal shoppers, and in-house tailors.
Now that consumers are moving away from public spaces, retailers like Bloomingdale’s Inc. and Neiman Marcus Group Inc. are arranging product sales through FaceTime and roadside collection. But translating this into a sumptuous shopping experience sounds about as natural as turning a television dinner into a five-star restaurant.
“This is a transformative moment” for an industry that is resisting change, said Christophe Cais, chief executive officer of Customer Experience Group, a consultancy for luxury companies.
The new retail reality means that around 10% of physical luxury stores worldwide could close in the next three years, said Deborah Aitken, luxury analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence. On the flip side, increased web sales could translate into greater marketing reach and more ways to target potential buyers using consumer data, she said. Aitken predicts online sales could increase to 17% of total luxury sales by the end of 2020 – up from 12.5% at the end of 2019.
A worker disinfects perfume bottles in Bloomingdale’s flagship store in New York.
Photographer: Jeenah Moon / Bloomberg
Gucci, Jimmy Choo Do luxury Curbside Pickup. Now companies need to figure out how to conjure up their signature atmospheres, from iconic color palettes to warm smiles when customers aren’t actually in the building. Another plus is the fact that customers at these companies expect perfection – for example, a Birkin shopper in one of Cais’ focus groups thought her bag was cheaply made when it arrived in six months instead of nine months. This attitude is in stark contrast to the rest of the retail sector, where companies like Amazon.com Inc. and Walmart Inc. have designed their shipping to get goods to customers as quickly as possible.
Depending on the customer, speed can also be important for luxury buyers. But overall, brands with a long history of personalized service need to learn how to manage the user experience from the shopper’s first click to the time the product is unboxed.
First of all, luxury stores need to determine how and where their customers actually prefer to interact, Cais said. Customers don’t want the experience to feel too transactional or cheap. Calling customers to suggest products, for example, is dangerously close to telemarketing. Drive-thru and online shopping say goodbye to the signature immersive experience of luxury.
In the short term, companies are turning to video chatting, which enables sales reps to connect with long-standing customers who may be staying away from business. Bloomingdale’s has started letting customers shop via FaceTime or even a phone call or instant message. And around 20 other luxury shops, including independent brands such as Gucci and Valentino, create space for digital hand-holding via video software, with which sales staff can follow in real time what customers are looking for online. Shoppers can then choose to video call a store representative to get suggestions, ask questions, or see goods firsthand.
One benefit of this strategy is that video calls could also attract or retain older customers who don’t know how to shop online, such as a man who recently showed up at a Bloomingdale curb before guests were let in during the lockdown on the handwritten grocery list and a credit card.
Both Neiman Marcus and Bloomingdale’s and boutiques like Tiffany & Co. also offer roadside pickup – the same service offered by grocery stores and pizza chains. The rich don’t turn up their noses. A recent Morning Consult survey found that people who earn six or more are using roadside pickup more than ever. In fact, Bloomingdale’s staff were surprised at how many customers parked and asked for a stylist or buyer before reopening.
However, dropping off and picking up on the side of the road does not mean simply putting a shopping bag in a trunk and driving on. According to Charles Anderson, director of business at Bloomingdale, a lot of sensitivity is required.
“You have to be careful and careful about how much or how little interaction customers are looking for,” said Anderson. “When you open the trunk, put it in the trunk and say thank you and move on. If they’re looking for eye contact and all that good stuff, we’ll make the day for them. ”
Shoppers wait to enter a Gucci store before opening at a mall in Costa Mesa, California on June 15.
Photographer: Bing Guan / Bloomberg
Years of luxury dogma may have evaporated in a matter of weeks when Covid-19 broke out, but high-end brands retain some advantages, namely low-traffic stores and shoppers with ample disposable income. They are also better positioned to invest in technology that could potentially save and build customer relationships, said Hadar Paz, CEO of Powerfront, who developed the retail-friendly video platform Inside.
But even if new software isn’t planned yet, brands are still trying to keep the glamor up. In the Hamptons, luxury shoe retailer Jimmy Choo visits customers’ homes in delivery trucks with exclusive merchandise to display. Jimmy Choo and others pamper even new agoraphobic customers with individual shopping slots by appointment only. As Anderson of Bloomingdale’s put it, his customers crave “a very human moment” more than ever.
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