As luxury retailers work to maintain relevance in a digital age, they’re taking notes from their direct-to-consumer competition by privileging people over product. While they once focused most on pushing product, they’re now looking to enrich all the interactions that might lead to the purchase of their products.
“We have to challenge ourselves not to think about the product, but [instead] the consumer,” said Morgan Haney, senior marketing manager at L’oréal Paris Cosmetics, while speaking at the Luxury Interactive conference in New York City this week. “Compare it to the relationships in your personal life: You’re not just pushing yourself onto people; you’re having a conversation with them and getting to know them.”
Today, for best results, that mentality must be applied to both your consumer and employee relationships, she argued, echoing Barneys CIO Martin Gilliard’s statement earlier in the conference that we’re in a “a people-first world.”
Here’s how three different brands and retailers are putting this practice into place.
According to Robert Graham president Andrew Berg, the luxury menswear brand is “all about the individuals who wear the clothes.” This is emphasized through the brand’s highbrow loyalty program, dubbed The Collectors Club. Anyone who purchases an item from the company is immediately entered into the club, assigned to one of four levels, based on their annual spend: Master Collector ($50,000+), Curator ($25,000-$50,000), Connoisseur ($5,000-$25,000) and Ambassador ($1,000-$5,000). The more you spend, the more you receive in return from the brand — and all members are invited to visit the Robert Graham showroom in New York City, where they can chat with founder Graham and the larger team.
“That human element is very important,” said Berg. Other perks range from working with a personal stylist to naming and designing a new shirt for the upcoming season.
Robert Graham invites its biggest spenders to use its store spaces across the country as event venues. At times, it will operate as a sponsor for one of their Collectors’ events. “The beauty of the Collector base is they all have passion points that help the brand get connected to new and interesting events,” said Berg, citing the example of Robert Graham’s partnership with the Cannonball Run car rally in September, for which the brand designed jackets and weekender bags for all the drivers. The opportunity, which was first brought to the brand by a Collector, resulted in over 1 million social media impressions and exposure to a host of prospective fans.
The Canadian luxury retailer Holt Renfrew recently underwent a digital transformation that involved a website redesign and a new commerce app for associates’ use in store. Rather than designing these things in a vacuum, the company made associates central to the process. “They’re the gatekeepers of the customer relationship in luxury,” said Jessica Gale, Holt Renfrew’s director of omnichannel and innovation.
Prior to the digital redesign, one of the retailer’s personal shoppers had gathered a large following among consumers; he was communicating with 5,000 of them on WeChat, answering their questions, sending them product photos and taking their credit card info to complete purchases. In short, he knew firsthand what the company’s omnichannel experience should look like.
“We spend a lot of time on our websites doing A/B testing, but we need to do the same when it comes to bringing technology in store,” said Gale, who also noted that associates should be directly involved in the ideation and conception of new tech products. “Luxury is highly service-oriented,” she said. “Make technology high-touch and part of how the associates do their day-to-day jobs.”
Danny Govberg, founder of luxury watch retailer Govberg Watches, has learned that top-notch customer service is key to his company’s success. One thing he’s done to ensure his customers are happy is to eliminate the multiple redirections customers often face when trying to reach a brand representative by phone.
“We want there to be instant gratification when you call us with a question or concern,” he said, so all calls go straight to a watch expert. The service team is overseen by a master watchmaker, and all members have personal experience restoring and servicing complicated timepieces, as well as polishing their cases and bracelets.