How Harry Rosen built a personalized digital experience during the pandemic

A visit to Harry Rosen, the 66-year-old Canadian menswear store, is steeped in ritual. Customers get to know their clothing advisers, who offer product suggestions based on what they know about the clients. These relationships often last years, with customers coming back to stores frequently and engaging in day-to-day conversations with their advisers. Nearly two thirds of Harry Rosen’s customers have been loyal shoppers for four years or more, and almost a third have been clients for at least a decade. 

The coronavirus pandemic of 2020 may have changed that forever.

With stay-at-home mandates associated with lockdowns, the pandemic could have put the retailer out of business. Instead, it prompted Harry Rosen to accelerate its digital transformation plans, implementing changes in mere months that normally would have taken the company years to pull off. Central to this vision was migrating the one-on-one client-adviser relationship out of the store and moving it to text and web-based interactions.

“When my grandfather started the store, he had this premise that when you have an appointment with a client, you lay out everything they might want and some inspirational pictures on a table — there are definitely core tenets of a good ‘lay down,’” said Ian Rosen, vp of digital and strategy at Harry Rosen.

“I went on a mission to digitize that: How do we get somebody to come to our website and not have to go to the search bar or the browse tab, but [instead] land on a page that’s specifically for them?” Rosen said. “How can we communicate their size and get them to check out in a quick and easy manner?”

As with other brick-and-mortar retailers, the pandemic forced Harry Rosen’s transition to a reimagined retail model. Rather than just improving the e-commerce site, it required a complete overhaul of the technology. In August, the company transitioned away from an off-the-shelf e-commerce platform to Commercetools, an API-based platform that allows Harry Rosen to stitch together a network of custom solutions, including checkout and payments tools from retail tech company Bold Commerce.

“The constraints of these [off-the-shelf] e-commerce platforms is that they don’t allow for online and offline digital experiences to marry,” said Deanna Traa, CMO at Bold Commerce. “Brands are moving off traditional e-commerce platforms in favor of a more curated tech stack where they have the opportunity to put in the best pieces they need to build out the kinds of customer and commerce experiences they’re trying to bring to life.”

Harry Rosen rolled out its first version of the revamped retail experience in August, which included text conversations and virtual curated selections, along with simplified payment experiences that included integration with the store loyalty program.

The marriage of online and offline: Harry Rosen’s strategy
Texts are now the first point of contact for Harry Rosen advisers to communicate with clients. Once advisers have learned about the client’s preferences through the text-based conversation, they access a repository of information on the back end, including past orders. Using an app on their phone, advisers build curated looks and product pages (a digital ‘lay down’) for customers. The app is connected to Harry Rosen’s CRM, a real-time inventory feed and an AI-based product recommender. 

“[Text] conversations are happening organically,” said Rosen. “You initiate them through the CRM so that we know that you are speaking with that [adviser], and once that starts, we have a way for advisers to send a curated web page that’s trackable.” 

After a customer has made a purchase online or in-store, they can opt in to an assistance program that allows them to text advisers for advice. For established client-adviser relationships, 70% of text conversations are initiated through the adviser, and 30% are started by customers. While the website currently does not have a prompt for the customer to begin a live chat session with an adviser, the company plans to roll out that function in 2021.

Most of Harry Rosen’s online sales are carried out without the help of advisers, but since the launch of the company’s digital selling journey in August, online sales generated from client-adviser relationships grew from 3% to 10%.  Over the next four months, Harry Rosen is aiming to generate 15% of digital sales from client-adviser relationships. 

Through the curated pages, customer activity can be monitored, along with the attribution of purchases that are based on an adviser’s recommendations. Advisers can earn commission on purchases as they would in a store.

“We have advisers who are better at selling this way than in the store,” Rosen said.

Going digital marks a new phase for Harry Rosen, a 17-store chain which historically generated nearly all of its sales in-store. Rosen said around 20% of the company’s sales are now carried out digitally, compared to around 5% in 2019. 

The company generated $300 million in annual sales in 2019.  Rosen noted that 2020 sales are difficult to project due to the impact of closures and capacity limitations. In most markets, store capacity is limited to 25%, while all stores in Toronto and Winnipeg are closed.

Alex Jarman, a research analyst at Euromonitor International, said Harry Rosen’s moves are emblematic of an industry that’s been forced to accelerate digital transformation due to the pandemic. 

“A lot of these omnichannel discussions were coming up before Covid, and the pandemic has supercharged that a lot,” said Jarman. “Obviously, the pandemic gave [customers] a clear reason why they should adopt this new technology, and a lot of it is going to stick around.”

Looking to 2021, Harry Rosen intends to build on the digital experience it rolled out in August, including faster and simpler payments, supported by Bold Commerce’s checkout technology. This includes the addition of new payment methods; new products, including subscriptions and cross-selling following checkout; and stronger online-to-offline integrations.

Payments are a crucial enabler for a smoother experience digitally and in stores. For Harry Rosen, this means a user-friendly checkout page, new payment methods, and the ability to start a transaction in one channel (e.g. digitally) and finish it in another (e.g. in-store). Additionally, Bold’s toolkit lets the merchant implement payment rules and accept payment with loyalty points and gift cards.

“[Storing] information and then moving that checkout button onto the product display page is an example,” said Rosen. “[We’re adding] payment types like Apple Pay, Google Pay, Alipay and WeChat Pay — these are really important evolutions for us, and we’re looking at things like [‘buy now, pay later’ tools] like Klarna or Afterpay and PayBright.” 

By taking client interactions digital and adding tech enhancements to the in-store experience, Harry Rosen has an opportunity to reach a different type of customer, said Toronto-based retail analyst Bruce Winder.

“They have the brand, and they have those relationships,” he said. “Before they did this, one could argue that they weren’t very powerful from a digital standpoint. Now they have an opportunity to connect with a whole new customer base, namely some of the younger millennials.”

Despite the digital improvements, a human touch — in particular, personalized advice and recommendations — will continue to be one of the company’s hallmark differentiators. 

“Digital transformation is a journey. We started with Phase 1, which is: How do we take what I call our secret weapon, which is our extremely well-trained staff, and give them the ability to serve people in a sophisticated manner, digitally?” said Rosen. “What we’re trying to accomplish is to be the leader in making it easier to have a personalized shopping experience that’s curated for you.”

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