Nearly 200 of Saks Fifth Avenue’s store employees can now add “style advisor” to their job descriptions.
Earlier this month, the department store added to its mobile app a “mobile style advisor” tool, which asks app users to take a style quiz. After answering a few questions regarding favorite brands, typical style traits (trendy, minimal, bohemian) and most-shopped-for categories, users are asked whether they would like to receive messages from their new style adviser via text or email. Advisers are then chosen based on location — the tool is only available, for now, in New York, L.A., Miami, Houston, Washington D.C. and Chicago — as well as their areas of expertise, and what the customer is looking for.
The 170 currently active style advisers are on duty, during both working hours and non-working hours, to help customers find specific items for certain occasions, answer styling questions and send their advisees freshly arrived products they think they would like. The goal is to incentivize store employees to help shoppers make purchases outside of the store, as well as drive more traffic to stores to, say, try on a new pair of jeans with the sweater they recently purchased. According to the company, the mobile app is its highest-trafficked channel, while stores are still the highest-conversion channel. Saks reports that 35 percent of app users actually complete their purchase in a store.
“Style Advisor is meant to personalize the app experience,” said Emily Essner, Saks’ svp of marketing and digital. “Algorithms can only do so much — we need that high-touch component.”
Saks made its mobile app a top priority in 2016, when it pulled all development and design for it in-house. (Earlier app editions had been designed with an agency partner.) After relaunching the app in July that year, the company has invested in monthly updates, including algorithm-based personalized product feeds, and it uses the app to test potential companywide features. An Apple Pay integration, for instance, started on the app, as well as “Sales Floor,” a live-chat tool with store employees that Essner said acted as a run-up to the Mobile Style Advisor program.
“The customer who has and uses our app is our core, highest-spending customer, so it’s worth our time and investment,” said Essner. “We’re a big enough business where we can support the development of the app. It’s important because loyalty is so important to us.”
Putting an emphasis on mobile sales, as well as personalization, is part of Saks’ ongoing restructuring at a time when department stores are being faced with the decision to modernize old business strategies or sink. Updating the way store employees work with customers is a key part of that turnaround.
By combining personalized product recommendations in the app with regular store employee engagement, Saks is taking a Stitch Fix-adjacent approach to guided selling, using its existing network of employees rather than outsourcing to part-time stylists. Elsewhere, the personal stylist model has gone digital: Net-a-Porter’s highest-spending customers are connected with personal stylists on WhatsApp, while direct-seller companies Stella + Dot and Worth New York have updated their sellers’ businesses with mobile selling tools. On the employee side, stores have started adding digital responsibilities to their store employees’ plates. Macy’s recently started recruiting employees to apply for and become a part of Macy’s Style Crew, an in-house influencer program.
The Mobile Style Advisor tool in the Saks app.
“What we find challenging is connecting customers in a more structured way. We want this to be an ongoing relationship that brings the brand alive,” said Essner. “And it gives the associates opportunity for lead generation. Instead of standing around, waiting for someone to come to them, this is a way to get new customers who are seeking out help.”
There was training involved for the technology and communication in the program to get the employees up to speed. Essner also said that compensation didn’t change for the style advisers, nor did commission rates. “We don’t want them to prioritize any one channel over the other,” she said.
To get people to download the app, Saks has an ongoing paid marketing initiative promoting it, along with new features like the Mobile Styling App. It’s part of the push to better align the mobile app with all other Saks initiatives after bringing its development in-house.
“It enables the app team to be closer to the business,” said Essner. “Our core strategy is to connect our digital touchpoints to our stores, so the idea is making the style adviser relevant to the digital customer, who will in turn find stores relevant.”