Anine Bing is no stranger to omnichannel retail, but nothing could have prepared them for the events of 2020. 

Founded in 2012, the brand was running nearly a dozen stores globally, including two in New York and one in Los Angeles, when the coronavirus forced virtually all nonessential physical retail to shut down in March. Anine Bing knew they had to move quickly. The first matter of business: “We put our customer at the forefront and asked ourselves how we were going to keep in touch with her if we weren’t at the store every day,” said Erin McArthur, senior director of retail at the company. 

Pandemic or not, the Anine Bing team had always been dedicated to a highly personalized, high-touch shopping experience for their customers whether they were buying online or in-person. The hurdle now was on the technology side: The company had been working for two years on their own solution to extend the in-store customer-stylist relationship into the digital universe, but it wasn’t ready to deploy. 

Without that tech solution to lend a hand, retail store managers were forced to rely on static reports from the corporate team to determine who to contact and what to share with them. In the end, this approach didn’t feel as organic or authentic as the company wanted. And so, turning to a digital clienteling program they’d already begun, the brand brought all their store managers onto an app in order to enable them to continue driving sales remotely. The app, Endear, “was one of the first ways of pivoting and supporting our new reality,” McArthur said.

Anine Bing built its digital customer-stylist experience in real time

For Anine Bing, the decision to implement Endear was a game-changer. The company could count on their retail sales teams to continue driving revenue from home, and associates were learning in real-time how to translate their in-person skills into a digital experience. 

“The fact that we were able to support our store managers and make sure they had a job while also securing revenue for the company all at the same time was a major win, ” said Theodora Marinos, sales director and e-commerce concierge at Anine Bing. 

From a quantitative perspective, revenue generated by the brand’s retail sales team has grown each month since the start of the crisis. Before the pandemic, personal outreach contributed to about 10 percent of e-commerce sales; these types of emails and texts now account for nearly 25 percent of e-commerce revenue. With an average four percent conversion rate, customers purchasing as a result of a conversation with a salesperson also showed 1.5-x the average order value (AOV) of online customers shopping on their own.

“Most of our customers come to us because they’ve realized that retail associates are as much in need of technology as their marketing team or their customer service team,” said Leigh Sevin, co-founder, Endear. “You’re fooling yourself if you think organic foot traffic wasn’t dropping even before the coronavirus, but there were so few options to counteract this problem if you were a small or medium-sized brand. Most salespeople have already realized they can be just as effective over email or text as they are in person; now we’re just waiting for the brands themselves to catch up.”

Marinos, at Anine Bing, also points out that having associates cross-trained and up-skilled on customer service helps to drive sales. 

“When you type in an ‘info@’ address, it feels so impersonal,” she said. “When you have someone you really trust, you feel more confident reaching out to them for assistance and support, and that can eventually translate into a conversation about what to buy next.” She chalked it up to the trust that comes from having one designated person to whom customers can reach out, someone they know has their best interests at heart — and their order history at hand.

As for the future of Anine Bing’s retail operation, all their stores have reopened, with managers now able to use their remote conversations to encourage customers to take advantage of their in-store availability or continue to work with them digitally. No matter what conditions look like, Anine Bing has embraced the fact that customers want to create their own shopping journey. Says McArthur: “We don’t know what the fall and holiday season is going to look like but now that [our associates] are cross-trained, it helps us prepare for the unknown.”