By  on September 30, 2009

After a bit of self-analysis, Gucci has some new priorities: elevate the customer experience in its stores and bring greater job satisfaction to employees.

“We need to go back to some of the simpler things,” said Daniella Vitale, president of Gucci America Inc., who oversees the Italian brand’s operations in North and South America, including more than 50 company-operated stores.

While stressing “the power and allure of product,” Vitale also describedthe customer experience as “the single most important driver of business” and added, “Comfort is the cornerstone of their experience.”

Stores must be more efficient, but it’s not merely about expediting the transaction and getting customers out the door.“Efficiency does not mean speed,” Vitale said. It’s more about providing knowledgeable help and “an indulgent environment.”

Gucci’s goal is to insure efficient service at every location, make the experience highly personalized and consistent between the top-tier customer (defined as those spending at least $5,000 on Gucci annually) and the customer spending $100, Vitale said.

“It’s not about points or discounts. It’s about creating some kind of access not available somewhere else,” she said.

Vitale disclosed that in 2008, Millward Brown was brought in to examine every department in the company. The research and consulting firm stayed through the first quarter of 2009 and generated findings that, combined with Gucci’s own data attained through the customer relations management system, enabled Vitale and her team to determine several fronts where there was room for change. Now, Vitale said, the company is intent on strengthening communications to consumers about the brand’s authenticity, origins and value inherent in its products, and to put every customer who walks into a Gucci store at ease.

Those aren’t the only self-imposed tall orders. Gucci has been working to improve work conditions for employees and has been offering a wellness program that includes yoga classes and financial consulting services. There are also efforts to recognize good work on multiple levels. “We tell our employees that no gesture is too small,” Vitale said. Evaluating the performance and issuing recognition “isn’t just tied to sales,” she added.

But one area where the company remains rigid is price. “It’s not our strategy to lower price points or compromise on quality,” Vitale stressed.

Last fall and holiday, when high-end retailers slashed prices with markdowns higher than ever before, Gucci held firm. “We do not discount. We do not accelerate sale. We didn’t do it last year and still had a pretty decent year,” Vitale said.

For those retailers who don’t adhere to “break dates,” which prescribe when and to what degree markdowns can be taken as agreed upon by retailer and vendor, “there are repercussions,” Vitale warned.

With traditional retailers struggling in the economic climate, Gucci wants its own stores to generate a greater percentage of revenues, from the current70 percent of revenues to an expected 80 percent next year, as it works to improve the customer experience. Nevertheless, Gucci’s retail accounts “are still very important to us,” Vitale said. “They offer a wider audience.”

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