The store is often considered a jewel in the crown of a luxury brand. It’s a defined space where brands have the ability to not only develop relationships with their customers, but also make a bold statement beyond their clothing — whether it be their choice in real estate and interior design aesthetic, or the experience that exists inside it.
Luxury brands, which have historically recognized the power of the store, have understandably been slow to warm up to e-commerce. General consensus felt selling online was too fleeting and impersonal, compared to the extremely personalized and engaging experience of purchasing in-store — a space luxury brands have dominated with top-quality services such as VIP dressing rooms and complimentary Champagne.
When it came to building compelling experiences, desktop commerce also missed the mark when meeting luxury brand expectations. Inconsistent designs, cumbersome forms and clunky technology simply did not embody the elegance these labels bore. Shoppers were abandoning sites due to subpar experiences. More importantly, shopping online was often pitted against buying in store — a false dichotomy I’m not interested in. Given the poor initial experiences online, it is no wonder fashion brands struggled to see these technologies as must-have — a wardrobe essential, if you will — rather than a seasonal trend.
Mobile is different. It unlocks an immense amount of digital potential from which luxury brands have traditionally shied away. Take a look at brands like Burberry, Tiffany and Chanel, all of which have been applauded for their digital marketing efforts. Each has elevated its brand through the use of mobile, producing immersive creative experiences for customers using a variety of devices and platforms.
More significantly, mobile will become the primary driver of strong customer relationships among luxury brands. Why? Because the explosion of mobile marries the luxury of discovering and shopping in-store with the consistency and immediacy of buying online. Mobile is the first technology that will be used to greatly improve the in-store experience while augmenting the experience outside of the store — from an online and offline perspective. To put it simply, mobile is the great equalizer that will deliver a better experience, regardless of the medium.
Today, there are powerful ways to provide an online experience that exceeds the expectations of high-end consumers. The key to unlocking its potential, though, is to understand that pitting the online experience against buying in store misses the real opportunity. Real possibilities come to light when online and in store work together, not fight against each other.
Online has often been thought of as a medium that cannibalizes offline, when there’s little logic behind this line of thinking. This idea is best summed up by one word: clienteling. Clienteling is the process of sales associates and customers building relationships that exist outside of the store. Yes, this relationship is often predicated on shopping, but it often goes much further, as customer and sales associates share taste, interest and even mutual friends. Luxury brands have been clienteling for decades, strengthening the customer relationship outside of the store, which in turn drives customers back into the store.
For all of the benefits of clienteling — mainly the increase in sales that comes from personalized recommendations and attention — the practice itself is largely stuck in the past. Sales associates are using personal phone numbers, traditional messaging apps and sluggish processes to converse with customers. Additionally, customers are still working with interfaces and tools that are not designed for interacting with sales associates and experiencing a brand.
Mobile brings clienteling to the next level, opening the first opportunity for luxury brands to go further online than they can in store. The majority of mobile experiences to date revolve around enabling customers to shop on new channels, from mobile web to social to native apps. Mobile, and especially clienteling, is the first opportunity to move online experiences beyond the transactional.
This move beyond the transactional requires envisioning mobile as another tool in a retailer’s toolkit for nurturing the customer relationship, not another harbinger of the end of in-store experience. Judging mobile narrowly on whether customers want to buy products on it or not — and how this affects the luxurious nature of a brand — misses the possibilities of using mobile as a prime loyalty tool that drives customers to the store. Mobile connects the dots between engagement inside and outside the store, where brands can keep the conversation going and customers are always in the know.
Scalable clienteling will be one of the most powerful advances that brings customers and brands together while breaking down the walls between the siloed departments of luxury brands. Much potential can be realized when the focus shifts to the customer and not the technology. The ability to build a better customer experience is within reach. Luxury brands simply have to evaluate technology, and especially mobile, through the benefits it provides its customers. Eliminate the notion that stores are dead. Mobile is bringing them back to life. Luxury brands that embrace a “mobile first” mentally, syncing both online and offline experiences, will reap the benefits of elevated engagement and increased conversions.
Stephan Schambach is the founder and chief executive officer of NewStore.