think tank white glove service

Picture this: a woman is shopping online for something to wear to an event. She places an order with her favorite brand and within an hour, the store’s courtesy car pulls up at her house with her outfit, along with the item in one size larger and one size smaller — and some expertly chosen accessories. The buyer accepts the goods and the driver heads off to make another delivery.

A few hours later, the driver returns to see how the customer is doing and what items she has decided to keep. The driver takes back the items that were not the right fit. Payment is made online and the customer enjoys her new look.

Does this sound out of reach? Possibly, but it’s the future of clienteling in retail. We live in an age of digital disruption. How much further can customer service in fashion go? The answer is — it is going through the front door and into a consumer’s home, delivering try-on sessions right there in the comfort of your own space.

Increased Demand for Experiences

The scenario above describes White Glove Service, an answer to some critical challenges in the retail sphere. White glove means it goes well beyond a simple delivery of goods. It can encompass a range of valet services. In addition to home shopping, it could also include chauffeured rides back to the office after an in-store suit fitting, and 24-hour concierge services to arrange for concert or plane tickets at a moment’s notice.

Luxury retailers like Ralph Lauren and Saks Fifth Avenue are employing this approach to clienteling by offering white glove service to their most loyal clients. Although these services might not seem to be part of the immediate retail purchase, for a select stratum of customers, they are becoming so and will soon be considered the norm.

Customers have become far more sophisticated in the age of mobile. They enter a store often knowing more about a product, designer or garment than the sales associate does. Mobile technology gives them the means to know more, say more and expect more. Their expectations have ventured well beyond price and convenience and focus increasingly on experiences.

White Glove Service helps retailers blend these extraordinary experiences into a purchase. As a new chapter in the history of mobile commerce, the customer’s story graduates from “what I bought,” to “how I bought it.”

Last Mile Delivery

For any purchase, the last segment of a product’s journey from retailer to customer is the trip from the store to their location. The fact that this activity happens after payment has taken place does not make it an afterthought. This final leg of the trip is sometimes referred to as the “last mile” and it is an often-overlooked segment of relationship retailing. However, this part of the journey is one that presents an opportunity for a brand to upsell, collect data and reinforce loyalty — all critical in the changing world of modern commerce.

Many variations are being tried, including the use of custom delivery services like Lyft and UberRush, which ship the purchased item promptly to the customer. White Glove Service takes this a few steps further by bringing the purchases and the shopping experience to a customer’s home.

These services come with a cost, of course, and many brands are exploring how they absorb that into their marketing budget rather than passing it to the consumer. This might be seen as revolutionary and scandalous thinking, but it is part of a necessary redefinition of the retail sale in the age where experience rules.

The White Glove Is Not for Everyone

White Glove Service is best suited for high-end brands and equally high-end customers whose budgets allow for large average order value. Also, some consumers like to shop and enjoy the type of treatment they receive in their favorite stores. But there are others who feel pressured by sales staff and would prefer something more private and convenient. Not to mention, the convenience of having size options when purchasing something online will eliminate time and hassle for consumers.

White Glove Service presents a step beyond mere delivery. It is a shopping service that works to deliver a more pleasurable retail experience on whatever level the customer demands. Although its chief demographic is “very important clients,” the concept behind it filters through to other levels in the form of app-enabled in-store sales associates, as well as trunk club-type offerings such as those offered by Birchbox.

This is the leading edge of a new era of active customer-brand relationship management.

Stephan Schambach is founder and chief executive officer of NewStore and author of “Makeover: How Mobile Flipped the Shopping Cart.”

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