LONDON — For Sandrine Deveaux, multichannel director at Harvey Nichols, digital and bricks-and-mortar retail are inextricably linked. Citing 2014 research from Deloitte, Deveaux pointed out that while 90 percent of U.S. retail sales still happen in physical stores, more than half of those are influenced by customers’ digital activity.
But, she said, the department store group’s luxury customers want technology that makes for a seamless shopping experience — rather than digital gimmicks.
“Technology doesn’t matter if you are not thinking about the experience and the theater that you want to create in your store,” said Deveaux. “It’s all about the service, it’s all about the convenience…technology is just there to underpin all of these elements.”
She noted the technology that ends up dominating the conversation between customer and retailer is often surprising. Since Harvey Nichols launched its Style Concierge personal styling area in its Knightsbridge store last year, Deveaux said WhatsApp messaging has proved the most popular way for customers to communicate with their personal stylist.
A personal stylist will post on Twitter “the minute Valentino Rockstud shoes are delivered into our stores,” Deveaux said, and a customer will then send a WhatsApp message to the stylist to get a pair of those shoes delivered to her home. “The purchase is completely driven by the conversation the stylist has with her customer. We, as marketers or digital experts, have not really done anything about it.”
She said WhatsApp was more of a draw for customers than projects such as the “digital mood board” the store had created and set up in the hallway of the personal shopping area.
Another way that Deveaux envisages using technology to improve the customer experience is by speeding up the payment process. “As a consumer, you ideally want the store to have and hold your credit card details…so that wherever you go in the store it’s safe and secure for you to shop,” she said.
She added that employees need to take ownership of a store’s new technology for any consumer-facing initiative to work. “If the staff do not understand how you actually browse a site on a tablet, it doesn’t work,” she said, adding that Web sites are the windows into a store’s soul. “There is nothing worse than a black screen — there is nothing worse than if you invest thousands of pounds, and the thing doesn’t work — or it’s quite ugly,” she said.
In Deveaux’s vision of the ultimate physical-meets-digital experience, a customer would shop with a personal shopper who would then source pieces from around the store — in minutes — on an iPad. The busy customer would then be able to pay for purchases on her mobile phone, and have them delivered to her home or office — complete with a box of her favorite chocolates, a gift from Harvey Nichols. The personal shopper would later send the customer a notification about the products she did not try on, and tell her they are available to review and buy in her online account.
As for future innovations, Deveaux said she’s excited about how artificial intelligence could serve the luxury retail space. “If you could do it in a very luxury way, to get into the consumer’s mind and create a very personalized experience,” she said, encouraging firms to take an experimental approach to digital innovation. “As long as you don’t put too much financial commitment into new technologies, you have nothing to lose.”