LONDON — Burberry is looking to augment its customer relationships beyond the physical store appointments by introducing a new Chat function within its mobile app.
The service, dubbed R Message, is by invitation-only and will be made available to the brand’s top-tier customers, allowing store associates to chat directly to their clients to book in-store private appointments, field product requests, as well as make sales on the platform with a seamless payment system created in partnership with Apple Pay.
This is an extension of an existing service between top-tier customers and sales associates across the luxury market, who often use messaging platforms like WhatsApp, WeChat and Korea’s KakaoTalk to service client requests.
For Mark Morris, Burberry’s vice president of digital commerce, the launch of R Message can elevate this type of communication in a more personalized, luxurious way.
“We can offer that luxury concierge experience with this tool. It has all the basic functionality of WhatsApp, but you’re layering on extra elements that are specific to a luxury relationship. You’re also doing it in an environment where you own the relationship and it’s also secure in a way that it isn’t within a generalist chat platform,” said Morris in an interview, adding that the brand has been looking at chat platforms for a few years and introduced the function when they could offer new components, like digital rails or the ability to purchase directly on the platform, to offer a seamless experience. “If you look across the various different technologies and innovations taking place, this is an area that we really felt made sense for luxury because it just goes back to the core of what luxury is — this relationship between an associate and a customer.”
For the moment, the service will be available to a select group of “high-value” customers, with annual spends and frequency of purchases being among the selection criteria.
This makes sense, given that it’s the brand’s top-tier customers who regularly shop on the app, according to Morris. But the company is already looking at the possibility of scaling the service.
“You can obviously scale it geographically or you can potentially scale to more clients if you believe that you can automate more of the processes for maybe those customers that you don’t have such a frequent relationship with,” added Morris. “I think we’re still working out the extent to which the focus should be on those very top-tier customers and augmenting our relationship with them or whether it’s more about being able to offer a broader set of customers a consistent, well-managed relationship. We’ll keep learning about that and it’s one of the benefits of [launching a platform] yourself — you can decide where there’s more value.”
Burberry has also been placing a bigger focus on its in-store associates, equipping them with the right digital tools that enable them to immerse themselves in the brand, have full stock visibility and collect customer data. This allows them to analyze a customer’s style and purchasing habits so they can offer personalized recommendations.
“There was probably a point in time, five or 10 years ago, where technology felt intrusive in the associate-client relationship. It didn’t feel natural,” said Morris. “But now the average person spends about three-and-a-half hours a day on their phone, we are all totally habituated to using our mobile very quickly and seamlessly, so the nature of service in that relationship has adapted to incorporate technology. But we’re not looking for people with technology skills, we’re looking to make the tools seamless and easy so that anybody with basic tech skills can use them to augment that human capability.”
The company plans to continue working closely with associates to identify customers’ needs and update the function with technological developments that meet those needs.
“The idea is using technology to support what the associates are doing every day in a very human way. It’s not doing technology just to be buzzy,” added Morris.
Chat-based commerce has been gaining ground in the last few years, particularly when it comes to servicing a high-net-worth clientele who expects rapid, one-on-one service and often send sales associates screenshots of images of the products they wish to purchase, for them to locate across the globe. The personal shopping teams of all luxury e-tailers make use of WhatsApp to service customers in this manner, often selling high-ticket fine-jewelry items via a few WhatsApp messages, while social shopping start-up Threads operates by sharing inspiration images on Instagram and prompting customers to get in touch with its personal shopping team via WhatsApp.