With vaccinations of more than half the U.S. population done, retailers and brands are gearing up for consumers to come back to physical stores — in full force. But pandemic-related, consumer behavior changes are not likely to disappear anytime soon.
A preference for online shopping, curbside pickup, and buy online, pickup in-store are some of the changes that will likely remain, according to retail analysts. Here, Tom Nolan, chief executive officer of Kendra Scott, discusses these changes, the role of clienteling and how brands can make shoppers feel safe in stores. Nolan also shares insights into a new program launching at the designer jewelry brand that will improve the customer’s shopping experience.
WWD: Has COVID-19 changed the consumer shopping experience forever?
Tom Nolan: Now more than ever, the customer is our boss. Meeting her (or him) where she wants to shop is paramount. Like many retailers, Kendra Scott’s business saw a material shift to online. In the months since our reopening, we have been honored to see a large percentage of our existing and new customer base return to our stores, but we are excited to see that same customer now feels more comfortable exploring our online options as well — becoming more omnichannel. We want to meet and serve her where she wants to be met.
Brick-and-mortar certainly isn’t over by any stretch — I think it’s about how a brand’s store and experience is positioned that will determine success or failure. What experiences are you offering? Stores that focus more on connection than the transaction, will be the ones who widen the gap of success in all of this.
WWD: As we emerge from the pandemic, what can brands do to help customers feel comfortable shopping in-store again?
T.N.: Aside from strictly following all state and local guidelines regarding sanitation and social distancing, one thing I would like to see continue, particularly for holiday, is virtual queuing and styling. This is a program we rolled out as we reopened our stores this past summer. We were able to let customers shop in line and online when we were at capacity, but even better — it allowed us to cut down the in-store “dwell” time, allowing us to deliver the highest standard of service during our busiest seasons.
Even while we were forced to limit the number of customers in our stores due to COVID-19 restrictions, we learned that we’re able to service them better with more individualized attention.
WWD: How does a robust clienteling model help create a more seamless customer journey, both online and in-store?
T.N.: The core of any clienteling program is personalized service, and this philosophy rings true for customers who shop online, in-store or both. We’re launching a new program, called Yellow Book, later this month that allows for customers to interact one-on-one with our stylists. It’s a simple reaction to the world we live in, and this ensures we are delivering the same experience to a customer shopping from her kitchen table as someone in our retail stores.
The program will allow virtual stylists to have information at their fingertips that allows them to serve the needs of their customers including preference, upcoming special events and birthdays, previous purchases and more.
While many retailers have versions of this type of program, we feel strongly about combining key learnings from a number of customer-focused initiatives into one, streamlined clienteling program.
WWD: Brands often share that they put their customer first and foremost. Why is this philosophy more important than ever?
T.N.: This has been a core tenant to our business from the moment Kendra started the company in 2002 — it is authentic to who we are at our core — the customer is our boss and she ultimately signs all of our paychecks. As we move forward, we have to continue keeping our customer and her shopping preferences top of mind — meeting her where she is has always been our focus.
At Kendra Scott, we’ve built a strong and loyal customer connection through our philanthropy efforts and the 15,000 charitable organizations we partner with across the country. Since 2010, Kendra Scott has raised more than $40 million in both cash and in-kind donations. I believe all this will further strengthen our relationships with our boss, the customer.
WWD: How can brands utilize technology to help reach customers one-on-one who may have previously shopped in-store, but now prefer to shop online?
T.N.: The Kendra Scott brand has always been about experience. COVID-19 has forced many retailers to reach even further to replicate the in-store experience online. We found success by implementing a virtual try-on program, and quickly at that. Our interactive store experience is such a differentiator for us, and this allowed us during a time when those strictly in-store customers were forced to shop online, to bring that to life in a virtual way. For those who prefer to shop from home, we’ve rolled out shoppable QR codes into virtual shopping and styling appointments to more easily direct them to product.
Curbside pickup and ship-from-store solutions are excellent options for customers who want their products quickly and conveniently, without waiting several business days for a package to arrive. In March, we rolled out this program to eight of our stores through our partner Manhattan Associates, and now have it up and running at all 120 of our retail locations.
All these responses and priorities will continue as we look to the back end of the pandemic and our customers’ needs will again change. To be successful we have to continue to listen to them and be prepared to pivot as needed.