This year has seen a marked shift in retail strategies as demand for online sales skyrocketed due to the pandemic, on top of an already surging e-commerce market. For brands, it’s meant that having a digital presence is more important than ever, something those that are reliant on in-person experiences may be struggling to address. In the case of luxury brands, how can they recreate the white glove boutique experiences people love? The act of going into a store and having a glass of champagne while they try on a watch or wedding dress has been completely upended – and while curbside offerings have been a lifeline for many companies, that approach doesn’t work in this context.
The question then becomes: how to create immersive online experiences? As brands plan for market strategies in 2021, we’ve identified four key areas where they need to excel in order to future-proof for long-term survival.
Offer private access: Creating unique experiences that reward people and add value to their experience provides a feeling of exclusivity that will result in a more lasting impression of the brand. In the case of a luxury brand, it can reward loyal customers with personalized services, such as beauty consultations, concierge services and other benefits that signal to the consumer they are special to the brand. This can also look like private sales, item reservations, new arrival notifications, curated recommendations, exclusive access to limited edition collections, registration-gated content, or private virtual programming events with notable personalities. Net-a-Porter has held a virtual roundtable featuring fashion designer Stella McCartney, while BVLGARI launched an exclusive jewelry collection via a dedicated app, with an augmented reality try-on feature, high-quality closeup videos and more.
Establish a human connection: Even in the online space, consumers still value human interaction when connecting with brands, and it can be as simple as offering dedicated human support to logged-in website visitors. In fact, 77% of consumers prefer dealing with humans for advice, while 45% would be willing to pay more for human customer service. Burberry is a current example of a brand engaging in face-to-face interactions with customers online, as it encourages them as well as employees to share photos and engage in video conversations, pairing customers with a local sales associate based on internet connection.
Create harmonized retail through omni-channel experiences: As the role of the physical store evolves, brands need to meet consumers at their comfort level, and that means bridging dot-com and digital experiences to brick-and-mortar stores. This can look like physical experiences that enhance those that begin online, like digital browsing and virtual store tours that lead to an in-store dedicated representative and personalized offers at checkout. Conversely, dot-com can also enhance experiences that begin at brick-and-mortar, such as in-store scannable hot spots to facilitate further exploration online. Estée Lauder is offering in-store foundation matches through virtual try-ons, allowing for hygienic digital sampling. For those who have dined at a restaurant during the pandemic, we’ve also seen the benefits of QR code integration, which can offer menu views, reservations, ordering and payment capabilities.
Move towards journey-based marketing communications: The pandemic has dramatically reduced foot traffic for many if not most retailers. Because of that it’s never been more important to get email right. It’s a direct line to your customer. Getting it right means moving away from one-off executions to customer journeys. The reason for this is because it unlocks personalization. Through data, journeys allow you to tailor content and messages to specific audiences. This enables relevant communications, and being relevant today is mission critical. People are isolated. To break through and truly connect with them, you need to speak to them about the things they care about. The only way to do that at scale is through a customer journey-based email program. Companies like Chipotle, which has seen a dramatic increase in its digital business during COVID, have embraced this approach.
Ultimately, brands need to facilitate interactions with consumers that build trust through 1:1 communications, encourage brand and product discovery to create purchase intent, and carve a frictionless path to checkout. Those who adopt these best practices will be well prepared to handle whatever the consumer landscape brings.