If attracting customers is hard, holding onto them is even harder. Consumers are spoilt for choice in today’s multi-brand, multi-channel shopping environment, and one bad experience is all it takes for them to defect to your competitor (often permanently).
In fact, it doesn’t even have to be a bad experience; sometimes just being average is enough to leave customers sufficiently unimpressed – as I spoke about in a recent blog, customer loyalty may no longer exist.
However, there is one sector that flies in the face of today’s changeable, disloyal consumer, and that’s luxury. Premium retailers are the masters of creating a brand culture that shoppers want to follow; sometimes even if they can’t afford to buy into it.
Why is this? Because luxury is best at achieving what all retailers are trying to do: putting the customer first.
More than any other sector, designer brands live or die on their customer experience, and this often has very little to do with the product itself. Of course, the item purchased must be of the utmost quality, but if a shopper is making a significant investment, they want to feel part of an exclusive encounter from start to finish.
Increasingly, luxury brands are using digital engagement techniques to create this amazing, personalised customer experience. These include adding radio-frequency (RFID) chips to items of clothing, so that customers can interact with videos of those items being showcased on the catwalk; using panoramic photographic technology to virtually recreate the store online, and make it fully browseable; and creating augmented reality fitting rooms, allowing shoppers to ‘superimpose’ garments onto a video image of themselves.
However, it’s not just technology investment that underlines the designer fashion industry’s success. Where premium brands truly succeed in creating a customer-centric experience is by combining these digital capabilities with high quality customer service.
Not every store visitor wants to work out what suits them on a 3D imaging screen; many want sales associates to still compliment and provide advice, perhaps to recommend suitable accessories to turn a garment into an outfit.
In order to provide this level of support, luxury brands spend a significant amount of time getting under the skin of their customers, to truly understand their demographic ‘sweet spot’ and the lifestyle they lead.
Although this cannot account for every personality trait or behavioural nuance, having a strong general grounding in how the average customer lives their life will ultimately help them to meet individual shoppers’ needs.
Technology almost becomes the cherry on top of the cake at this point, as they can use interactive features to give customers an experience beyond the average store’s capabilities.
Using digital functionality successfully within the bricks-and-mortar environment is a careful balancing act, not built on how significant the investment is, but on how well it is intertwined with human customer service.
Quite simply, to build a customer-first company, the customer has to be placed in the centre of the business, and each encounter crafted carefully around their desires – using the various digital and personal tools at retailers’ disposal.
When you consider how painstakingly designer brands use these various tools to create an encounter unique to each customer, it’s easy to see why shoppers form an incredibly strong bond with their favorite luxury retailer.