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Four Ways Retailers Can Stay Human and Deliver Memorable Moments

Technology deployments are often a necessity to improving the modern store experience, but retailers can ill afford to lose sight of the human connection required to engage shoppers and ultimately bring them back. While online shopping is often purely transactional, retailers shouldn’t forget that delivering memorable moments is what drives many people to visit a store in the first place.

During the PSFK Future of Retail 2020 digital event, Brendan Fludd, CRM manager for fashion of Middle Eastern luxury goods retailer and distributor The Chalhoub Group, identified what this kind of a memorable moment might entail. When visiting the recently opened Nordstrom men’s store in Manhattan, the experience churned his mind around how brick-and-mortar retail should operate in the future.

“In that store, there’s so many amenities that have nothing to do with what they sell,” Fludd said. “There’s a barber shop, a restaurant, a bar and a whole floor in the store to watch sports. You can wander in there and forget that you’re even in a retail store because everything around is catered for your experience. Every touch point is optimized to make it fun to be in. I walked out with more stuff than I probably would have, but that whole reason was that this is something different.”

Suzy Ross, founder of the Bureau of Customer Keepers, opted instead to share a memorable moment for an airline, British Airways, in which she unexpectedly got a seat upgrade before flying out of Heathrow Airport for the eighth Monday morning in a row.

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“The cost of doing it was minimal for them and the perceived value to me was so high,” Ross said. “Once retailers start to recognize their role as service providers and ways in which they can differentiate experiences and customers, I hopefully will have a story to tell from retail.”

Opening its first flagship store on Rodeo Drive in Los Angeles in September, rock-and-roll and skating-inspired fashion brand Amiri is challenged with creating memorable experiences on par with the Nordstrom and British Airways examples. Kevin Van Leeuwen, the director of the L.A. flagship, believes he can leverage his experience and network from stints at other luxury brands including Valentino, Christian Dior Couture and Prada to build a team that sets a high bar for customer service.

“I met one of my clients and her family in 2015 when they came into my [Prada] store and my sales associate helped the whole family and there were five of them,” Van Leeuwen said. “I was just helping the father with some shoes, and what could have turned into a challenging situation—because he was frustrated —turned into a really good situation and we won him over with just customer service. It’s about listening to the client and what they need, and giving your full attention to what they’re there for. They walked into your store for a reason.”

Van Leeuwen noted that the customer continued to shop at his store, and five years later still asks for advice on buying shoes even though he no longer works at Prada. How did this buying relationship continue? Because clients always remember how you make them feel, he emphasized.

The Chalhoub Group, which partners and operates a franchise model of stores across top global luxury fashion brands including Louis Vuitton, Dior, Celine, Tory Burch, Lanvin and Lacoste, engages in-store shoppers in a personal way before even thinking about a sale.

“’How can I help you?’ is second to ‘Can I get you a drink, a water or coffee or tea?’” Fludd said. “It’s common to do that before they even get into a conversation of selling you something. I think that itself is transformative. That is something that culturally, we are trying to instill as we put our influence on more things. The people who come in come first. Why they come in is the second part of the conversation.”

There are four characteristics retailers must embody to create an initial connection and maintain that relationship, according to Ross: convenience, generosity, clarity of purpose and making the shopper feel valued. Convenience isn’t just about product immediacy, but about solving problems quickly, and spontaneous acts of generosity can come in small sizes.

“If you’re a retailer and there’s a problem, the onus is on the retailer to fix it, not the customer who’s gone through the hassle of coming back to the store,” said Ross. “And does the brand’s values and actions resonate with things that are important to me? We’ve seen in the last few months during this seismic effect that people have been very discerning in working out which brands are being authentic in their response. Make a stand instead of trying to please everybody.”

Fludd indicated that as more brands continue to flesh out their own identities related to modern political and cultural issues, people have to align their core beliefs with them to determine who they are going to continue to consume from.

“We’ve hit this point now where as consumers we can say, ‘What do I believe in?” Fludd said. “That’s where I’m going to build this relationship. The affinity for a style or trend, that’s gone. Those days are behind us. I think now we’ve ventured into a mode where we have to really say, ‘Do you line up with me enough for me to have this relationship with you for a long time?’”

Ross lauded Irish knitwear brand Inis Meáin Knitting Company as a “masterclass” in delivering this kind of authenticity rather than relying on a marketing or PR team. Based on an island off the west coast of Ireland, the locally crafted brand ships across the world and is found in Japanese department store Isetan.

“I rarely come across a brand that has such power and authenticity as this small knitwear brand,” Ross said. “Once a year, I go to this island, visit this shop and buy their knitwear. It’s a pilgrimage and takes 11 hours to get there, but it’s extraordinary.”