Why Digital Communication Platforms Are Critical to Clienteling
Clienteling has since long been used by luxury retailers as a way to provide one-to-one assistance to customers when they are out shopping. Customers love to interact with brand representatives before they make a purchase, particularly in case of big-ticket products. They love to ask questions, try out different styles and sizes, and seek recommendations. Top-flight brands understand that personalization is a key differentiator in luxury retail and assign specialists to valued clients each time they visit a store – these specialists assist customers in an ultra-personalized way, suggesting styles, getting them the right fit, and welcoming the customer each time they visit the store. Such assisted selling improves conversions, maximizes each customer’s lifetime value, and also increases the average basket size, giving such retailers a competitive edge over others that rely only on the value of their products.
With the phenomenal growth of e-commerce sales, no doubt supercharged by the advent of covid-19, luxury retail has largely moved online. And this trend is here to stay. Mckinsey & Company reports that digital spending on high-end fashion is expected to increase to $87 billion by 2025. For all high-end retail brands looking to increase their market share, virtual clienteling has become a necessary skill. However, clienteling is no longer synonymous only with high-end luxury brands – nowadays, leading department stores, fashion houses, independent boutiques, and multi-brand e-commerce platforms are looking to offer highly personalized experiences to customers. Mainstream retailers typically have a larger customer base, cheaper ticket items, and tighter profit margins compared to high-end luxury retailers. So they may not find it feasible to deploy individual stylists for customers, but they are more than making up for it by turning to conversational messaging platforms powered by automated bots to facilitate clienteling services. Chatbots are doubling up as virtual assistants, helping customers locate the nearest store, book an appointment with an in-store advisor, or buy online and pick up in store.
[Source: Boston Retail Partners]
Virtual Clienteling – Innovation is Key
Today competition is fierce and all retailers want to stay attractive and relevant for their customers. As per Epsilon’s online survey, almost 80 percent of customers prefer to buy from brands that offer them personalized experiences. Digital channels like WhatsApp, email, SMS, Viber, and push notifications enable retailers to personalize conversations at scale on their customer’s preferred channel in innovative ways and offer end-to-end, 24×7 support.
- 1Leveraging WhatsApp as a Clienteling ToolMany retailers are using WhatsApp to provide unique, one-to-one experiences for customers. Once customers opt-in to receive WhatsApp messages from the business, they are assigned a personal assistant who handholds customers throughout their journey in the same way an in-store sales associate would. For retailers that cannot afford to match every customer with a dedicated specialist, chatbots are deployed to help customers every step of the way, ranging from recommending products based on the customer’s preferences, sharing product catalogues, informing them of product restocks, confirming payments received, sharing order tracking updates, follow-up purchases with thank you notes, book in-store appointments, announce new product drops, and so on.
For this to happen efficiently, top retailers are integrating their WhatsApp Business Platform with their existing systems such as the POS, CDPs, Inventory Management Systems, and so on, which equip virtual support teams to be ready with all information once customers reach out. Not only has WhatsApp proven to be an effective medium for increased conversions, cross-selling and up-selling, it has also reduced the number of abandoned carts and improved the efficiency of shipping and returns processes, increasing customer convenience. And it has made it easier for retailers to grow their database and even analyze customer behavior based on past conversations.
- 2Geo-Targeting Customers Based on Location DataAs stores limp back to life and see gradually increasing footfalls, retailers are making sure to create unique experiences to delight customers and ramp up sales. Almost all customers these days are tethered to their mobile devices while out shopping, and brands can get immediately notified whenever any customer who has brand’s app on their mobile appears in the vicinity of the store. Retailers can target such customers with “just in time” offers by inviting them to visit the store – they can send a quick a push notification or SMS requesting the customer to drop by and enjoy exclusive discounts. Customers love to be delighted and surprised in such ways, and many retailers including luxury beauty and apparel brands have seen dramatically improved sales by geo-targeting customers based on their location data.
- 3Growing Uptake of Cloud Communication PlatformsMany retailers are creating in-store signages displaying QR codes or other “Chat With Us” icons that are enabling curious shoppers passing by to stop and scan the QR code. On scanning the code, shoppers are directed to the company’s, WhatsApp, or in-app chat portals for real-time guidance such as detailed product information – about available colors, sizes, similar products, delivery options, and so on. This not just improves the likelihood of the customer actually making a purchase, but also helps the retailer ensure that the customer is not lost, and that the conversation can be kept going on messaging channels.
The concept of in-store smart fitting rooms with display screens where existing customers can actually tap a button to log in to their accounts with their Member ID or phone numbers and view product recommendations (based on their past purchases) and can even add current items to their “cart” for faster check out later — is also gaining traction. Once the customer logs in, and the brand identified who this customer is and what they want, they can serve the customer in a more personalized way.
- 4Empowering In-Store Sales Associates With Dedicated Clienteling AppsMany retailers have rolled out iPads equipped with a clienteling application for salespersons that are connected to the brand’s CRM and contain a rich database of information on shoppers, including their purchase history, their online browsing information, their favorite products, and more. Each time a customer visits the store and provides sales associates with their membership ID or phone number (like in case of a pre-booked in-store appointment), the sales associate can look up the customer’s complete profile on their iPads and get a much better understanding of the customer’s past interactions with the brand as well as their taste and preferences. They can serve such customers better by helping them with look books, suggesting alternatives and add-ons in a buy flow, offering better assistance such as quick alterations, a mobile POS, additional discounts for future purchases, and so on. This way, the brand can create an infinitely better customer experience and boost sales. To cite an example, luxury department store Neiman Marcus drove $60 million in sales within the first 90 days of the launch of its clienteling app.
Retail today is as much about selling an experience as it is about selling a product. Brands need to create a compelling experience to entice customers and gain a loyal following. With the modern customer flitting between digital and physical touchpoints in their quest for the perfect product, clienteling also needs to connect online and offline channels seamlessly. Doing this successfully will give retailers a head start in the race to win their customer’s love.