The economy may be booming, but that hasn’t kept retail outlets from feeling pinched as consumer habits change. Last December, retail sales reportedly declined at a rate not seen in a decade—during holiday season, no less. Meanwhile, store closures this year are reportedly up a whopping 23 percent from this time last year.
Yet, even as more and more consumers shop online, some luxury online retailers are embracing an unexpected approach to fortifying their customer base: in-person services and brick-and-mortar spaces.
Just last month, Mr Porter (and its sister site Net-a-Porter) launched what it called “further enhancements” to their existing VIP programs, for loyal customers who spend a good deal of time and money shopping on their sites. Both brands have vibrant digital spaces, but the new programs are decidedly more IRL, including in-home “curated shopping experiences,” and invitation-only events. There’s also a new program known as the Style Trial, where shoppers can get up to 30 pieces sent to them for a seven-day trial period—pieces they’ve chosen or even a selection made by in-house stylists.
“We are incredibly proud to offer a truly elevated personal shopping service to our EIPs [Extremely Important People], said Alison Loehnis, president, Net-a-Porter and Mr Porter in a release. “We are always looking to further enhance customer experience and these new bespoke offerings are the next innovative step in better serving our customers within the comfort of their homes.”
And the Porters aren’t the only online retailers tailoring programs around in-person interaction.
Last year, the London-based luxury boutique MatchesFashion.com opened up a luxury townhouse in the Mayfair neighborhood, which included two floors specifically designated for private shopping experiences (in addition to two stories of a more traditional retail set-up). This, of course, is an extension of their online services, called MyStylist, a 24-hour personal shopping “concierge” that is available to all customers.
According to the brand, these amenities include personal styling, same-day deliveries (within the London area), gift consultations and wrapping, and placing orders on your behalf.
“I love Amazon. I just had a baby so I use it a lot. They’re a great company, but luxury requires a different kind of treatment,” MatchesFashion.com CEO Ulric Jerome told South Morning China Post. It takes one-to-one relationships, and you can’t do that at that massive scale. You need an element of storytelling and experience.”
“Experience” is something of a buzzword on the fashion front, a way to remind people that there’s plenty of things that an app just can’t do for you. Even elder statesman of the luxury retail scene like Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus are making it easier to get in touch with real live human beings to help assist you and make shopping seem less like scrolling through social media and more like an actual social interaction.
And for good reason: last year, Business of Fashion reported just how impactful these services can be. According to the fashion industry site, 49 percent of Moda Operandi’s revenue comes from in-store appointments made with stylists or personal shoppers. And on a more macro level, one to three percent of luxury consumers make up between 20 to 40 percent of all revenue, according to Bain statistics. With such a relatively small pool of consumers packing such a sales punch, it’s more essential than ever for luxury retailers to keep their most loyal customers happy.
Of course, if Net-a-Porter’s sales in recent years are any indication, online shopping in the luxury market is just getting started: The online retailer’s biggest sale of 2017? A $150,000 Cartier watch sold via the social networking app WhatsApp.