Humans of Commerce, HERO®’s monthly series of virtual events interviewing the individuals that are reimagining the world of retail and commerce, continued last week with a discussion about the ways companies can inject a more personal human touch into their customers’ online experiences.
The conversation brought together Ron Thurston, the VP of Stores and Operations at fashion retailer Intermix and Sébastien Guinchard, the CEO of luxury beauty brand Sabon. Both companies engage online shoppers in ways that replicate or complement the brick and mortar shopping experience.
Watch the full webinar here.
As online retail continues to grow, brands are seeking ways to enhance the experience – better meeting customers needs and, simultaneously, bring the average order value (AOV) more in line with the traditionally higher spend seen in stores. Sébastien captured the former desire perfectly, speaking of Sabon’s ambition ‘to invite our customers to experience wonder, and to bring joy and create feel-good moments in their everyday lives’.
In store, ambitions like these can be easily met – a considered store layout, the art of curation in a shop floor display and, of course, the personal touch of a colleague able to recommend and make personalized suggestions.
Both Intermix and Sabon have been using Hero to help their online customers connect with product experts, and spoke about the ways that this added human touch can help businesses offer a more human shopping experience. Talking with Hero COO Natasha Franzen, Ron and Sébastien use the fifth installment of Humans of Commerce to explore the ways their companies build trust and loyalty that extends beyond the online shop.
Watch the discussion here, and read up on 4 key takeaways below:
1. Connect across every channel. The eCommerce ambitions of many established brick and mortar brands is simply to raise the performance of their online stores above the industry average. Ron, however, sees plenty of opportunities to bring these two branches of a business together, and give customers the ability to pick and choose the way they shop.
Intermix’s brand has been built around the idea of offering a personalized style edit to its customers – offering heavily curated ranges each season that highlight the very best fashion around, while catering their in-store range to local audiences: “the assortment you’ll see in a store in Miami is different than a store you’ll see in New York, is different than in Malibu”.
Translating this attitude to their online stores has been a challenge, but one approach has been the introduction of an ‘Ask a Stylist’ feature. Initially this was offered via social media, but before the COVID-19 pandemic, Intermix began a limited trial to bring this service to their website using Hero. It’s proved such a success that they’ve expanded the service across all of their stores – anyone browsing online can connect to an expert in their local store for advice through chat.
2. Recreate the tactile experience of the shop floor. Sabon’s luxury beauty range is well-suited to the physical retail space, where customers can explore products that are often very tactile in their appeal. How then can online retailers bring the more sensory qualities of their products to online customers?
Both Ron and Sébastien spoke of the benefits Hero’s photo sharing function offers their in store experts as they chat with customers using the app. Sébastien shared his surprise in finding that many experts are opting not to use pre-existing photos from the available image bank, but instead are being asked to share their own photos, taken live in the branch. This is a real benefit for the customers – the ability to connect with products as they would if they were in the shop themselves. These photos capture the product in the moment, away from the pristine setting of a professional photoshoot, and offer customers an idea not of how marketers want the product to look, but how it actually looks in person.
3. Advice that adds value. Discovery is always a challenge for online retailers – it’s much easier to expose customers to new ideas and products in a store, when all they have to do is turn around and find themselves facing an item they’d never previously considered. With individual product pages and the eternal battle for an insightful search phrase, it can be difficult to replicate this ease of discovery online.
Connecting online shoppers with in store experts is an efficient and effective way to overcome this problem. Though Sabon has plenty of gift-finding pages on their website, they found after launching their partnership with Hero in the lead up to Christmas 2020 that customers were keen to interact directly with staff – enabling them to save time and get quick, personalized suggestions. Specific needs can be accounted for, and trust in both the staff member and the company itself is built far more effectively. The impact of this personal connection was clear:
Hero-led transactions for Sabon had a conversion rate ten times that of other users on the website, a number that brought the rate almost inline with in store conversions. What’s more, the AOV on those transactions was double the site average, too. Customers were more confident in the products they were buying – but they were also discovering more products they wanted to buy.
4. Develop loyalty differently. Much was said during the discussion of the importance and value of omnichannel customers. Brand loyalty is as important to retail as ever, and both Ron and Sébastien spoke of the importance of retaining omnichannel customers. It’s clear from the experiences at both Intermix and Sabon that customers see Hero as a two way street: rather than simply bringing the in store experience into their online shopping, customers are also connecting with the staff and, realizing that they are talking to real humans in their local branch, are being drawn back into the shop itself.
Ron is a particularly big fan of Hero’s black book function, which allows users to save their favorite in store stylists into a black book, making it easy to contact and be contacted by them again. Here we see a shopping experience that is both omnichannel and highly personalized, encouraging lasting brand loyalty whilst helping staff build meaningful relationships with their customers.
Building on this omnichannel approach is something that both Intermix and Sabon are keen to do. “I can’t think of a time, if I think about the future, that does not involve some version of a fluid relationship between all commerce channels,” Ron says. “I think the days of functioning as individual channels are over.” The future, then, is connecting the different means by which customers can interact with your brand – and as Intermix and Sabon have seen, the key to this is making the most of the human touch.