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When you go on a website, whether it’s that of a retailer or a mar-tech provider, it’s not uncommon to be instantly greeted by a chatbot. At first glance, Saks Fifth Avenue appears to fall under that umbrella. There’s a Style Advisor you can connect with, on the bottom left-hand corner of the retailers’ homepage. The difference is, the Style Advisor is an actual human being.
More accurately, the Style Advisor could be any number of human beings. Whether you want to make a personal shopping appointment, get style advice in a specific category, or even find a particular Style Advisor you already know, your request will find its way to the appropriate salesperson’s phone.
“Companies in the luxury space have been investing in a lot of in-store technology, like fancy mirrors allowing you to try on clothes without ever taking your clothes off,” says John Antonini, Regional Vice President and Director of Stores at Saks Fifth Avenue. “We put our technology investment in the hands of our sellers.”
How Saks fits into the new luxury landscape
When consumers buy from brands like Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Tiffany & Co., as well as luxury marketplaces such as Saks and Bergdorf Goodman, the products are only part of it. People pay a premium for the experience. With red carpets and white gloves, it’s designed to make customers feel special and exclusive.
It’s difficult to replicate (and control) that experience online so for a while, luxury retailers were hesitant to embrace ecommerce. But as their customers continually moved online, so did they. McKinsey estimates that ecommerce will make up 19% of the luxury market by 2025, up from 8% three years ago. Of the 10 most valuable luxury brands — including Prada, Gucci and Cartier — nine have Amazon stores. Rolex is the sole outlier.
Saks strategy revolves around its salespeople, as Antonini discussed while delivering the opening keynote at Worldwide Business Research’s recent Future Stores Conference in Miami.
“Today’s seller has to be a fashion authority with a marketing mindset and a digital focus,” he says. “Today’s seller can also use everything from social media to our in-store technology to service the customers however they want.”
“If a customer had a great in-store experience, how can we continue that online?”
Clienteling has always been a part of the luxury retail experience. Now, instead of just mailing notes on Saks’ creamy stationary, salespeople connect with customers via Instagram and the retailer’s app.
Style Advisors are also available in-app, which drives a significant portion of Saks’ digital business. Just like with the website, those notifications pop up on salespeople’s smartphones. They also have access to iPads, loaded with software from mobile platform Tulip that enables them to look up inventory, perform transactions and access customer information in order to provide a more personalized experience. In addition, many salespeople have their own homepages on Saks.com from omnichannel clienteling platform Salesfloor.
“If a customer just had a great in-store experience, how can we continue that outside the store?” asks Antonini, noting how cluttered most retail websites are. “We talk so much about the personalized experience. 11,000 sellers across the country have their own personalized homepages they can curate with their own style.”