In the several years since we first published our article about the gap between customers and retailers, the world has seen a global pandemic, supply chain shortages, and escalating prices crossing all industries – and yet, luxury managed unprecedented growth in the same timeframe. This all spells dramatic and radical change on a global level and retailers have done a remarkable job in keeping pace with the effects on business operations.
However, when it comes to changes in customer psychology, mindset, and decision-making, we find that the themes and insights we covered more relevant than ever. Following is an update on how these themes affect luxury today.
In my work with luxury retailers, I’ve seen a radical shift in the power dynamic between customer and sales advisor. In short, customers have it; sales advisors don’t. Customers hold their own velvet rope, choosing to admit (or reject) sales advisors to their experience. Many retailers manage to thrive by pivoting to selling online and virtually, and stores show tremendous agility by flexing to meet the operational restrictions posed upon them, but the customer continues to evolve faster than the sales advisors are adapting.
Let’s be realistic: the future may bring fewer customers into stores, for all the technological and cultural reasons we know so well, along with volatility in currencies and a sustained drop-off in international tourism. Count on fewer support resources, too. At the sales level, we can’t control any of that.
Meanwhile, “No, thank you” echoes off the walls. It’s surprising how few sales advisors know what these words mean. “No, thank you” is a symptom of something much bigger than lack of interest. It’s a response to intrusive behavior, ill-timed conversational gambits, prodding questions, all the old-school selling techniques. Translate it to, “You don’t get me.”
Luxury sales teams must develop a deeper understanding of the customer journey, learn new relationship-building skills and eliminate old behaviors that turn off store guests. After all, customers don’t need you as they did in the past—or at least, they no longer think they do. And what they think or don’t think turns directly into dollars they spend or don’t spend.
The Good News
Customers are more primed to buy than ever, because they’re farther along on the journey when they walk in. Some know even more than you do about what you sell. They’re the savviest, most independent shoppers in history. That’s precisely why historically effective sales approaches now fail.
This is all just evolution at work. Customers have evolved faster than sales advisors, who tend to keep trying what once worked well. More good news: stores can evolve, too. We can recalibrate our side of the relationship to meet customers where they are. This could be a time of retail reinvention if we make it The Year of Relationship FIRST™ and prepare sales advisors to lead with empathy and authenticity instead of transactional selling behaviors.
The Evolved Sales Advisor
Adaptation for sales advisors is behavioral, but also conceptual. Redefine the job. It’s not to blindly romance product or wield a battery of questions. Consider: at a networking event or singles gathering, would you come right out of the gate with a deluge of information or prying inquiry? Not if you want a relationship. The job is to facilitate feeling, thought and connection—mostly through listening. To help customers feel free, think new, imagine the pleasure and dream of ownership, and appreciate the value of their relationship to you.
What is that value? To provide an experience available nowhere else. Not just a tech experience, or a bridging of online and real life. While more luxury sales are being conducted online than ever before brands must still offer a human experience of a higher order. We no longer work on a sales floor, but in the field of awareness. We’re here to notice everything. Allow people to reveal themselves. Understand if they’re after exclusivity or belonging. Connect to what matters to another human being. To be relevant. The evolved sales advisor interprets dreams.
Be assured, these are informed dreams. Today’s customers are not the habitués of high-end stores of the past. Boomer, Xer, Millennial, or Gen Z – they’re focused. Backed by research, consumer reviews, peer recommendations. Armed with skepticism and a smartphone. If a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, yours comes at about milepost 500 for them.
A New School In Session
It’s a shock to old-schoolers to learn that they don’t choose customers; customers choose them. By eliminating forced conversations or product lectures, we create space for that choice. We give up trying to control the customer and instead learn to collaborate in the experience. We hand over the microphone. Listen. Can you hear it? That’s the gap closing—and maybe more wallets opening. Maybe the future can be better than we ever imagined.
Martin Shanker, known as the “luxury whisperer”, is founder and president of Shanker Inc., a New York-based global consultancy deploying its Relationship FIRST™ Method for luxury retailers and brands to develop their sales teams with a focus on neurosciences, emotional intelligence, and behavior-based training. Clients include Burberry, Cartier, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, LVMH, Lane Crawford, Tod’s and Van Cleef & Arpels. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org