As luxury brands get bigger, they risk becoming impersonal, today’s luxury customers want and need humanization and personalization more than ever. The following is a summary of the themes I discussed with Mickie Alam Kahn and my fellow panelists at Luxury Daily’s #FirstLook 2022 Conference.
Although the last several years produced many naysayers who predicted that online sales and the pandemic would bring about the death of brick-and-mortar retail – they were mistaken – at least for the moment. Instead, even during a pandemic, many luxury customers are showing a deep desire to visit brick-and-mortar stores, and they are doing it in a robust way. Even if it means waiting in long lines and in bad weather.
Since traffic is not guaranteed to continue, how will luxury retailers keep up the demand for customers to visit brick-and-mortar stores? Below are our first-hand insights gained from being on the selling floors and coaching sales advisors from the world’s most renowned luxury brands.
1. Rare is Where it’s At
We consistently see, crossing both big luxury brands and niche brands, that there is a robust demand for one-of-a-kind, scarce, and limited-edition products. Said simply, the demand for rarity appears to be insatiable.
Just tell a customer today that you can show them something that’s not on the selling floor, not yet seen by others, and they won’t leave your side. They may want to marry you! Some of the biggest growth is at the highest price points, with high jewelry and high watch creations selling in the tens and hundreds of thousands and even higher.
Clients aren’t just demanding rare products; they want rare experiences. The rarest experience is the truly personalized one. This is not just CRM and data analysis – it’s the understanding that a sales advisor can create emotional connections and experiences in ways that the brand cannot, and then empowering them to do so.
2. The Art and Science of Memorability
We know from the neurosciences that as humans we’re hard-wired to connect. Yet, why do customers connect with some advisors and not with others? One key element is knowing how to be memorable. Memorability is created when we have heightened feelings that strongly register in the body. It’s why we are likely to remember our first kiss more than we remember the first senator we voted for.
What does memorability mean for luxury brick-and-mortar? We need to create experiences for customers that invoke strong positive feelings and not leave memorability to chance. Physical senses (touch and feel) create an emotional connection. When advisors shift from pointing to a piece in a showcase to immediately handing it to the customer – magic ensues. They begin to dream and feel a sense of ownership. Knowing how to successfully use key behaviors like this creates a connection that is not easily forgotten. Although these behaviors may appear to be common sense – they are not yet common practice.
3. Don’t Let Storytelling Damage Relationships
Storytelling is easier to teach than relationships. It is a wonderful way to engage with clients, but it is not a substitute for doing the real work of connecting. Today’s luxury customers often know as much or more about the brand and its products than the advisor. Therefore, if the old model of storytelling is overused, it will unknowingly damage relationships and potentially derail the sale. What’s necessary is to facilitate the customer’s dream vs. lecturing them. When advisors focus solely on the story they want to tell vs. the story the customers want to hear, customers pull away from advisors – and the relationship. Instead, what’s required is a genuine curiosity to authentically discover the client. An advisor who truly cares and applies the best discovery practices brings the customer back to brick-and-mortar again and again.
4. Luxury Retail is Theater
Luxury brands understand the importance of creating theater in their brick-and-mortar stores and customers truly appreciate being transported into a world unlike their own. They create a brand universe unique to the codes and the DNA of the House. In spite of a pandemic, luxury retailers are continuing to aggressively invest globally in the theater of retail – as can be seen on 57th Street in NY, Rodeo Drive in LA, Place Vendome in Paris, and Canton Road in Hong Kong, just to name a few.
If brands are going to all of this expense and effort to create theater, what’s the responsibility of the sales advisor as an actor in that theater. The answer can be summed up in one phrase – make them dream! When done well, advisors become facilitators of the customers’ journey through select words, actions, rituals, and by making curated recommendations. These moments create connections that add to and elevate the customer experience, producing a net effect that transports customers to the brand universe via a human and personalized approach. With so much responsibility on the advisor’s shoulders, brands need to look ahead and prepare the digitally native workforce with interpersonal skills that go deeper than sound bites and 110 characters.
What’s at risk?
While relationships have always been important, they are now the new currency for success with today’s luxury customers. The old model no longer works and telling stories is not enough. What’s at stake is not only sales, it’s relevancy. Only retailers who invest in developing their people in these new skills will succeed in making this transition.
The best approach going forward…humanization and personalization will drive brick-and-mortar success.
Until robots have heart, the heart of brick-and-mortar is human connections. Humans can influence customers and create desire and relationships in ways luxury brands cannot. This is often underestimated. Luxury retail is a people business – let’s bring out the humanity of our employees and customers.
Contact us to learn more about how we bring out the humanity in employees to deepen relationships with customers.
Martin Shanker 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 email@example.com.