The ability to engage all the senses has been an integral part of building brands for the past hundred years, particularly luxury ones. Yet the separating nature of the pandemic and the rise of ecommerce means they are in danger of losing their ability to engage all the senses. In a world of stay at home measures, social distancing and reduced browsing opportunities, brands need a new approach.
The immersive luxury experience
Luxury brands have always succeeded through their ability to provide an immersive experience for consumers. From wonderful lighting, an alluring product display and a beautiful carpet underfoot, all set in a glamorous location. Of course complemented by the soothing voice of a sales expert who provides a customer with their full undivided attention. It is a magic formula that helps make a premium price tag seem justified, enhancing a brand’s reputation.
But in a world where populations have been forced to retreat behind doors and spend more time behind screens, the world of luxury has been forced into retreat. These intangible brand qualities simply can’t be replicated in the information heavy online world. The figures paint a stark picture. Worldwide the sector is set to contract by a fifth in 2020. Burberry is perhaps a brand more advanced in e-commerce approach to high end retail. Yet, the company saw a decline in profits of an estimated 80% coming in at £42m for the six months to September. Other luxury brands have also felt the pain. Mulberry has recently announced it may have to close its London stores.
So in a world of social distancing, how can brands adapt and still create memorable customer experiences leading to sales? Particularly in a world where our opportunities to physically touch and engage with brands have been so reduced. A customer has to be taken on a journey, their imagination needs to be fired up and enough interest and excitement should be created to inspire them to make a purchase.
The trusted voice of an expert
Key to this is ‘voice’: Product knowledge and brand advocacy amongst retail sales staff are crucial components to success. Having an advisor who truly understands the product and can close a sale is key, even if this is on the phone in a world of dramatically reduced football. We have also identified a clear pandemic trend of ‘shopping with purpose’ when retail is allowed to open. People are looking to make less trips but ensure they have something to show for it. Therefore a human expert who has the empathy to respond to a customer’s specific needs should be deployed to maximum effect. This is something that cannot be replicated with product information on a website. With these advisors the key advocate for the brand - the process of training these experts needs to be thought through.
Advising the advisors
In a world of social distancing, the way to engage these advisors needs to be reimagined, adhering to covid secure protocols. Brands should focus on reaching these experts through virtual methods. Without the ability to deliver a message face to face, they need to make the experience as immersive and engaging as possible. Training should be gamified and linked to rich online content from their websites.
In a single week during the UK’s second lockdown, Gekko engaged with 1,476 participants from a major retailer, all done virtually, covering 6 unique brands across different categories. The inline sessions were created with the audience in mind and covering an average of 24 products the retailer needed to know about because they featured in the retailer’s Black Friday offers. This approach meant we could actually reach more people than we could ever have in person. It activated an army of advocates to help close vital sales.
A new vision for brands
To complement the advisor, the visual experience is more important than ever in a world where browsing opportunities may be reduced due to hygiene measures. Ensure you are able to bring a product to life visually with great lighting, an appealing display and clearly labelled offers. Once they have been enticed in, keep it straightforward, clean, stand back, encourage play (in a covid secure manner) and keep a great conversation going using open questions to find out more about the customer’s likes and dislikes and needs.
When it does come to effectively demonstrating products to shoppers, creative thinking can pay dividends. With some of the limitations indicated above, brands can take the initiative and facilitate the demo experience. In a ‘purpose-driven’ world we’ve been able to see increases of 28% in conversion rate from demo to sale. There is a golden opportunity for brands to engage all the senses with a shopper determined to make a purchase.
Imprinting a memory
Finally brands should ensure they leave a strong imprint on the ‘memory’. The reality is people are far more likely to remember a bad experience with a brand, so ensure you minimise any opportunity for negative feedback. Don’t leave a poor display or have missing product information. Ensure the product is always demo or display ready. No customer should leave disappointed. Even if it isn’t in stock, the advisor should be able to order it online with the customer able to click and collect or have it posted out. Particularly given the customer’s likely desire to minimise further trips.
Similarly the customer journey shouldn’t end at the point of agreeing the sale. Their hand should be held (metaphorically not literally in today’s world), until the transaction. Advisors should also be on hand to answer any follow up questions about the use of the product once taken home. Often these questions only spring to a customer’s mind after the actual sale has been agreed.
The positive engagement with a brand ambassador or retail sales advisor is the glue that binds a customer to a brand for the long term. This is much harder to achieve online and also crucially never as memorable for a customer in a price-driven environment with far more fickle brand loyalty. Being forced to do things differently and really focus on new creative ways to engage customers is no bad thing. Those that are able to do this effectively and engage all the senses will see the benefit when the good times return.
Daniel is the Managing Director of Gekko