Conversation is Back in Fashion in Luxury Stores

Best Practices for How and When to Use Your Phone


The pandemic has accelerated tectonic shifts in retail. But there has been one surprise upside for luxury brands: consumers locked into e-commerce shopping patterns are now seeking human interaction bringing in a renaissance for sales associates.


So-called "airpod" customers - people who visited stores just to silently view a product before buying it online are now "really ready” for a relationship with sales associates, according to Kenzo North America Managing Director Nathan Levy.

He sees a recalibration not just on the part of the customer but also sales teams which Kenzo encourages to focus more on relationship building than hitting targets.


Retail customers are increasingly splitting into two tribes. In one camp are the customers who wish to avoid interpersonal contact, a desire met by Amazon Go, curbside pickup and robot checkouts which are on the rise. In the other, customers who crave human interaction. This is especially the case in luxury where purchases are driven by emotions not convenience. Brookings Institution’s Mark Muro, an expert in consumer attitudes around technology says it may be that face-to-face service itself "becomes an elite luxury good.”


However, some 80 percent of customers are convinced today that they actually know more about the brands than the salespeople in store for the respective brands, according to Michaela Merk, a consultant. This means that sales teams need to be more skilled than ever in their interpersonal exchanges.


Mobile technology is being harnessed to make those connections more valuable. Chatting via messaging or video on a phone helps to recreate the intimacy of in-person shopping for distant sales. But what are the rules around advisors using phones to help customers who are in the store? Here BSPK maps out a few best practices around using a phone while serving the customer.


Do: Use the phone mindfully. Sales advisors should explain exactly what they are doing each time they use it. A typical reason would be to check whether an item is in stock or to check a client profile if the customer can't remember what they bought last time.


Do: Continue to make eye contact even while holding the phone and never look at it for more than a few seconds, always returning to the eyes of the clients. Angela Ahrendts, former Burberry CEO and Apple head of retail says building trust is key to human relationships and that “we are going to have to go back to looking people in the eyes....voices, everything else with AI, you won't know if it is real or if it is not.”


Do: Be respectful of personal space which differs vastly by region. This can be complex: a study across 42 countries found that people from Argentina and other South American countries require less personal space than people from Asia for example. Americans want strangers to keep a 94 cm distance but a personal acquaintance can get 24 cm closer. Hungarians want loved ones and strangers at arm’s length, or at least 75 centimeters.


Do: Use company supplied phones which remain in the store when it closes, drawing clear boundaries between work and home. Most advisors carry this in a pouch as they work. For some brands this can double as a marketing opportunity to showcase popular tech accessories which often cost more than the phone.


Don't: Clientele with remote customers while you are on the shop floor unless live streaming. Seeing an associate glued to a phone will deter passersby who might otherwise have been tempted to pop in to store. Tiffany & Co., for example, is elevating clienteling to the top floor by including a dedicated space for clienteling in its revamped New York City 57th Street flagship when it reopens in 2022 which is part of a new glass-enclosed “exhibition, event, and clienteling space."