Paris Lockdown: Is Foot Traffic in Luxury Becoming Irrelevant?





Paris and much of Europe may still be in the throes of a third pandemic lockdown but for some luxury boutiques foot traffic is no longer a concern.


Behind the shuttered facades at successful brands, sales associates have been busy. They are meeting individual customers who booked appointments to come in store -- this is legal under lockdown rules. In addition, they are giving their usual expert advice - but these days it’s by video or chat while fulfilling orders or connecting to clients seeking style advice.


It’s what’s known as clienteling, or clienteling 2.0, and is an important driver of revenue derived from in-boutique sales by appointments and distance sales. For some brands this human-led sales channel now generates more revenue than e-commerce. At one of BSPK’s client brands it is now driving half of all sales.

This massive shift to digital clienteling highlights an interesting paradox that was emerging in luxury retail pre-Covid: while 80 percent of customer journeys began digitally, 90 percent of high-value transactions happened with a sales person. Clienteling meshes digital technology with the human touch.


The evolution of the “selling ceremony” is indispensable to meet the new demands of young luxury customers, according to retail expert Nicolas Rebet, a specialist of in-store client experience and founder of Retailoscope. They need to “feel it, see it and share it with friends. Then starts the ballet of four players; the client, the friends, the product and the sales associate.” Advanced clienteling can bring this to life outside the walls of the boutique.


High touch client servicing has existed since the dawn of luxury. Just imagine the service Louis Vuitton bestowed on his first customer, Eugenie, wife of Napoleon III, as he started to build out a business based on a little black book of VIPs.

Clienteling 2.0, in contrast, is digital, human and inclusive, not exclusive. This is mission critical today as consumers demand a direct and meaningful relationship with the companies they buy from. In our new era of omnichannel where customers engage with a brand through multiple channels, it’s the one where the associate builds the human relationship between the customer and the brand.


Management consultants recommend it: BCG says brands that implemented clienteling 2.0 boosted sales by 10 percent to 15 percent. The conversion rates speak for themselves. Ninety two percent of remote shoppers at one boutique which uses BSPK made a purchase during the first lockdown thanks to proactive engagement by the brand’s clienteling team to check in with customers.


However, covering the emotional heavy lifting for a brand requires skill. Like the old-school model, clienteling 2.0 involves remembering where customers said they want to go on vacation and why they purchased a particular item when they did as well as sending invites to special events.


But now it can mean chatting all day on WhatsApp if that’s what the customer wants, remembering to set aside limited edition items for customers before they even know they want them, modeling or videoing items for customers before the item goes live online and becoming a customer’s very own stylist by curating personal lookbooks. In essence, it’s behaving like a best friend to potentially hundreds of customers.


Brands are thinking up new ways to inspire and engage with existing clients as well as prospects. Limited edition items, for example, have proved “a fantastic opportunity” to contact a client, according to Laurent Grosgogeat, executive vice-president, Cerruti 1881. He says anything collectible is popular in watches, bags or jewelry.


Equally important is to explain what clienteling 2.0 is not. Despite the name, it is not a Customer Relationship Manager, or CRM, with a one-size-fits-all strategy. It is not about HQ setting quotas for how many messages associates should send each day. For example, some famous brands require associates to contact 70 customers a day. It is not about sending automated emails that go unopened nor asking customers to fill in surveys. These tactics may work for the mass market but will not win the trust of luxury customers.


The good news is that the pandemic highlighted for all brands just how much we all crave human connection which is why clienteling 2.0 is now a must-have versus nice-to-have. This is putting the spotlight back on brands’ greatest assets: their associates.


It’s a great time to be a customer of luxury and an exciting opportunity for store associates. While the in-store experience will always matter, associates no longer have to wait for customers to come through their physical doors to do their best work.


Vive la révolution!