Will personal shoppers lift retail sales?

Discussion
Photos: Saks Fifth Avenue
Jul 15, 2016
George Anderson

Personal shopping has moved into the 21st Century. In recent years, concepts such as Nordstrom’s Trunk Club (primarily online) and 1-800-Flowers (artificial intelligence concierge) have put new digital spins on the practice. Others, such as “Saks at Your Service – Anytime, Anywhere,” have sought to raise the bar on execution.

The Saks program, according to a Los Angeles Times report, is a response, at least in part, to the convenience that online ordering offers the chain’s well-heeled customers. The goal of the service is to offer the chain’s customers a level of personal service that can’t be matched by web-only services.

Saks’ service works by customers providing basic details on the size and type of clothing they are looking for. The department store then selects items and brings them to the customer’s location (home, office, hotel room, etc.) for the shopper to try on and buy. Saks sends staff, including a stylist, to assist its customers.

The Saks service is currently available through 13 stores across the country. According to the LA Times, most of the consumers who use the service are customers who have shopped at Saks stores for some time.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What does the future hold for personal shopping services? Do you expect to see more or less demand for personal shoppers, whether human or AI, in the future?

Braintrust
"There is no space for a scalable roll-out due to many factors, especially cost."
"I have long thought that Star Trek is a crystal ball for our future and it's particularly true with retail. How do consumers buy things in the show?"
"Where we see the most opportunity is with in-store personalized shopping services. We call it “digitizing the black book.” "

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15 Comments on "Will personal shoppers lift retail sales?"

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Warren Thayer
BrainTrust

Years ago, when I lived in Rye, N.Y., I saw lots of human “artificial intelligence,” and I think the programs described here will serve those folks in “1 percent land” very well. In fact I expect they will do very well, and thrive, in top-income niches everywhere. Gawd, I love Vermont.

Ken Lonyai
BrainTrust

As a niche, human personal shoppers might ad value to some stores that offer products on the upper half of the scale. However, there is no space for a scalable roll-out due to many factors, especially cost.

AI shopping assistants have a much greater opportunity to scale, but from my work with developing the technology, it will be many years until there’s a noticeable widespread adoption. As is always the case, retailers will move slowly, there will be many misguided fits and starts and eventually after a successful model emerges, more retailers will get it right and then and only then will shoppers be willing to use the technology in meaningful numbers.

Max Goldberg
BrainTrust

Customers like to feel special and to save time. Personal shopping services do both, while driving loyalty and sales for participating retailers. It will be interesting to see how Millennials, who seem to shun direct interaction with salespeople, will take to personal shoppers.

Tom Redd
Guest

Personal shoppers for fashion is outside the realm of AI and Watson. It is a real human-to-human challenge. I am a major fan of personal shopper assistant programs. I have used the Trunk Club, a shopping service rep at our Nordstrom store and the Macy’s personal shopper program — they were the best so far. They picked out the colors that fit me best, the not-too-hip look, and the products that were the best and were on sale.

Trunk Club is great but a bit high on price. Price no longer pertains to the best choice. Some designers just need higher prices and margins as a differentiator. Ask Combatant Gentleman — they are also doing personal shopping and custom suits but without the bizarre mark-up.

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

Sounds like a lot of money and work to cater to a few. I have an idea. How about providing personal service on your salesfloor — like customers expect?

Dick Seesel
BrainTrust

It’s one thing for Saks, whose customers should expect best-in-class high-touch customer service, to absorb the cost of their new program. And chances are good that they are getting a payback based on the good chances of a big transaction.

Is it scalable for retailers like Nordstrom, who are selling a lot of “better” goods in addition to luxury price points? Harder to say, but any retailer who wants a point of differentiation needs to pay attention — even if the “personal shopper” is tech-enabled. After all, isn’t Amazon’s predictive technology a form of personal shopping?

Naomi Shapiro
Guest
1 year 3 months ago

As technology does more and more and the Internet of Things evolves, and as more people have their noses in their devices and there is less and less personal contact socially and in stores, there will be a demand for more personalization and specialization — less hassle to figure out where, when and how to search for my size, color, styles I like. Better to have them curated or selected for me — that is, I see this as a retailer’s and customer’s dream — if I can afford it.

Ron Margulis
BrainTrust

I have long thought that Star Trek is a crystal ball for our future and this is particularly true with retail. How do consumers buy things in the show? They talk to a computer screen and in most cases the product, meal or whatever is delivered to a service door adjacent to the screen. I’m not going to get into the mechanics of the system –- if there’s some kind of 3-D printer, tele-transportation element or material fabricator at work. The idea of a person interacting with a computer to order stuff is the salient point. And if there is interaction with the computer for shopping, it stands to reason that there is some kind of AI and predictive analytics being deployed to help the consumer find exactly what they need/want. This is a long way to say that personal shopping, especially data driven digital shopping support, will be an important part of retailing in the future.

Lee Kent
BrainTrust

Today’s consumer is opting for experiences over products these days and this does play into that. However … this concept is hardly sustainable. Unless these consumers are actually buying a lot!

The concept is on the right track though. I read yesterday that a woman in LA had a whole collection brought to her house, along with stylists, for a birthday party. Now, take that down a few notches and let’s see how we might do something like that in-store. Hmmmm.

OK, so that idea is not so much about personal shopping although it is in the neighborhood. But personal shoppers do play into choosing experiences over products. I used to have a personal shopper, Amber, at my favorite store. She knew everything in my closet and what I liked. She would contact me when something new came in that might make a new outfit when paired with something I already had.

If retailers can help customers understand that a personal shopper can stretch their wardrobe dollar, this concept could be a win-win.

And that’s my 2 cents.

Lyle Bunn (Ph.D. Hon)
Guest
Lyle Bunn (Ph.D. Hon)
1 year 3 months ago
All shopping is personal, but all service is not. Often it is the inability to get questions answered in the physical store that drives shoppers to competitors or online, and negatively impact the brand. Sorry to be rhetorical, but this is a key dot on the customer experience map. A second dot is the ready availability of product information that can be available online. Connecting these dots on the path to purchase can be addressed by digital messaging and interactivity in the store. Not only are patrons informed and influenced, but so are staff. Nike offers a good example. When the brand used digital signage to introduce a new golf ball line it was expected to achieve shopper selection and support Nike branding but, more importantly, it influenced staff to recommend the new Nike product based on information presented on the sign. Mobile phone stores have long used digital signage to present product features while allowing the associate to know when to engage the consumer to close the sale, cross-sell and upsell, while establishing the mobile service plan. The consumer browsed — the associate, as the shopper “companion,” fulfilled the need. In-store media is part of connecting the dots toward… Read more »
Ken Morris
BrainTrust
The top of the market has always embraced the personal shopper and will continue to do so for several more lifetimes. We are also seeing more young shoppers that appreciate the value of personalized services. According to the Accenture Personalization Survey, Millennials are more interested in personal shoppers than Baby Boomers. Forty-five percent like the idea of a personal shopper who can pull items according to the customer’s style, fit or wardrobe, versus 28 percent of Baby Boomers. Consumers enjoy the theater of shopping and bringing that theater to their homes, like the “Saks at your Service,” will be limited to only the most exclusive luxury brands. The need and usage of these services will only increase as technology enables this personalization to be offered to a wider audience at a lower cost. Where we see the most opportunity is with in-store personalized shopping services. We call it “digitizing the black book.” The key enabler to these guided selling and clienteling services is understanding everything about your customers and having access to this information in real-time. With a wealth of data from customers who opt-in, mobile devices and a strong network, retailers have the ability to personalize the shopping experience… Read more »
Ed Rosenbaum
BrainTrust

I can still remember years back when I needed suits and dress clothes more than today. There was a personal shopper at a men’s store (when they existed as standalones). I would call, tell him what I was looking for and what time I expected I would arrive. He had several choices and I can honestly admit today, because my wife is not reading this, I overspent big time. Overspending is one of the added extras a personal shopper brings to the bottom line of these upscale businesses.

Lesley Everett
BrainTrust

The personal touch is generally what consumers look for, consciously and sub-consciously. This personal shopping service provides something to consumers who wouldn’t perhaps normally go for it for it in a store. If they can have a personal service in their own home without the overt pressure to buy and be made to feel good about themselves, then this could work very well and achieve the ultimate result of a great experience and more sales due to repeat business. In general, I’m in favour of personalising any service for gaining more sales.

Christopher P. Ramey
BrainTrust

Saks has always had “Personal Shoppers.” It’s moved from discretion to promotion. The corporate impact is minimal. On the other hand, specific Saks stores who are able to execute will see sizable increases with their best customers.

It’s no secret that luxury department store retail is bleeding. Saks understands that securing current clients is as important as finding new clients.

Tom Dougherty
BrainTrust
The question posed is wrong. It’s not can personal shoppers lift retail sales, but rather can Saks and Bergdorf Goodman save retail? The idea of an in-home fashion representative might catch on with the small percentage of shoppers who frequent high-end retailers. But the problem with retail is and always has been the balance between the customer experience and discovery (finding something intriguing that goes beyond what the shopper was initially shopping for). Shelby Foote once lamented the demise of brick-and-mortar book stores because of the rise in online sales. He recounted how many times he went shopping for a particular book but ended up buying other topics that caught his eye in the book store aisles. Online has tried to expand this myopic world but the intrinsic experience of browser purchasing gets in the way. The old school main-line retailers need to be struggling with this. They have been failing because industry expertise is continually tethered to the traditional retail industry. The answers won’t come from gimmicks and façade changes. The emotional connection to the customer’s self-definition is the only thing that will propel the store loyalty and (re)trial to a coveted behavior. The current department store model is… Read more »
wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"There is no space for a scalable roll-out due to many factors, especially cost."
"I have long thought that Star Trek is a crystal ball for our future and it's particularly true with retail. How do consumers buy things in the show?"
"Where we see the most opportunity is with in-store personalized shopping services. We call it “digitizing the black book.” "

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