Improving the Retail Customer Experience for Haute Couture Collaborations
Fast-fashion retailer H&M recently launched its latest haute couture collaboration with French design house Balmain. Within minutes of the launch, the line sold out both online and in stores, leaving hordes of frustrated and disappointed customers.
Historically, designers pair with fast-fashion retailers to bring haute couture to the masses and to make previously unaffordable goods affordable. For retailers, this pairing has provided a chance to offer differentiated merchandise to shoppers. While it does not necessarily impact their bottom line, it boosts the buzz about their brand. For designers, they can reach a new audience and seize an opportunity to build loyalty with shoppers at an early age.
Yet while retailers and designers benefit from this arrangement, the customer’s experience seems to have been left out of the equation. Target’s 2013 collaboration with Missoni caused Target.com to crash days before the line even went on sale while its 2014 partnership with Lilly Pulitzer flew off the shelves within hours. In each case, customers left not only empty-handed but disappointed they did not even have a chance to make a purchase. Couple that with an aggressive resale market and the customer experience goes from bad to abysmal. Shoppers desperate for a garment are left to search online resellers – offering a second-hand experience for many times higher than the original retail price (and often near the premium brand’s own designer price tag).
H&M-Balmain jacket originally $549, for sale on eBay for $1,600
If so many customers are left unhappy, how can a retailer use CX tools to help? Before undertaking a collaboration, retailers should remember the following four key points:
- Measure your customer’s experience throughout the program. Monitor your CSAT or NPS scores before, during, and after launch to understand how the launch is affecting your customer’s experience. Be sure to: 1) Keep the survey short – these customers are in a rush! 2) Back up your CX metrics with short qualitative input from the customer to explain why outcomes may have shifted. 3) Measure experiences – both online and offline – to expose the different experiences in each channel.
- Learn from history. Learn from past collaborations and adjust your strategy to maximize shopper satisfaction. Although sellouts for these collaborations are expected, don’t assume your customers will be okay with it. Use precedents to find and remove specific pain points in the customer’s journey. Expect high traffic? Let the customers know which hours will be the busiest. Anticipate long checkout lines? Line-bust with mobile checkout to keep lines short and shoppers happy. Is the website overloaded at launch? Consider staggering product launch over the course of the day. Observe customer behavior both online and in-store, and feed your findings back for better a CX design the next time.
- Set customer expectations beforehand. What good does it do to offer goods that the majority of customers ultimately cannot purchase? Be transparent and set expectations appropriately so customers are not surprised. This needs to be a consistent message across all channels and touchpoints, including scripted face-to-face service or call-centers before the launch.
- Prepare your staff. Ensure staff is ready to help customers by keeping them informed of inventory, colorways, shipping options, and size alternatives. Just because a product may be unavailable, it doesn’t mean your sales staff should be too. Prepare them with scripting for common issues that come up at the busiest times. Rehearse and train for the launch. Use service design principles to ensure staff is on point, prepared to help, and equipped with the tools they need to improve the customer’s experience.
These are just a few key elements that will help improve the customer’s experience thus creating a more satisfied, and more likely to return, haute couture customer.