On selling, networking and the retail experience

I happened to stumble upon this interview with Gucci’s CEO Mark Lee from last October where he discusses Gucci’s expanding presence in the Indian market. One of the points that came up was how luxury brands can sell to those with ‘new money’ who have the cash and the will to spend it, but can be intimidated by the store experience of top-end brands like Gucci and Louis Vuitton. Lee admitted that “In Gucci, our focus is that there should not be rudeness or there should not be snootiness now. Do we achieve that goal every time? No. It is a big focus of mine and we should strive to exude that warmth because it does not need to be a cold or a snooty experience.”

I am becoming more and more convinced that the experience of shopping is what will become important as the recession continues. When we buy something, yes we are buying an item but how much more will we enjoy it if we had a nice time buying it? And won’t that make us want to go back for seconds? I’m already finding that if I’m in a browsing mood I gravitate towards shops where I enjoy the environment from the merchandising, to the ambience, the music and the staff. This is why I love shops like Shop at Maison Bertaux, Dover Street Market and Start. The staff are genuinely friendly and knowledgeable and although they are obviously there to sell the stuff, you don’t feel like they’re just trying to flog you whatever they can, it’s all very subtle and extremely seductive.

A friend who used to work at Maison Margiela in Bruton Place is a very good salesperson. She told me how she would get into a natural conversation with a customer which would often lead to a sale, purely because they didn’t feel they were being sold to. In a sense the selling experience is a little like networking. Networking has a bad image as it’s seen as an insincere “I’m only talking to you because I think you can offer me something” whereas it’s really a two-way exchange. The same goes for the buyer-seller relationship. The seller makes some friendly chit-chat, the buyer lowers her hackles, the seller finds out more about the customer and her tastes and may go the extra mile by clueing her in on next week’s deliveries or a new range they’re launching. The two parties bond and a sale is made. The seller gets her commission, the buyer goes home with a nice new Margiela dress.

Some say they prefer shopping online but for me shopping online is a totally different experience to shopping in person. Many’s the time I have passed a store, decided on a whim to pop in, and ended up buying something that caught my eye. If I shop online it’s usually for something specific. I rarely browse and then find myself buying something unexpectedly. However, I can’t argue that the internet is a much easier, quicker and more straightforward option. If the high street wants to claw backs its customers from the internet it will have to make the in-store experience more enticing and it would do well to start with its staff. Less snootiness, and more warmth is the way forward.