Online and offline shopping experiences differ in many aspects and brick and mortar still seems to attract the majority of buyers and realize the largest portion of sales. As brands in Fashion and Luxury are embracing the e-commerce journey, they are finally starting to connect the online and offline environment, trying to offer a seamless shopping experience. While some aspects of the physical shopping experience can hardly be replicated online, for example it is very hard to convey the feel of materials, we argue that major areas of improvement still exist. For instance, the interaction between customers and shopping assistants can be offered also online. Providing an efficient online customer service can be crucial for Fashion and Luxury brands. It represents an important opportunity to generate sales by preventing customers from departing from their shopping intentions when questions arise.
In our latest Digital Competive Map we have analyzed how a panel of 32 Fashion and Luxury mono-brands assists its clients online. Our findings reveal that in the past year we have witnessed to an increased focus by Fashion brands to both basic customer service (answering basic e-commerce related questions, such as how to deal with a return) and style advisory (concerning fashion tips and product details).
Basic Customer Service under the microscope
Of the two types of services mentioned above, basic customer service is the easiest to cater for brands. Consistently we find that all 32 brands offer email assistance and only five are still not offering phone assistance. Still a minority (11 out of 32) is offering chat assistance, this figure is however increasing when compared to the end of 2015, when only 7 brands were assisting clients by chat. Conversations via chat have great potential: they are a great medium when it comes to retaining the customer by providing very quick answers and minimizing doubts on spot, moreover they allow assistants to show further items to the client by sending a link or simply by attaching files (e.g. Coach).
The rise of Style Advisory via Chat
While basic customer service is largely available and efficiently implemented, style advisory is still lagging. When focusing on style advisory via phone and email, we observe that the brands with a good service still maintain it and at the same quality standard. The laggards however still avoid introducing both phone (8 brands) and email (12 brands) assistance. In particular, email assistance can be a two-edged sword and easily transition from being a useful medium to being particularly disappointing when poorly implemented. Indeed, we find that 8 brands out of 32 provide an email address or contact form, but fail to deliver a response. By contrast, important signs of improvement come from the chat arena, where presence has doubled from 5 to 10 brands and implementation shows good performances.
How to get meaningful Fashion Tips
What about the quality of the provided answers? After testing, we find that the fastest way to get in touch with brands is surely by phone and chat, whereas the best answers are provided by phone. Indeed, during phone conversations clients are able to receive extended opinions on styles and abundant tips on where and how to wear an item, how to dress it up and down, how to accessorize and coordinate it. Many brands (among which Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Fendi and Burberry) offered an outstanding service: not only were the answers very insightful, but also customer assistants conveyed a sense of passion for the brand and its offering. Other than relevant tips related to the products, in some cases (e.g. Dior and Chanel) representatives also provided information on the brand and how products are crafted. By contrast, on average email assistance showed weaker performances, with exception of Céline which can be reached only via email, but delivers an outstanding service.
The Challenge for the future
We conclude that the vast majority of brands is able to cater a basic customer service experience, but the real challenge ahead for fashion brands is to reinforce fashion advisory services, which are still far from their full exploitation and to highlight them better in their dedicated website sections.
First, style advisory services are still not available for all brands in all three channels (email, phone, chat). It goes without saying that clients also expect a good service standard once the channel is available. Second, advisory services should be adequately promoted. The best revealing name in our panel is “Fashion Advisor”, but in most cases the labels are underrepresenting the quality of the provided service. Department stores are lecturing when it comes to promoting fashion advisory: Saks’s chat, for example, pops up as “Connect with a Saks Stylist” leaving customers with little doubt about what kind of advice they are going to receive. Also, in Net-a-Porter’s “Contact Us” section representatives are labeled as “Fashion Consultants”.
We argue that excellent customer service might play a crucial role…at the end of the day…why wouldn’t the online store have a shopping assistant if the brick and mortar store does?