Selling Luxury Retail
What are the biggest challenges in luxury retail customer service today?
Converting shoppers into buyers.
Meeting the customer with an open heart.
Interacting with customers confidently and effectively.
Honoring the bespoke quality of the merchandise with appropriate sales techniques. The merchandise may be wonderful, but it can’t be expected to sell itself. You have to be unique when presenting luxury shopping. It must be experience-based, not just product-based.
As an authority on increasing sales for some of the best brands in the world, I have firsthand experience with what creates success and what doesn’t.
While a hallmark of my motivational speeches is that discounting doesn’t build your business, many of the finest luxury boutiques are being reduced to discount pricing because they don’t see what else they can do.
Selling luxury retail in brick-and-mortar boutiques is unlike most other retail environments. At the highest end of luxury are exclusive, bespoke, one-of-a-kind apparel, vehicles, watches, accessories, and more.
But every segment of retail has a luxury element. Why pay $300 or more for a sneaker drop from Nike when you can get a pair at Payless for a fraction of the price? An iPhone costs over $1000 yet is often considered a commodity. It isn’t.
In Q3 2022, Hermes International — the French design house selling $10,000 handbags — saw sales climb 24% to $3.07 billion in the third quarter, despite raising prices by about 4% this year. The luxury firm plans to lift prices by another 5% to 10%.
With costly items and experiences, you serve a smaller, more demanding clientele than the mass market.
How to sell luxury brands?
To succeed in selling luxury, the focus for increasing conversions is Talent, Training, Transformation, and Throw Out.
What does it take to turn a salesperson into a sales ambassador?
A brick-and-mortar store is only as good as its salespeople. After all, the salesperson is the face of the store and has the most direct interaction with customers. Therefore, brick-and-mortar stores must invest in training their salespeople to be transformed into sales ambassadors.
• First and foremost, associates need to be knowledgeable about the products they are selling, and luxury brick-and-mortar stores, in particular, need to ensure that their salespeople are properly trained to provide exceptional customer service.
• In addition, brick-and-mortar stores must create a motivating and positive work environment for their salespeople. When salespeople feel valued and appreciated, they are likelier to go above and beyond for customers.
• Finally, brick-and-mortar stores must give their salespeople the tools to succeed. This includes access to technology, competitive commissions, and adequate resources.
When brick-and-mortar stores take these steps, they can be confident that they have turned their salespeople into sales ambassadors.
What do affluent customers want, and how do you create a crew that delivers?
Affluent customers are increasingly looking for a luxury experience, and brick-and-mortar stores are feeling the pressure to deliver. Creating a crew that can provide this level of service requires training and attention to detail. To create an upscale atmosphere, retail employees need to be knowledgeable about the products they're selling and be able to provide impeccable customer service. Additionally, luxury customers expect a higher level of service regarding things like returns and exchanges. As a result, it's essential that brick-and-mortar stores have a well-trained crew to deliver the level of service that these customers expect. With the right team, brick-and-mortar stores can thrive in the luxury market.
What needs to change when it comes to selling luxury?
It's time to eliminate old ways of selling luxury items in a retail store. The brick-and-mortar store is no longer the only place to find luxury items; training sales staff to sell these items effectively is essential. In the past, selling luxury items was all about image and creating an atmosphere of exclusivity. Today, luxury shoppers are more sophisticated and price-conscious than ever before. They expect to be able to find the same level of quality and customer service online as they would in a brick-and-mortar store. As a result, retailers need to provide more training for their sales staff. This training should include how to select the right products, how to negotiate prices, and how to provide excellent customer service. With the right training, retail sales staff can provide a luxury shopping experience that meets the needs of today's discerning shoppers.
How to transform and reinvent luxury in-store retail experiences?
The brick-and-mortar retail store is under siege. Online shopping has removed some of the brick-and-mortar traffic and sales. And while many luxury brick-and-mortar stores have been forced to close their doors for good since the pandemic, others are bucking the trend. Shoppers are still willing to pay top dollar for luxury goods but now demand a more bespoke and personalized shopping experience. As a result, luxury retailers must reinvent how they sell their merchandise. They are investing more in training their staff to provide expert advice and guidance and creating more intimate and luxurious in-store experiences that cannot be replicated online. This new luxury retail model is proving successful, and it points the way forward for all brick-and-mortar stores.
That sounds like a lot, so let’s unpack each of those points…
"Ninety-nine percent of our people acknowledge that they learned a lot and it made them better salespeople – and that’s from our regional managers down. Employee Retention has increased significantly. The SalesRX program has proven extremely effective at allowing our employees to sell more and make more."
"SalesRX has become the bar of acceptance to be successful at Hammitt."
"Bob’s approach to retail is blunt, real world, growth oriented and passionate as only a true industry veteran can relate. His presentations are highly motivating and his message is pure retail common sense. When you hire him for your event (not “if”), you should put him in as your keynote speaker. As one of our clients said best, “it was smart to have Bob Phibbs’ mindset-oriented topic kick off the day, as it set the tone for a positive experience."
What makes a good luxury salesperson?
Get The People Right.
Remember, the customers coming into your shop have worked hard to be able to afford to purchase items in your store. Your people serving them, and I do mean serving them, had better understand that.
Ride The Wave.
Your employees must be able to vicariously enjoy the thrill of customers handling and buying a luxury product.
Lose the “I have so-and-so employee, and she’s great, but...” You need your employees to be great with no ifs, ands, or buts.
Your employee must accept and can add to the customer’s selection without imposing personal judgment, fears of what they can afford, or projecting negative prejudices onto an item they want to purchase.
Your sales team must convey a why not? attitude, one that says to each customer, “You’re good enough; you deserve this.” Even if they can’t afford it themselves, they must be able to sell it as if they could.
How to enhance the luxury retail experience for customers?
Expect The Best.
Employees must be able to mirror their luxury customers, who are naturally optimistic. Salespeople need to be able to snap into that role as soon as a customer walks in, even if they haven’t talked to any customer for hours. That means it can’t be faked. Remember, every customer is an opportunity, but you won’t always know how that opportunity will pay off when it first walks in the door.
Focus on the Individual.
From the employees you hire to the merchandise you select, your goal is to have what others want. That means each must stand out – in a great way.
Focus on the couple.
Whether it is a bride-to-be and her fiancé, two women, or two guys, you name it; you must keep both engaged in the process.
How salespeople sell to affluent customers
Have A Treasure Trove.
Your salespeople must have many ways to develop trust and sell your product. The one-size-fits-all approach that might work for someone working in a fast-food restaurant will not work when selling luxury goods. Customers who purchase luxury goods have stronger personalities and are self-assured, and just like the most exclusive luxury goods, no two are ever alike. Use a proven selling system like SalesRX.com.
Know All The Brands.
Whether you sell cars or cashmere, the new luxury buyer is a player; their connections, brains, talent, or looks got them their money. Salespeople must notice the brands these customers are already wearing, from the Jimmy Choo shoes on their feet to the Omega Seamaster watch on their wrists. Luxury customers appreciate talking to people who know the differences in feel, smell, taste, and service. If they don’t sense this shared appreciation, luxury customers won’t respect any advice or goodwill-building the employee has to offer.
Be One Of A Kind.
If something is truly a luxury item, it should be seen as unique in terms of its features and benefits, memorable for the event it was purchased for, and irreplaceable in the bond forged between the item and the customer.
What do affluent customers want?
Pay Attention To The Details.
While it might seem obvious, attention to detail can’t end in the workshop where bespoke merchandise is created. How your product is cleaned, displayed, and held or shown to a shopper must be thought of, trained, and executed the same each time. But further, a follow-up with the customer after the purchase is just as important. You want to maintain the relationship you have crafted with that consumer so they return to you the next time they want something similar. And when someone comments to them about the purchase they made from you, they will happily give their recommendation.
Teach Personality Styles.
The ancient Greeks categorized them; anyone trying to sell anything should know about them. Analyticals and Drivers are likelier to listen to your spiel about a product – though for different reasons. Analyticals will listen more to the technical aspects. Amiables and Expressives are more likely to respond to emotions about a product or to feel understood. Drivers and Expressives are more likely to respond to the prestige of an item. Expressives may present a more “live for today persona,” while Analyticals will want to know how timeless something is. For those reasons …
Have Four Versions of Stories.
Yes, stories and product details are what make your luxury goods unique. Still, the four personalities dictate how you can break it down, so Drivers know why it’s the best with a detail, Analyticals know how it’s the best along with all the details, Expressives know why it’s unique to them, Amiables know how popular it is and which celebrities have endorsed it.
Luxury customers are busy with multiple demands on their time even when they shop. While a coffee house can put up a sign, “Please finish your call before ordering,” you can’t so come up with a way to deal with the probable interruption.
How would you approach a customer in luxury retail?
The best way to approach a customer hasn’t changed - be the most authentic version of yourself. Maybe you don’t “feel” like smiling or have a personal issue you’re dealing with; you have to find the inner strength to put that aside. A shopper - especially in a luxury store - is not looking for anything less than hope and attention to their needs. For those few minutes, they want to feel like they matter.
We all judge others within seconds, so make sure not only are you smiling so they can see it, but also your body is smiling. What does that look like? You want your arms to be open or at your sides. You want your feet to be pointed toward the customer and, of course, to be standing.
Your voice has to sound like it is a good day. Your eyes need to look to connect. And your words should be as simple as “Welcome” or “Good morning.”
And remember, a good outfit speaks volumes about its wearer so take care when picking yours.
What Won't Work When Selling Luxury?
Get Up Off The Floor.
In the olden days in Britain, if you were serving someone of “station,” you were to hide your personality, speak when spoken to, and leave your thoughts at the door. Many luxury retailers modeled their service after this example. But now, good service demands face-to-face contact and open opinion; the new player values people equally and envisions heroes selling to heroes.
Settling For Mass-Market Employees.
Your limited-edition timepiece, bespoke suit, one-of-a-kind boots, or any other premium products are personalized and unique. So why settle for the colorless, bland salesperson who takes away energy from the very products they are supposed to sell?
Selling On Discount.
I know shoppers haggle and ask for a deal. The marketplace is filled with ways to get discount goods or previously worn. And the gray market continues to expand - especially online. When you discount a luxury good, in particular, you have discounted that one item and the billions in equity you have built for that brand to hold such a high place in the market.
Keeping Bitter Employees.
These employees walk silently around the store with their hands behind them, expecting the customer to talk to them first. At this time, they vomit back gobs of useless information no one cares about that makes them feel superior to the customer.
Allowing A Still, Lifeless Store Environment.
Don’t create a space where customers feel watched, judged, and uncomfortable. No one likes to walk into an empty store where people talk in hushed tones. I’ve seen some jewelry stores playing suitable music in their parking lots to start an exciting experience.
Deciding Who Is Not Worth Your Time.
People with money don't dress up to go shopping anymore. You have no idea how much money the person has in front of you, yet many employees can be seen only responding to people who dress like them. That'll cost you.
From the way they dress, to how they talk, to the experiences they relate to. If you don’t believe something looks good or is of great value, by all means, don’t lie. And if you feel that way about most of what you sell, move on. Selling is nothing more than a transference of feeling.
Always Be Closing.
Made famous in the movie Glengarry Glen Ross for unscrupulous real estate investment salesmen, it is an old-school technique people can smell on you like you stepped in some animal droppings. No customer wants to feel they are being "closed" or made to do something. They will appreciate being guided, but that’s very different. Luxury goods are a want and not typically a time-sensitive need. So they may indeed think about it. If your luxury boutique sales process is more for tin siding or used cars – you’re probably leaving a lot of money on the counter.
Asked And Answered.
The more your selling style involves employees reacting to customer questions, the more it can be akin to the point-and-click of online retail. That means you will be more vulnerable to discounting like your competitors because there is nothing special about shopping in your luxury boutique or for your luxury brand.
Transforming the Luxury Retail In-Store Experience
To increase sales in this marketplace, you need to reinvent how you approach selling luxury items. Here are some changes to how you sell and important knowledge to hold when selling luxury.
Sell To The Side.
Customers who buy luxury items come in all shapes, sizes, and personality styles,. But the one thing they all want is to be counseled…not questioned…through a sale. Keeping salespeople behind a counter places a barrier between them and their customers. Ensure all sales are conducted on the floor, not behind the counter.
The luxury market is growing as more and more individuals discover what makes something truly a luxury item. It isn’t about whether your salesperson got the triple key for the diamond ring like in the good old days. It isn’t about bargaining with customers to trade in their previous purchase or finance the one in their hands.
Conversions are the lifeblood of every retail business. You need to convert browsers into customers to keep the doors open and the lights on. Typical mass-market retailers achieve this through a high volume of low-margin sales independent of having plentiful and competent staff.
But what about luxury retailers? By the very nature of the items they sell, they rely on a smaller pool of potential customers. That means they need to maintain high conversion rates. After all, the brand gets the shopper into the store, but if the salesperson fails to convert their interest into a purchase, then all that money used to get that shopper into the store is wasted.
Most luxury retailers cater to a specific niche with specific expectations and desires. If your salespeople aren’t meeting those expectations, conversion rates will suffer.
At that point, your store may be filled with many shoppers, but now they are just browsers looking at your merchandise without buying.
You may as well be operating a luxury retail museum.
How to drive higher conversion rates.
Poor conversion rates can result from various problems in a luxury retail store. One of the primary reasons is a disconnect between your customers and your salespeople.
Many premium retailers are surprised to discover that this disconnect can be caused by something as simple as the year a salesperson was born.
The time in which we were raised helps to shape our entire worldview. Each generation has a unique outlook on value, engagement, and buyer satisfaction. When different generations come together in a customer/ salesperson relationship, the differing viewpoints can be stark and lead to a disconnect.
Suppose the person selling the luxury item can’t see it from the perspective of the person buying it. How can they engage with that customer and create an exciting, fulfilling shopping experience?
Quite simply, they can’t.
Understand the Different Life Experiences of Generations
The generation gap is about much more than a person's birth decade. It’s about the attitudes that each generation brings to the shopping experience. Whether they’re the ones buying or the ones selling, the time in which they were raised will impact their approach to the process. Understanding how these approaches differ and how they can conflict is crucial for luxury retailers.
The Greatest Generation: Raised during the Depression, this generation knew nothing of luxury until adulthood. They made do with little or nothing because that was all they had. In the post-war boom, they carried their frugality into a rapidly growing luxury market. These people save for months or years to buy a luxury item. They are fully aware of the markups associated with these items but consider it worthwhile due to the value and quality of the items. Even though they will be the smallest percentage of your customers, it is important to know that for this generation, you get a superior item when you pay more.
The Baby Boomers: Baby Boomers are about upward mobility and keeping up with the Joneses. After watching their parents succeed from nothing, they continue that arc, building even more success. They like material items and look for the best when they’re shopping. They like a good deal but aren’t only looking for discounts or handouts. Boomers have brand loyalty and still associate name brands with intrinsic quality. With disposable income and an eye for value, they expect the best products and services. They’re the most likely to complain if they don't get both. Word-of-mouth is a hallmark of this generation. If their complaints aren’t resolved, they will tell their friends and may never buy that brand or shop at that retailer again.
The Millennials: The Millennial generation has inverted the entire purpose of branding. Name brands used to identify and distinguish products; now, they’ve become blanket terms. Starbucks is just a brand of coffee; Sketchers are just shoes. They don’t associate brands with different qualities of items. They can’t afford luxury items and have a negative attitude toward the markups that go with them. Millennials are perfectly happy with store brands, especially if they can get them at a discount. They rent clothes, shop on Craigslist, and buy disposable fast-forward fashion that delivers a price, not value. When it comes to customer service, they just don’t care. They’ve never experienced good service and aren’t concerned with human engagement and personalized attention. This generation has been raised in a virtual community and isn’t worried about real-world interpersonal relations. To make matters worse, Millennials are also the most likely to work in retail.
Generation X: A difficult nut for retailers to crack, Gen Xers distrust marketing, have less brand loyalty, and are more interested in experiences than material possessions. This generation will simply quit a job if they can’t get time off. With an open job market, they can always get another job. They are jaded regarding materialism and don’t associate quality with brands. While many may view resale items as better than full-priced retail, they’ll often buy the cheapest version of a product - for example, from fast fashion powerhouse Shein - without regard to its overall quality or longevity. Some say Gen Xers assume everything is disposable and likely to break anyway.
Generations Won't Mix Unless You Train Them
For a luxury retailer, it makes sense to target Boomers. After all, according to a May 2020 report by Nielsen and BoomAgers, while Boomers represent 44% of the U.S. population, their buying power is considerable. They will hold 70% of U.S. disposable income in the next five years. In short, they have expendable cash and an eye for quality. Boomers are a huge market in terms of population and capital. However, they’re not the only market. Focusing on them is a good bet but still results in a smaller pool of potential customers. Due to this smaller market segment and the nature of the items sold, luxury retailers must maintain high conversion rates. This requires giving Boomers and Millennials what they want regarding products and shopping experiences.
Looking at the other side of the sales relationship, luxury retailers are more likely to hire Millennials for their sales force because most Millennials have no illusions about retail providing a path to prosperity and are resigned to work for typically lower pay if the job suits their lifestyle. Millennials also benefit the brand because of their natural disposition toward collaboration, inclusiveness, and self-sufficiency. There are many good reasons why retailers depend on Millennials for the bulk of their salesforce. The problem is this generation has an almost polar-opposite attitude to the Boomer generation they’re selling to.
Using Millennials to cater to Boomers creates a dichotomy that can directly affect conversion rates. Retailers who fail to address these generational differences will end up with expensive items sitting on the shelf until they can be marked down and sold by the value of the discount, not the product. Worse, younger salespeople frequently have no idea what they may have done to alienate the Boomer customer. And vice versa.
NOT SEEING EYE TO EYE
Luxury retailers face a difficult challenge when it comes to pushing better-quality brands. Their sales forces lack the necessary mindset for selling these products and often show customers only low-quality watches in comparison, despite knowing that many Millenials would not be interested or able to purchase such an item if offered directly from Millennials' preferred channels like smartphones where engagement can happen virtually anywhere at any time with no deadline pressure.
The detached nature of today's workforce also leads consumers into negative shopping experiences due largely because they do not feel engaged during these transactions.
This can drive away Boomers who expect a luxury shopping experience to be all about them. In the end, the result is fewer conversions.
To engage Millennials and other generations, retailers need a new approach. They should start by understanding that each person has their own set of values, which they learned from growing up in society and experiences throughout life -- both good and bad.
Big Box retailers like Walmart or Target understand this and hire older workers (who may have more experience) and coach current staff on how best to communicate with customers.
Creating conversions starts with creating relationships. The burden is rightly placed on the salespeople to find common ground and build shared experiences. While personal relationships are a two-way street, sales relationships in retail have, for years, tended to be more one-sided.
Selling luxury from now on will require the salesperson to create a two-way relationship that sells themselves first and then the product. Doing this will meet the customer’s expectations for service and management’s expectations for high conversion rates.
To bridge the generation gap and connect Millennials to their Boomer customers, here are ten secrets every premium retailer must know: Five to adopt and five they must drop.
- Brand Hierarchy - Millennials must understand that there are tiers of quality: good, better, and best. In a luxury retail environment, they shouldn’t push good or better when the best is available.
- Vicarious Joy - Millennials need to learn to revel in the experience of selling luxury items to people who truly value and enjoy them, even if they can’t afford the items they’re selling.
- Brand Awareness - What handbag or watch a customer wears can reveal them as a luxury shopper from across the room. Millennials need to spot and identify previous purchases of luxury items.
- Make it Personal - Luxury shoppers are as interested in the experience as much as the item. They want engagement, personalization, and undivided attention.
- Understand Value - Millennials must understand the value of the items they sell separately from the price at which they sell them.
- Get Over It - Millennials look down on marked-up items they can’t afford. This attitude has to go on Day One, or they will transfer their skepticism onto customers.
- Value vs. Price - Most Millennials are happy with discounts or private-label items. They’re more concerned with price than value. This is the opposite attitude of their target market and needs to be carefully explained.
- On the Move - Millennial salespeople spend more time with their hands behind their backs than just-caught felons. Salespeople standing around, hands clasped behind their backs, waiting for customers to come to them, don’t create an engaging experience and make them little more than passive clerks. Just answering questions doesn’t increase conversions.
- Information Overload - Inundating a luxury shopper with all the technical details of an item won’t seal the deal. Luxury shoppers want the experience to be about them, which means making the luxury item about what it will do for them, not just the product features.
- No Judgments - Millennials can quickly judge people who don’t look like they can afford luxury items. This can lead to erroneous and embarrassing assumptions about that person’s budget.
BRIDGING THE GENERATION GAP
These aren’t character flaws on the part of either Millennials or their customers. They’re simply the attitudes they’ve adopted as a product of the times they grew up. The problems arise when these various generations interact in a retail environment. The contradictions and conflicts created can result in a negative experience for everyone involved. While this can be disheartening for the salesperson, it can be disastrous for the retailer. A single negative experience can permanently color a Boomer’s opinion of the retailer or brand. And worse, when a disgruntled employee posts a receipt or photo on Instagram, it can have serious consequences.
While it would be nice to explain the differences to both sides and look for a common middle ground, that’s not the reality of the situation.
Luxury retailers want to sell to Boomers. Boomers want to buy from luxury retailers.
This means that it’s up to the Millennials working in luxury retailers and selling premium, full-priced merchandise to shift their attitudes to align with the values and viewpoints of the customers. The roles would be reversed if the Millennials were buying and the Boomers were selling. And in fact, this is the reason so many retailers are spending so much money on apps and in-store kiosks catering to a generation that does not value interpersonal selling.
NO INSURMOUNTABLE PROBLEMS
It isn’t the point of reprogramming Millennials with a completely different outlook on life. They are a product of their generation, and it will shape their attitudes for the rest of their lives. However, their attitudes must align with customers' needs when working in a luxury retail environment.
All retailers, luxury or otherwise, must instill in their salespeople a desire and willingness to identify and meet their customer’s expectations. The generation gap is one instance where the importance of this issue is highlighted, but it also exists in other facets of the retail experience.
Any time salespeople encounter different customers, they will be called upon to overcome those differences. This skill is taught during training, supported by constant reinforcement, and mastered through experience.
The Future of Luxury Retail
The appetite for luxury is only growing, not just in the U.S. or China but worldwide. While buzzwords like digital transformation and metaverse are bandied about, luxury brands will need to expand training their frontline beyond features and the soft skills of engaging strangers to leverage the desire for the scarce, the bespoke, and the truly luxurious.
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