‘The Next Evolution of Fashion Tech’: Luxury Retailers Are Returning to Chat Commerce

March 12, 2020

This article originally appeared in Glossy+. Read an excerpt with commentary from ForwardPMX below.

Fashion retailers are weighing the role of conversational commerce in luxury shopping.

Last month, Walmart closed Jetblack, its shopping concierge service that catered to an affluent shopper and centered on text message-based communication. The announcement came amid widespread reports of chatbots’ resurgence, which begged the question of where Walmart went wrong. Since, luxury retailers have not shied away from chat commerce but have instead taken alternative approaches, particularly in terms of the service provided. The resounding message: Bots and chat still have legs in luxury.

The consensus is convenient, considering the recent, coronavirus-induced drop in retail foot traffic. E-commerce sales are up, many retail workers are quarantined at home and for those that have invested in digital-based customer service, it can work to pick up the slack. BuyWith, which facilitates live online shopping sessions starring influencers on brands’ websites, has seen a significant boost in demand from brands and retailers since the outbreak first emerged, said Adi Ronen, BuyWith’s co-founder and CEO. “Brands can host events without fear of gathering people in public places,” he said.

Likewise, retailers with chat capabilities in place are better positioned to ride out the current storm. 

This week, in sync with its launch in the states, U.K.-based Threads Styling announced new hire Samina Virk as president of its U.S. business. Virk’s first order of business will be expanding local awareness of the luxury retail company, which lets users connect with personal shoppers through text or WhatsApp by swiping up on its Instagram Stories. The shoppers offer styling advice and facilitate orders.

Also showing traction in the space was brand agency ForwardPMX’s acquisition earlier this month of voice and chat platform Headliner Labs, which built on an existing relationship. Headliner Labs’ co-founders, CEO Caroline Klatt and COO Dana Gibber, joined ForwardPMX as the company’s co-chief innovation officers, with a goal of prepping its clients for growth in a world where voice technology is the norm. Headliners Labs’ luxury clients include Saks Fifth Avenue and Cole Haan. 

“Chatbots hit the scene hard,” said Klatt. “And then brands and retailers were trying to figure out what to do with them. But that painful testing phase has passed. Now, we’ve reached this stable place, where technologists, retailers and brands have come to learn the opportunity and value of voice. Chatbots never really went away, but they are back in style.”

She said a main reason customers are warming up to using chatbots is that they facilitate convenience. For example, shoppers can get a question answered by a bot anytime, rather than wait for a customer service rep to answer during business hours.

And luxury consumers have come to expect them, said Gibber.

“Luxury shoppers expect a premium buying experience that’s commensurate with a considered expensive purchase,” said Gibber. “The regular methods of e-commerce won’t cut it for that kind of shopper; it needs to be supplemented with a level of personalization and customization that chatbots provide.”

In Headliner Labs’ experience, virtual sales associates have increased order value and customers’ lifetime value, and have worked to acquire new customers — the later of which is typically clients’ objective. What’s more, they provide brands and retailers with rich first-party data, which customers often voluntarily serve up in order to get personalized product recommendations.

Klatt said bots don’t typically replace associates or cut costs, but they instead free up employees’ time to do work that’s often times more valuable than addressing inquiries. 

“In the future, every single company in every single vertical is going to have a virtual sales associate or chatbot,” said Klatt. “How and what these look like will only continue to evolve. We’re going to move away from typing — it’s going to be all speech soon enough — and computers will basically be your sales people.” 



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