Harvey Nichols launches tech to bring in-store experience to e-shoppers

Harvey Nichols is rolling out a major new service designed to connect online customers with store associates. Using technology from specialist Hero, it will also add a strong element of personalisation for customers, build deeper staff-customer relationships, and allow sales staff to earn commissions from online sales.


Harvey Nichols/Hero


The company has been testing the Hero service at its Knightsbridge, London flagship for a year and is now widening the offer to all of its stores. And it’s clearly heavily committed to the tech with the retailer’s investment arm also a minority stake in Hero.

In a presentation in London on Tuesday, Harvey Nichols executive director Pearson Poon and Hero chief Adam Levene said that the test period had been a success with many thousands of customers using the service and the retailer seeing much higher conversion rates, as well as deeper engagement.

It has an exclusive agreement with Hero, making it the only luxury department store in the UK to use the technology.

So how does it work? The whole thing is based on messaging because, after all, this is what consumers are obsessed (and very familiar) with. 

The system kicks in when the online customer wants to speak to the company to get more information on items they’ve been looking at. Whereas they would usually be forwarded to a customer service centre or, increasingly with many e-tailers, a chatbot, with the new system they’re directed towards a relevant sales associate in the nearest Harvey Nichols store. The associate will be one with expertise in the particular category the customer has been browsing and will have indicated to the system that they’re available for online interactions rather than dealing with in-store customers.


Adam Levene of Hero and Pearson Poon of Harvey Nichols


The associate can then answer questions about specific items and also talk about what else is available. They can take photos of an item (if a customer wans to know whether it has inside pockets, what the lining is like or other details, for instance) and they can even livestream video. The aim is to make the online customer feel more like an in-store one.

The sales associate can also try to deepen the connection by inviting the online shopper to sign up to the ‘Black Book’ via which they’ll be kept up to date on products and news that might be relevant to them. And crucially, they can stay in touch with a specific sales associate when they’re actually visiting the store too.

OMNICHANNEL IS EVERYTHING

It’s an interesting concept that really does maximise the multichannel aspect of modern commerce. And in an age when many sales are seeping away from physical stores, this also emphasises the importance of the bricks-and-mortar location and - hopefully - helps to encourage customers to come into the store.

The initiative covers all product categories and at the presentation, Poon detailed how, during the test phase, a customer enquiring online about wine, was encouraged into the Knightsbridge store and went away from that physical store visit having spent £15,000 on other products.

Poon and Levene also talked up the ease of using the service, saying customers don’t need to download a specific app but can simply interact with the store via its website. And they said that Hero has important implications for both management and staff. 

The senior team can now assess staff performance as the system can show managers how associates are faring via data around the number of interactions they have, the number of orders taken and order values. 

Meanwhile, sales associates can earn money out of online growth, rather than watching as the website eats away at their commission.


Harvey Nichols/Hero


They’ll earn commission if an order is placed after they’ve spoken to a customer through Hero, and there’s also a model for commission to be split if, say, an associate has built up a customer relationship but happened to be on holiday at the time a sale was made.

Pearson Poon said of all this: “Closing the service gap between online and in-store is a critical part of our retail strategy, and we are delighted to be partnering with Hero to offer our online customers the same level of luxury, personalised service that they would experience at our stores. Our commitment to evolving our digital strategy has resulted in a minority investment being made in Hero by our Asia-based private investment fund, and we look forward to exploring continued innovation with Hero to bring to reality our vision of merging physical and digital channels to offer best-in-class customer experience.”

Levene added: “Since day one of our partnership, we have had a shared vision to reinvent the department store experience from the ground up, with digital at the very heart. Luxury is going through a fundamental transformation and we’re honoured to be working with Harvey Nichols to write the next chapter of the story of retail.”

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