With retail stores across the country now closed to prevent the spread of coronavirus, many digital-first companies are encouraging customers to keep shopping and engage with them through video conferences.
Prior to the outbreak, many brands were already chatting with customers through emails, phone calls, social media platforms and even one-to-one text messages, and others had started dabbling in video chats. Now as stores close for the foreseeable future and customers spend more time at home on their phones and laptops, some companies are finding that video styling services are helping keep the business steady. It’s still early days, as most stores only started closing this week, but companies from Brideside, Universal Standard and Cuup are seeing early success in a shift to video conferences — and a demand from customers who still want to shop but want a personal touch to their shopping experience.
For some companies, virtual styling was already part of the business, so these companies are simply using marketing — mainly through social media — to encourage customers to use these services and continue shopping.
Universal Standard, for example, closed all of its retail stores — located in New York, Chicago, Houston, Portland and Seattle — beginning on Monday, March 16, and they’re set to remain closed through Tuesday, March 31. As a result, the company is pushing more customers to its virtual styling platform, found on the Universal Standard e-commerce site. Bra company Cuup is also seeing an uptick in its video conferencing bra fitting services, which launched in April.
Traditionally these sessions are 20 minutes long with a member of Cuup’s fit therapist team. During a session, a Cuup employee video conferences with a customer to help them find the perfect fitting bra and talk through any issues the customer typically has with bras. Lately, customers have been opening up to the employees about everything from bras to TV shows they’re watching in self-isolation, to recipes they’re cooking at home.
“Our stylists have conversations with the customers; they’re becoming friends with each of these people. So we are trying to push that in our marketing that [virtual fittings] are a great way to connect,” said Abby Morgan, co-founder and CMO at Cuup.
Morgan said the shift to virtual in the last week wasn’t a huge pivot for the company: Three fit team members, who previously worked in the company’s show room, are now dedicated to these virtual conversations. The marketing team is also spending more time driving customers there.
“We are going to be using our communications channels to really champion this, through IGTV and Instagram Stories. One of our fit therapists is going to take over our Instagram Stories soon and walk people through what an online fit experience feels like,” Morgan said.
For other companies that don’t have robust virtual stylist tools, or had a handful of in-store fittings or appointments booked, virtual meetings are also becoming increasingly useful.
Bridal company Brideside made its entire styling team available for video conferences as of Wednesday. For any brides that had in-store appointments booked March 18-29, the company reached out to either postpone the appointment or offer a virtual appointment. Brideside started as a digital-only company in 2014 with a focus on virtual appointments, done mainly over the phone. But in the last two years, it doubled down on showroom experiences, opening seven locations and attending dozens of trunk shows each year. Now, the company is having to refocus its business around the virtual world.
On Friday March 13, the Brideside team held an all-hands staff meeting, and 72 hours later, it had kits for all stylists to take home, which included color swatches and a guide to working from home; they were equipped take on a virtual appointments. Brideside promoted the shift to virtual appointments through email, its website and social media.
“We’ve always wanted to be more visual to our remote clients, but it just never quite took off. Now, everyone wants that human connection, so it’s forcing our hand and making it a reality that we have to adopt to,”said Nicole Staple, co-founder of Brideside.
The brand did not share the number of virtual appointments booked in the last week, but Staple did say she has noticed an uptick in appointments coming outside of big cities.
“We are seeing a ton of traction of the virtual appointments from people in smaller towns. People are craving the idea of social interactions. Smaller towns are turning to us, especially those with weddings in Q4 and into 2021, who are still planning to get married but just want to keep moving forward with this process,” Staple said.