2020 was a retail gamechanger. While certain shifts such as digitalization and E-commerce had been underway for years, it took a pandemic for many changes to take hold. One tool, in use less than two years, stepped up to the challenge as physical stores closed, and sales associates disconnected from clients. BSPK, a mobile IOS clienteling app, helped a handful of European luxury brands stay connected and even surpass digital sales in the process. With France, England, and the many other European countries facing or already in a second lockdown, BSPK promises to keep the sales momentum going at this crucial retail time of the year.
The app was founded by Silicon Valley veteran Zornitza Stefanova, BSPK CEO in 2017. She plucked the former head of Retail Services Worldwide for Christian Louboutin executive Vanessa Mauri to head business development based in Paris. Her first-hand knowledge and clients – current and future are European luxury brands – made her a good fit. Bonpoint, the luxury French children’s wear shop, is a Parisian luxury brand currently using the app. But any company that involves a close relationship between client and sales associate could benefit; a bookstore, a wine store, specialized sporting goods, dance, or fitness retailers, to name a few.
Both recognized the need for a personalized and streamlined approach to clienteling – the practice of relationship building between the salesperson and customers to aid in future sales – that would empower sales staff with the tools to provide an excellent retail experience. BSPK, which is short for bespoke, aims to create a personal connection between the associate and the client, heightening the buying experience with the simplicity of platforms such as WhatsApp, WeChat, and messaging. It also allows for remote selling, which is crucial in a pandemic where many stores are forced to close, resort to click and collect only, which is France’s case.
Even before the pandemic, one of luxury’s most significant problems was retention and engagement,” says Stefanova, “how do you bring people back to the store who were distracted by mobile and E-comm shopping, especially by DTC? (direct-to-consumer brands without a physical space). She maintains store traffic was on a downhill trend regardless of the product. Once empowered, sales associates could build and nurture more relationships, which leads to a better shopping experience, a critical aspect that differentiates luxury from other retail.
I ask them what is the most important thing when you walk into the boutique in the morning, and they answer – ‘who do I call today? And what do I show them today?’ said Stefanova.
Until recently, clienteling was laborious and time-consuming, with the sales staff generally only focusing on their top ten or so clients, recalling retails’ former model that twenty percent of your clients made up eighty percent of your sales. Today’s retail landscape is more cutthroat, intending to convert every one-time shopper into a future sale. The app streamlines this process to gain insight and understanding of the customer quickly. “You have to work hard to make the sales target,” said Mauri, “You can’t wait for the inbound traffic; you have to sell outside of the boutique.”
But access to crucial sales info such as the customer sales history wasn’t available either. “Usually, the apps that cull this data for the CRM systems stop at the head offices,” notes Stefanova.
Functioning as smoothly as WhatsApp, BSPK doesn’t require the client to download anything nor company-wide training sessions or manuals. A typical five-tab menu bar allows a space for sales associates to build their client list by engaging them on the first sale to create a profile. The app contains professionally shot images of available internal and external stock, a huge time saver for the staff. While corporate offices generally had shots for E-commerce and wholesale sales appointments, the store couldn’t access them, making brand image control nearly impossible. “What client hasn’t received a soft iPhone image of a shoe in a stockroom next to a can of Diet Coke?” asked Mauri.
Customers who had already started using BSPK were able to avoid the furloughs many other retailers could not and sent their employees home in March with tools – a cellphone and the app – to stay connected. “Some of our clients tell us now, they don’t talk about foot traffic anymore because it’s irrelevant,” said the CEO. She added that “some of these new purchasing behaviors are going to stick, and if you are not prepared to adjust with that customer, you are not doing your job.”
One customer reported 70 percent of their sales occurring through BSPK since March when store closures began. Another went to a 92 percent transformation rate for this method, which continued after the stores opened. Mauri says of the conversion, “I think a lot of brands realized in the pandemic that they may have the best product, but if no client is buying it, then it’s worthless.” Even if luxury sales were accustomed to distance sales, this allows for them to happen in an ‘industrialized manner.”
Which isn’t to say it’s impersonal either. As shoppers flocked to E-comm’s sites in the pandemic, they also found they desired the same customer service and guidance they received in the store. Additional functionality on the app allowed brand site visitors to hit a tab and be connected to an associate using BSPK. Mauri says, “The human interaction can make that difference.”
The sales associate also is then credited with making the sale, crucial for typical commission-based salaries in retail. There has been a massive disconnect between in-store sales associates’ efforts and E-commerce until lately. Even if the salesperson helped that customer make the purchase, it wasn’t reflected in their numbers.
Keeping tabs on the stock is also necessary for salespeople. In the past, it has generally been left to outdated methods of calling around to other stores to ask other associates to track down the desired item physically. Undoubtedly, many clients can recall unsatisfactory experiences from sales assistants hoping to find an out-of-stock size or item at one physical store at another, often with futile results. The app allows instant transparency on the status.
Some luxury brands have built their apps, but Stefanova doesn’t see value in choosing not to outsource, mostly as some prospects have spent millions of Euros and still don’t have an app. With the app arena always in constant update-and-improve mode, BSPK doesn’t lose the time an in-house tech team spends on R+D when their app already has those updates implanted and on the market. Mauri concurs. “You could spend less money and get a better ROI. And an update with features making it more personalized to their brand.”
Stefanova isn’t alone in her thinking, judging by the Northern Light Venture Capital Series A fundraising effort, which resulted in her obtaining 7 million dollars to continue to grow her business. “2021 is going to be a critical year for us as we are doubling teams and reach next year in hopes of getting every European luxury brand on the platform whether they have four stores or four hundred,” said Stefanova.
The CEO believes that the app is a step in the right direction for improving a brand’s most important touchpoint – that between the client and the salesperson. “In luxury and retail – the thought process was always so focused just on the product, its attributes, the marketing, and the campaign. Or the item – the shoe or lipstick,” she said. “I don’t think they appreciate just how important the customer is.” In her view, this starts with motivating and empowering sales teams. “I think we have a responsibility to help change the conversation in luxury and highlight the importance of the client experience in this sector. Especially the new generation of shoppers who care about transparency and sustainability – it’s a changing mentality, and I think that a lot of brands aren’t there yet.”
The app isn’t solely aimed at empowering the end customer, though. Managers, regional directors, and even global sales directors can launch engagement opportunities on the fly according to different markets with different tastes and interests. The duo ensures the app allows for a more granular approach to connecting with the client and steering clear of annoying them with too much outreach.
“It’s more personal than a weekly newsletter as the client receives photos of product they are interested in,” said Mauri noting the like functionality of product suggestions sent by the associate, “Its less contact but more targeted and in this case, less is more.”