How Harvey Nichols plans to fill the gap between offline and online sales

Online sales are trailing in-store sales, but luxury department store Harvey Nichols thinks it can fill it with services that induce people to shop online and keep what they buy.

Harvey Nichols announced a deal with retail technology company Hero this past week that lets online shoppers chat with tablet-carrying salespeople in stores about specific products on a WhatsApp-style messaging service. Shoppers can also view products using the Hero service’s live stream feature that lets Harvey Nichols salespeople share a live video feed of products they have been chatting about to shoppers.

In the past few months, there have been “tens of thousands of interactions” with the Hero technology as more stores implement the service, Hero CEO Adam Levene said. People who use Hero’s technology on the site ended up spending up to twice as much and are five times more likely to spend than those who don’t use it, said Pearson Poon, executive director at Harvey Nichols. He said return rates have declined since the trial started, but didn’t share specific numbers. The majority of the sales through Hero during the trial phase happened on mobile devices, he said. Overall, sales through the retailer’s site account for 10 percent of its total sales, with most of online sales coming through mobile devices, said Poon.

Salespeople at the retailer’s flagship store are being trained on how to use Hero ahead of a wider rollout to its seven other stores in the U.K. and Dublin. Part of the training focuses on Black Book, a feature that lets shoppers keep in touch with their preferred salespeople in and out of stores. Harvey Nichols plans to get hundreds of salespeople to use the technology to increase the chances of boosting online sales, Poon said.

Poon hopes to expand the work with Hero using data on how its sales associates interact with shoppers. The hope is to change Hero’s model so that when online shoppers do visit a store, the store knows who they are based on their shopping history and they can be offered additional benefits. Harvey Nichols has an undisclosed stake in Hero, in part so it can fast-track new innovations.

“A lot of our online customers have actually never been to a Harvey Nichols store, but with something like Black Book, we can start to invite them inside for new launches or in-store pop-ups, for example,” said Poon. “We want to eventually tie all our services up into a bundle for customers so that those features and CRM aspects of our model are working together to add value to the shopping experience.”

Services like Hero can be a way for retailers like Harvey Nichols to bridge the cold e-commerce experience with the intimate face-to-face interaction, said Jason Cobbold, md of innovation agency Redscout. “One of the challenges we frequently see is the inability of retailers to identify online behavior with offline behavior.  A person may have spent hours and hours investigating the spec, style and price of a car they want, and yet they will be completely cold to the sales associate answering the phone.”

Luxury fashion site Farfetch will also play a role in Harvey Nichols’ evolving strategy, selling Harvey Nichols merchandise. Deals with the likes of Hero and Farfetch could become more common as Harvey Nichols looks for ways to improve the customer experience. The retailer also is looking to Facebook and Instagram to play a larger role in driving online sales, with the business already experimenting with selling products through Instagram Stories, Poon said.

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