Lingerie brand Agent Provocateur is using WhatsApp to offer discreet customer service


Shopping for lingerie could be an awkward affair, to say nothing of finding the perfect pair of £195 ($236) glittery nipple tassels.

But if you’re a big spender at high-end underwear brand Agent Provocateur, you can ask advice from the privacy of your WhatsApp inbox. Here, store staff have spent the last year offering their top clients tailored updates on new arrivals and events at the brand’s 126 outlets worldwide.

The tactic, which has proved popular with VIPs, was the inspiration behind Agent Provocateur’s WhatsApp style service in December with a promotion named Ménage à Trois available to new customers, too.

“We saw the want for personalization and support over the Christmas period and decided to explore this,” explained an Agent Provocateur spokeswoman.

Over 10 two-hour windows, WhatsApp users could invite an agent into a group conversation with their partner to discuss what they wanted for Christmas. And in a world of automation, Agent Provocateur’s team of style advisers answered their queries manually.

A screenshot from one of the brand's WhatsApp conversations.
A screenshot from one of the brand’s WhatsApp conversations.

While it was a small sample size, the results were promising. Of the 112 conversations that took place, 31 percent resulted in store visits and 61 percent converted to website traffic.

“We had faith this service would be of use to clients all around the world,” said the spokeswoman. “Especially when many consumers during this peak-trading season are time-poor.”

Plus, with high-paying customers, the effort can be worth it. Agent Provocateur needs its lucrative VIP shoppers more than ever. Investment firm 3i, which acquired the company in 2007, revealed in November that Agent Provocateur has been hit by declining luxury spend in “a number of its key markets” as it has expanded.

3i wrote down its 80 percent stake in the business by £39 million. There’s also been some boardroom drama: Chairman Chris Woodhouse stepped down in December after an accounting inquiry. CEO Garry Hogarth left the business after nearly a decade in February.

WhatsApp, like other messaging platforms before it, has promised to become a more hospitable environment for brands. It updated its privacy policy in August to accommodate as yet undisclosed business communications it has been testing.

The spokeswoman said the brand is looking to continue the service over upcoming gifting holidays like Valentine’s Day. Chatbots, many marketers’ new obsession, would be an easy way to scale up the service, but for now they remain something the brand “has an eye on.”

“We’re always looking at new and innovative ways of connecting with our customers,” the spokeswoman said.

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