A breath of fresh air

 

Jack Flanagan asks The Perfume Shop’s managing director Gill Smith about the retailer’s approach to customer service

Creating an exciting digital platform for something as purely sensory as perfume might sound like a challenge but it’s one that can be overcome through innovation, says The Perfume Shop [IRDX RPSH] managing director Gill Smith. Her team has focused on an increasingly integrated online experience to make it easier for customers to shop. “We try to link everything up,” she says. “We want to provide that 360° experience so the customer can get anywhere.” This approach has already led to its websites driving a greater number of sales.

Making fragrance fit
Smith says the journey towards a more integrated site was never more difficult than when she came on as managing director two years ago, having worked for eight years with The AS Watson Group, which owns The Perfume Shop. When she arrived, she says, it seemed as though the brand had gone from a digital leader to “lagging behind” competitors. “When I became MD, the focus was on modernising The Perfume Shop. It used to be we were one of the best online retailers but generally, a seismic shift had taken place in the industry. My focus was to upgrade the customer experience, both in-store shop and online. We decided to love the website, essentially.”

A major challenge facing The Perfume Shop was how to overcome that sensory barrier. “Fragrance is very hard to sell online because you can’t smell it and while that’s a fundamental problem, we’ve tried to innovate beyond it,” says Smith. To achieve this, The Perfume Shop makes sure the experience fits the product. Although the scent itself can’t be communicated, the pictures of perfume bottles offer a visual element that’s popular on social media.

“Our web presence is very visual,” says Smith, “we want to show off our beautiful products. We have a fragrance blog, a beauty blog and our own editor, who does everything on them. This links up with Facebook, Twitter and the website so the customer can see what we’re up to and what we have.”

After ordering online, the experience of the product arriving is made as luxurious as possible to offset the digital transaction. “We’re always asking ourselves: ‘Why should you buy from The Perfume Shop and why shop online?’” says Smith. “It seems natural to think about delivery, so now we supply a lovely box with fragrance, samples of other products, plus a leaflet on new launches. The customer opens the box and it’s scented. It smells beautiful, whereas 18 months ago, it would just have been just a brown box. We also offer gift-wrap and make your own hampers, or you can have your bottle engraved. We actually had our first marriage proposal via perfume bottle this year, in October. All of this enhances the experience for the customer.”

An integrated experience
The Perfume Shop has also continued to improve its in-store experience alongside the digital experience. Smith says its stores are built to convey a sense of expertise to customers, which is important when selling expensive fragrances that are bought infrequently. “We were founded on excellent customer service. For us, it’s all about accessibility. Fragrance can be seen as an expensive, kind-of-snobby, inaccessible luxury. The solution is to give the customer the right information about each brand,” she notes.

The success of the online experience for customers has involved combining the visual elements of products with a robust online experience. The inner working of this programme, Smith explains, has been about creating a “360° experience” so that customers can connect separate channels together, such as the blog and the website, to make a purchase. “The customer should be able to get us from anywhere,” she notes.

Smith’s team takes a similar approach with customer service. “We have our own internal customer service team, as we’d never outsource,” she says. “Our customer services manager absolutely knows what the customer expects from them as she’s a qualified fragrance specialist, so she feeds that expertise back through her whole team as well as communicate that expertise across to the customer to give further value. What we’ve noticed is the questions they ask online – like ‘What should I buy for my 15-year old?’, ‘What would my wife like?’ – are the exact same questions we get in-store. They’re just looking for guidance.”

The company was the first fragrance retailer to incorporate live web chat, alongside phone and email, for customer support. All channels are monitored day and night, and a research team from InternetRetailing found rapid and helpful responses across them all, including a response time of 1h 24min over Facebook. The company is also now integrating new payment methods such as Apple Pay and launching a new app to tie in with its loyalty card, though Smith says that all this is really just “keeping up” with rivals.

The Perfume Shop uses an in-house social media team and, says Smith, conveying a sense of “fun” with social is a priority. The team has separate feeds with separate functions, such as customer services and a main channel where they post competitions and quizzes – and they post a lot, generating nearly 25,000 tweets per month. “We love to be social and we love to share,” says Smith.

These integrated services contribute to a sense of the specialist service that’s on offer, both in-store and online. “I think that’s just the way it’s going to be, until they invent smell-o-vision,” Smith jokes. “Our priority at The Perfume Shop for our online offer is to give them the same experience that they would get in-store.”

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