Rome: The Eternal City
I've never been to Rome so we tagged on an extra 5 days at the end of the cruise to see the sights.
There is a problem in going that extra week though. I don't care how big your suitcase is. By the time you've lived out of it for 2 weeks you are flat out of clean clothes so selecting something to wear becomes a challenge.
What I underestimated is just how that challenge could impact our shopping experience at one of the world's top luxury retailers. Ask yourself as you read though, 'could this happen at my winery?'
Rome: Luxury Shopping
|The Spanish Steps|
So shortly after we plopped into our hotel, we decided to take our disheveled selves for a walk and have some fun shopping at the Vuitton store near the Spanish Steps. That is where we had the Pretty Woman experience.
You remember the scene in the movie referenced in the video clip above, where Vivian in her 'street clothes' walked into a Rodeo Drive store and was utterly dismissed by the staff? They didn't want her in the store. That was that store's culture and that was my real-life experience at Louis Vuitton in Rome.
The Ugly Details:
We entered the LV store and with anticipation, wandered around the first floor but without anyone greeting us or acknowledging our presence.
It was a little busy so I didn't think too much about it. Undeterred we went upstairs. Maybe everyone was just busy and they were less busy up there?
Again, despite plenty of sales associates walking around, nobody greeted us and not a single person said 'can I help you?'
My fiance Jackie is far more intuitive than I in these matters and she was feeling uncomfortable. 'Let's just go' she said. Being more dense, I decided to continue the quest.
I was really in a state of denial. While I had only been in a few LV stores in my life, the brand's reputation is hard to ignore and because of that, I had built up expectations of the experience, which is the truth in what a brand should produce. High consumer expectation is a good problem to have!
I thought the poor service had to be an aberration. I decided we should just sit on the couch and wait. That should be an obvious sign we weren't just window shopping, right? But after about 5 minutes of me smiling and staring at every sales associate walking by but still getting zero attention, I decided for some reason we were being given a message: You don't belong here.
While walking down the stairs toward the exit, with one of the sales associates walking up the other direction we finally had our first personal interaction in our 20 minute stay:
"Arrivederci," she said with a smile.
Louis Vuitton: How To Ruin Your Brand
|Tomb of Julius Cesar|
I actually burst out laughing! I now understood the dismissive reaction of the sales associates. While I don't think we smelled, we didn't look like we could afford to be in the store and just like the movie, we were basically told to leave. Arrivederci trailer trash!!
It is a little funny in a warped sort of way. My mind raced to the parallel in the scene from Pretty Woman. Our clothes were wrinkled from the cruise length and we were dressed very casually like tourists who were trying to see Rome on $45 a day instead of consumers who were ready to shell out for goods with the LV logo. "I have all this money and no dress!"
I don't know for certain why we had that experience or what specifically is the culture at the store that allows everyone to ignore a guest, but that was our experience so the true reason is irrelevant. Execution is what matters and what I saw first-hand at the store was a crack in the vaunted LVMH armor.
One of the most valuable luxury brands in the world had totally and completely failed - store wide - at a luxury shopping experience. And make no mistake: For this experience to happen uniformly with all the sales associates responding the same way, I guarantee that this experience is not isolated just to me. This is endemic to that store at a minimum and left unchecked in one of the 4 fashion capitals of the world, that behavior will spread to their other retail stores, and the word will spread with consumers to the ruination of their brand.
But how does that tie into the wine industry? When it comes to luxury goods, when experience is part of the sales equation, tactics and execution are similar so there are lessons the wine business can learn.
Lessons Learned: Rethinking Your Sales Goals
|Triumphal Arch, The Forum, Rome|
We get those types in the wine business too. I understand how those people can absorb time and result in no commission and no wine sold. But for the sake of the brand is that the right sales behavior to foster?
Questions: How are you setting sales goals in your tasting room? Do your goals lead to effective interactions that drive positive brand equity, or are they purely about revenue? Is it possible a goal is overemphasized creating a circumstance that could lead to our experience? How are you measuring the effectiveness of your sales culture? Are you engaged and observing the activities in your tasting room for qualitative measures? Is your sales culture delivering your brand's future promise?
Lessons Learned: Are You Profiling Your Guests?
|The Trevi Fountain|
Today, we have many wineries who are trying to dial in their DtC practices. To improve tasting room sales in heavily frequented locations or tourist spots, wineries often have someone at the door as a greeter who can ask a few questions and then direct that person to the VIP Lounge, or the general tasting bar depending on their responses.
Profiling in that way can have positive results in giving the guest the experience they seek, but it's a very high-risk task. That important position can't be staffed by the equivalent of a restaurant hostess. Greeting someone is a minimum job requirement in a hospitable winery.
Questions: Does your winery value hospitality as an embedded imperative? Do you insist that everyone from cellar worker to CEO look guests in the eye and greet them when passing? Do you have someone who's job is to direct guests to positions within the tasting room? Is that a highly paid job or entry level? What is the first impression a consumer gets when they enter your place of business?
Lessons Learned: It's Not Just About What's in the Bottle
|St Peter's Basilica|
"Affluent consumers take customer service extremely seriously, which can make it or break it for luxury brands. These high-priced retailers can miss out if customers feel that the shopping experience is not up to the highest standards, no matter the quality of the product."
Like a Vuitton bag, fine wine is a luxury product. Quality of product is critical so we spend a lot of time thinking about the label, the story, the grapes and farming in order to make and present the best possible wine for the price point. But as a luxury good, the quality of the product is only the permission to play. After that, every experience your employees have with your guests either builds or detracts from your brand.
Questions: Have you hired a secret shopper to test how your guest interacts with your brand? Do you analyze all points of interaction such as social, direct contacts, desktop, phone, and smart phone communication? Each of those are defining the shopping and engagement experience and your brand. Do you monitor the digital brand that is being created with Yelp, Wine Searcher, and the volume of wine apps out there?
The End of the Pretty Woman Experience
|Pretty Woman Gets Respect|
By the end of dinner, with our strength restored and with the wine giving us new-found courage, we walked into the other LV store where we immediately faced four sweater-clad sales associates talking to each other. One of them looked at us and said, 'buongiorno' with a smile, and then resumed talking with her associates.
There was hope, but we still didn't have their attention.
I kept staring at her as we walked closer, and while continuing her conversation with her colleagues, our eyes connected and she said, "Do you need help?" I blurted out, "Help her!" pointing at Jackie.
I felt a little like Richard Gere at that point in the movie and the plaintive plea sounded funny coming out my lips. It was laced with irritation, expectation, and bolstered with the fortification of the bottle of Montepulciano we'd just consumed.
The associate walked behind the counter and after a slow start showing her some wares, started to warm Jackie up. I just took a seat on the couch as I was out of my element, but I was interested to see what Jackie was going to do? I started feeling better when I could see both the sales associate and her laughing, so I started sneaking pictures of the process like this one because I wanted to share this experience and story with you.
The Final Bill
It turned out we bought 4 different items at the second Louis Vuitton store and did predictable financial damage that I'm coming to grips with now that I've seen the credit card statements at home.
We knew when we started out that day that we were going to spend a painful amount of money on a product and like DtC in wine sales, both of us had an expectation that included being treated to a fun experience as part of the process. Experience is part of what you pay for when buying luxury.
Well .... we didn't do that, but it would have made an great end to the story! Wouldn't it??
Could this experience happen at your winery? That's the important question.