- Finding Your M.O. is an on-going series on The Business of Fashion penned by Áslaug Magnúsdóttir, co-founder and CEO of Moda Operandi, on her experience at the helm of a fashion-technology start-up. Last time, in Part 14, we examined the challenges of going corporate. Today, we delve into customer loyalty.
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — I’m writing this instalment of Finding Your M.O. from our largest market outside the US: the Middle East. Specifically, I’m in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, not in a hotel room, but relaxing at the beautiful home of one of our very first customers. This customer, whom I had only met once before, in a Paris restaurant, not only offered to host me and four of my colleagues in her beautiful home, but is also helping us organise an M’O event at the home of her close friend. This got me thinking about customer satisfaction and loyalty, critical ingredients of any successful business.
Every M’O customer is important. But we are also mindful of the fact that our business is a classic example of the so-called 80/20 rule: about 20 percent of our customers drive about 80 percent of the revenue. This means that some customers are “top customers,” who we treat very well. Of course, the 80/20 dynamic is not unique to M’O. When I worked at Gilt Groupe, we set up a special division called Gilt Noir for the site’s top customers. But how do you reach top customers? And how should you serve these shoppers so they stay happy and (hopefully) loyal?
FINDING TOP CUSTOMERS
When I look at our list of our top customers around the world, it’s clear that a large portion of them did not come to M’O via traditional online marketing channels like search and banner advertising. Rather, our most effective channels for acquiring top customers have been:
Personal contacts: Most of the top customers who started shopping M’O in the first few months came through the direct personal contacts of our founders, personal stylists and a few other employees. We all knew people (or knew of people) who we thought would be big shoppers on the site and we personally reached out to these people from day one.
Personal referrals from top customers: Similarly, our top customers all knew people (or knew of people) who were likely to become top customers themselves, and they happily reached out to them on our behalf. It came as no surprise that women who love fashion tend to have lots of friends who also love fashion — and they love to share fashion with each other. So, in our first few months, while we were still a membership site, select customers were given the ability (and gentle encouragement) to refer their friends for membership. Even today, personal referrals continue to be a key driver of top customer acquisition.
Customer events: From the very outset, influencers in a number of US cities and international markets have helped us organise events for local women who share a passion for luxury and fashion. These events have often helped us acquire many of our top customers. And here, in Saudi Arabia, our hostess and her close friend have carefully put together a party with a guest list that includes some of the most stylish and influential women in the country. These events are a wonderful way to personally get to know future customers and introduce them to the service. Do not underestimate the power of face time to convert prospective customers into repeat shoppers. Beyond driving sales, these events also provide a context for invaluable conversations that help us understand what top customers like and dislike about our business. What could be more important than one-on-one “focus chats” with the people who are spending lots of time and money on your site?
Partnerships: Partnerships with organisations that have a similar audience profile are another effective way to reach top customers. In the case of M’O, we have established fruitful partnerships with Gwyneth Paltrow’s site, Goop, and high-end wardrobe storage service Garderobe.
KEEPING TOP CUSTOMERS
Once you have developed a foundation of top customers, how do you keep them happy and loyal? Here’s what’s worked for M’O.
Dedicated stylists: Every M’O customer can connect with one of our personal stylists via e-mail or phone to get assistance or advice. But we assign our top customers a dedicated personal stylist who gets to know them well, learning their style, fit and brand preferences in great detail. In fact, many of our top customers have developed close relationships with their stylists and talk frequently about shopping recommendations, upcoming company events, even gossip. This kind of a personal “seller-buyer” relationship (and the trust that accompanies it) have been critical to building and sustaining top customer loyalty at M'O. Who doesn't want free fashion advice from a stylish friend?
Invitations to shows/events: Although this is not always feasible, some of our top customers attend fashion shows or other fashion week events with us each season. This has been a total success. Interestingly, many of our top customers don’t live in major fashion capitals or work in the fashion industry, so these events are often eye-opening experiences that allow them to see just how the fashion world works, from the runways to the designers to the drama to the after parties.
Little surprises: Just like in any relationship, little surprises and gifts go a long way to keep people smiling. For example, when we provided a number of M’O’s VIP customers with hand-drawn sketches of them wearing the very dresses and gowns they had just bought on the site, they were truly thrilled, both by the thoughtfulness of the gift as well as the personalised artwork itself.
Of course, we are constantly exploring and testing additional services for our most valuable customers. Some of the things we are currently considering include personal tailoring services and complimentary delivery.
Now, I need to help our hostess put the finishing touches on our Saudi Arabia party. We are all very excited about the evening ahead of us and all of the new friends we will make. And, of course, we are already dreaming up a special gift to give to our wonderful hostess to thank her for the generosity and warmth she has shared with us by opening up her home and heart.
Previous articles in the Finding Your MO series:
Part 1: From Big Idea to Launch
Part 2: The Need for Speed
Part 3: The Business Plan is Your Roadmap
Part 4: Making the Most of Mentorship
Part 5: How to Choose the Right Investors
Part 6: How Wise is Conventional Wisdom?
Part 7: Going International
Part 8: Managing Investors
Part 9: Acquiring Customers
Part 10: Building the Team
Part 11: Motivating and Retaining Talent
Part 12: Re-inventing Yourself
Part 13: Planning Your Time Part 14: Going Corporate
Áslaug Magnúsdóttir is co-founder and CEO of Moda Operandi