Town & Country (USA)
Tell Them What They Want
What they really really want. Eavesdropping on today’s privateclient conversations.
Charmaine Sevy is a diamond girl through and through, but recently she picked up a necklace bedecked in South Sea pearls thanks to a recommendation from her go-to sales associate at Neiman Marcus.“I told her, ‘I don’t know about this,’” recalls Sevy, who is based in Naples, Florida.“And she said,‘Charmaine, just try it on!’” Reader, she bought it. That’s the sort of bespoke approach that makes a difference for jewelry obsessives. As the rest of the world went from shopping IRL to URL in the last couple of years, things worked a bit differently for this type of VIP.
“Before, communication was a bit more on a whim,” says Natalie Bloomingdale, founder of the curated e-commerce site The SIL, of retail’s standard m.o. for client outreach.“But during lockdown it was more intentional, and with care.”
The white glove treatment has always been the norm in luxury, where perks can include collection previews, jewelry fittings with designers, and customized pieces. During the pandemic, stores offered incentives, too, like hauling their bijoux assortment—along with security—right into clients’ living rooms (or flying it in to a second or third home). Now retailers keep top tier clients engaged by relying on something that an iPhone can’t provide—a personal touch.
A direct line to a favorite store associate is a given. Today, the buzzier perk is going to a designer’s atelier to see pieces fresh from the workshop. Meanwhile, some brands are hosting intimate events in far-flung locations (think the South of France) for the VVIPs. In our age of self-promotion and oversharing, these tête-à-têtes give the uber-wealthy and spendhappy customers much-desired discretion.
When Neiman Marcus returned to inperson interactions, it did so not with a whisper but with a bang, hosting a shop-a-brunch at the iconic Sheats-Goldstein residence in L.A. that served as a reminder that, in the upper echelon of retail, the bonds between clients and their go-to sales associates are anything but strictly business.
“You end up becoming friends,” says jewelry designer and philanthropist Bridget Gless Keller, arm in arm with Penny Rhodes, her associate of choice. “To have someone who can curate is key. This is what I just can’t do anymore,” Gless Keller adds, miming the act of flipping through a catalog, eyes glazed over. A great associate is a filter, bringing you a tailored edit—and, if you’re lucky, a side of gossip.
Jewelry addicts have no shortage of virtual platforms to get their fix, but Gless Keller concedes that nothing replaces the tactile experience.“You need to touch it, to feel the weight,” she says.
Like so many industries, retail adapted to the early changes brought on by lockdown. For many stores, that meant moving headlong into digital futures, but in another way it revived the time-honored act lost in our age of pixels and social media: that of customer service.
Bloomingdale, for instance, rhapsodized about her grandmother, who lived in a rural town three hours from Dallas but would drive in to meet with her personal shopper at Neiman Marcus.
“You know, there was a magic to that,” she says, adding that she has carried on the tradition. “There’s this gentleman named Gary who works in the shoe department, and he said, ‘Natalie, there’s this girl I want you to meet. I think you two would hit it off.’ And now she’s, like, one of my top three girlfriends,” she says. “I mean, my shoe guy introduced me to one of my best friends!”