PALM DESERT, Calif. — For a conference with a focus on "e-commerce and omnichannel retail," the February gathering dubbed eTail West this year was preoccupied with in-real-life experiences. That translates at some retailers, including digital natives, to a focus on leveraging the ultimate venue for that — stores.
But stores aren't the only analog ways to make customer connections. The chief executive-founders of activewear company Carbon38, (which has tapped fitness instructors to be its "ambassadors"), and jewelry maker Stella & Dot, (which, like Avon and Tupperware before it, encourages home-based parties to make sales) discussed how their brands have fostered face-to-face interactions to boost the top line.
Not all lean so heavily on ambassadors or influencers to reach customers in person. For Audrey McLoghlin, founder of apparel brand Frank & Eileen, the trick is to "partner with an existing retailer who already has your customer." The brand's partners include Nordstrom full-line and off-price Rack stores, Neiman Marcus and others that already run their own brick-and-mortar operations. (It also doesn't hurt that it's a favorite of Meghan Markle.)
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The COVID-19 outbreak (a disease caused by a member of the coronavirus family) has forced some retailers to shut down stores in China and disrupted retail supply chains, which sparked lots of chatter at the conference as uncertainties mount about the disease's spread.
The impacts of other recent newsworthy events were more pointed for some retailers. During a session, David Spector, co-founder and co-CEO of lingerie e-retailer ThirdLove, was peppered with questions about the recent sale of Victoria's Secret to private equity firm Sycamore Partners and what that might mean for his own brand's prospects.
There's some history there. In 2018, Heidi Zak, Spector's co-founder and co-CEO (and wife) published a riposte to comments from longtime L Brands marketing chief Ed Razek, (who left the company last year after controversial remarks on the brand's now-defunct fashion show). Shortly before his departure, Razek pointedly said that Victoria's Secret was "nobody's third love. We're their first love. And Victoria's Secret has been women's first love from the beginning."
That seemed like a shot across the bow, which prompted ThirdLove to publish a full-page letter in the New York Times, penned by Zak, taking Victoria's Secret to task over its highly sexualized marketing to women.
Yet, while Spector told the eTail audience that the ad was "a very important step for us" and a marketing opportunity, he insisted that the company has always been more focused on improving its fit tool and its merchandise, designed to include all body types, than on its much larger, if struggling, rival.
"At the end of the day, we don't speak about them," he said. "Because at the end of the day, we're doing something very different."