Ready for the Next Normal: What Saks and Lululemon Learned in Lockdown

Retail Communications February 17, 2021

In a year of constant change, Saks and lululemon managed to thrive. At NRF today, two top execs explained how they were positioned to respond to changes in rules, safety and consumer behavior.

As moderator Colleen Taylor, American Express president, merchant services, US, summed it up, “The future is digital; the future is physical; the future is omnichannel.”

“Stores are still an important part of the customer experience, especially for luxury,” said Saks President and CEO Marc Metrick. At the same time, “Our digital business fired up even more when stores reopened.”

The pandemic was an accelerant to changes that were already taking place, Metrick said. “People still love fashion, but they want things to be easy.” Luxury is no longer about how difficult it is to get products, he noted. 

Saks had already revamped its website and begun to get more technology into the hands of associates. It’s now building technology to better connect the instore and online experiences, using data to provide the best customer experience when someone comes into a store. 

Lululemon is making its own investment in technology with the purchase of Mirror, a mirror-like device that provides an interactive experience for people exercising in their homes.

Said Celeste Burgoyne, president of Americas and global guest innovation, “COVID allowed us to take advantage of the investment we’ve made in digital and lean into our omnichannel strength.”

The evolving store

Metrick and Burgoyne agreed that physical stores will remain important as part of an omnichannel strategy. 

For one thing, shopping in the real world is a pleasure. That’s especially true for luxury, according to Metrick. 

“People want to experience things, they don’t want to just stream,” he said. 

In fact, since Saks stores reopened in early May, traffic has been only slightly down from last year. 

Meanwhile, lululemon opened even more stores to enhance its buy online/pick up in store offerings, Burgoyne said. Continuing a strategy of the last few years, the retailer opened 106 popup stores, some of them close to existing stores, in order to offer shoppers the ability to pick up within two hours of ordering. 

For those who wanted to select and purchase in-store, lululemon instituted a virtual waiting list. With pandemic rules limiting capacity, instead of having to wait in line outside, shoppers could put their names in a queue and get a text when it was their turn. 

Metrick expects change to continue, and retailers must continue to be nimble. 

“It’s not the new normal, it’s the next normal. It will be ever-changing,” he said.

Leverage sales associates

Both retailers agreed that sales associates were their not-so-secret weapon. Retail salespeople should become part of the omnichannel strategy.

For example, lululemon enabled some in-store educators to do video chats with customers in their own homes. Consumers can make an appointment or simply click to chat right away.

“This allows us to have the educator be at the center of both the physical and digital experience,” Burgoyne said. On Black Friday alone, they handled more than 4,000 chats. 

Metrick said the keys to keeping sales associates motivated are empathy and communication. 

“It’s important that you communicate with the organization as a leader all the time,” he said. It’s vital to keep employees informed about what’s going on in the business and also to make sure they understand the company’s values. “As the younger generation comes on,” Metrick added, “it’s really important that they understand where the company stands on things.”

Preparing for the next normal

As consumer behavior continues to evolve—and you evolve your strategy to meet new demands and desires—your associates will find new opportunities for professional growth. Whether it’s explaining operational changes or inspiring your team to embody the company’s values, an all-in-one communications system streamlines interaction with your team. It can also let you get feedback about what’s working and hear ideas from employees that can fire innovation. If you want to find out more about how communications can engage sales associates, reach out for a demo of Retail Zipline.