A Beverly Hills woman celebrating her birthday had a Chanel collection ferried to her home so she and her friends could shop privately. A new mother didn't want to leave her baby to look for new wardrobe pieces so she asked to have a selection of clothes dispatched to her.
And a chief executive who was in need of new attire before a morning flight made a call and had a rack of clothes brought to her.
In each case, a sleek, black Mercedes-Benz van emblazoned with the words "Saks at Your Service – Anytime, Anywhere" made the sartorial house call.
Saks Fifth Avenue, which is owned by Toronto-based Hudson's Bay Co., and other retailers including Barneys New York as well as Revolve, the online retailer that opened a local brick-and-mortar space, are looking for new ways to reach customers, personalize shopping and add a dose of good cheer and convenience as the retail and apparel landscape continues to change.
Retailers say cultivating closer personal relationships with shoppers has become a major strategy as stores try to woo people away from shopping only online while trying to remain competitive with other retailers.
Saks, for example, introduced its mobile shopping service last year but only recently started promoting it in Los Angeles. A crew including a store stylist will come to you if you can't make it into the Beverly Hills store or 12 other stores nationwide, including ones in New York and Florida.
"If people like shopping online in the privacy of their homes, this could be the way we can deliver," says Marc Metrick, president of New York-based Saks Fifth Avenue, during a recent call from Houston, where he was on-site to roll out the service. "It's all about figuring out how, in this new age, we can best service our customers."
The way the service works is shoppers provide basic details including sizes, their preferred color palette and silhouettes and whether they're looking for daytime or evening wear.
A selection of clothes and accessories from the store is pulled and brought to a shopper's home, office or hotel. As part of the service, alterations can be made, and an on-hand stylist can evaluate an existing wardrobe and make suggestions for new clothes and help shoppers mix and match new selections with their current tops, pants and accessories.
"You know what the minimum purchase requirement is for the service?" Metrick says. "It's zero. You don't have to be special to enjoy it. Every customer that walks into our store is special regardless of their spending threshold."
People who have used Saks' mobile-shopping service are traditionally customers of the store who often have established relationships with the retailer's personal shoppers.
Metrick says the outreach doesn't stop at dressing the client only. Through the service, shoppers also have access to makeup artists, hairstylists and wardrobe stylists.
According to a company spokeswoman, the Barneys New York store in Beverly Hills has three personal shoppers available to help style shoppers in shopping suites at the store. The store also is willing to send clothes to a customer's home to try on for convenience.
To get more buzz, Barneys, like other retailers including Saks, Nordstrom, Bloomingdale's and Neiman Marcus in the L.A. area, often schedule personal appearances with fashion designers and celebrities such as Derek Lam and Victoria Beckham to meet and mingle with customers.
The desire to increase personal attention isn't only for traditional retailers. Online shopping behemoth Revolve, which sells dresses by Rory Beca and BCBG Max Azria, opened a members-only, three-level space, including the rooftop Revolve Social Club, on Melrose Avenue in March that is part events space, part lounge and part shop.
The store's 4,500-square-foot rooftop deck was outfitted so shoppers could relax and socialize, says Raissa Gerona, Revolve's vice president of brand marketing and strategic partnerships.
"We serve drinks and have different events, like our tequila, beer and tacos night for Cinco de Mayo," she says. "Our intention was to not have a typical retail setup but instead to allow a high level of personalization and to create a special, intimate, authentic experience for shoppers."
Also, the Revolve store offers shoppers a chance to work with well-known names. For example, shoppers and their friends could be styled by their favorite fashion influencers or celebrity stylists, Gerona says.
"Retailers are starting to figure out that they need to get back to the time of greater service and loyalty to customers," says Robert Cohen, Los Angeles-based vice chairman of RKF, a company founded by retail broker Robert Futterman, providing retail leasing strategy and consulting to high-end brands such as John Varvatos, Saint Laurent and Swarovski. "Retailers need to give customers a reason to go shopping again."
He says he has noticed a positive shift in the way retailers pursue their potential shoppers. For example, he visited a Sephora store during special customer loyalty days when lavish food and wine were served to shoppers.
Cohen says many retailers are willing to deliver locally out-of-stock merchandise to customers overnight or offer them same-day delivery service by sending the goods from another local store. He says those little touches matter, including having salon-style VIP rooms, making house calls and sending thank-you notes from store employees in keeping shoppers coming back.
"It seems old-fashioned," he says. "But there are fewer customers shopping more stores. And unless a retailer knows how to create a better shopping experience, they will be left behind."
Based on anecdotes from retailers, this personal attention appears to be helping attract and retain shoppers. Metrick says one Saks customer asked the store to deliver high-end jewelry for her to consider buying via Saks at Your Service.
"She loved it so much that that's the only way she shops now," he says.