What vCommerce Brands Get Right About Customer Experience


Could your company be blamed for a failed essay? Warby Parker had better hope not.

Warby Parker are just one of many brands in the fast-growing vCommerce space who are inciting incredible customer love as a result of their their dogged focus on delivering fantastic customer experiences – and reaping the rewards: their latest funding pegs them at an eye-watering $1.2 billion valuation.

vCommerce, coined by Bonobos founder, Andy Dunn, in 2016 with the decidedly less-snappy name Digitally-Native Vertical Brands, is widely regarded as the future of retail.

Unlike traditional e-commerce businesses, vCom brands are vertically integrated, meaning they control almost every aspect of their distribution. From the product design and manufacture to marketing and sales, packaging, delivery, and customer service, their tight grip over the entire customer experience is wielded as a key advantage in often competitive, price-sensitive niches.

And what an advantage!

Hot on the heels of established, publicly-traded companies, vCom brands are winning hearts and minds across the world with their personal approach.

Dunn’s V-Commerce Encyclopedia currently lists over 85 brands with over $5m revenue, and he sees thousands starting up every year with many claiming revenues between $20-$50m.

Customer experience is more than just paying lip service

A customer experience is the cumulative experience that a customer has with your company: from the first time they see your advertising, land on your website or interact with your product, through to their purchase process, interactions with your customer service teams, and beyond.

Paying lip service to customer service is not enough. To be successful and truly move the needle, an unhealthy fixation on customer experience has to be embedded throughout every level and every team in a company.

For Warby Parker, their first hire was Mara Castro, now their Director of Customer Experience.

In a video for The Muse, Mara talks about the role of their customer experience team as part of the wider business.

“We work with… everyone in the company to make sure that we’re always thinking about our customers, and gathering information… to make sure that we communicate that back to the rest of the team and that we’re making all of the improvements that we need to… to make sure we’re getting that feedback and using that in a good way.”

When Bonobos (the company started by Andy Dunn) began to explore offline retail locations, they made sure to set the right expectations, from the name to the entire concept.

“We didn’t want to use the term store, because it connotes ‘storage,’ which is not what we’re doing… In a lot of clothing and apparel stores, you’ll see the staff fussing around with the stock—straightening it, counting it, replenishing it. That sucks up a lot of their time, leaving only marginal attention for the customer. When you take the inventory out, your store personnel can focus more on your customers. So our Guideshops don’t hold physical inventory. Just staff and samples. We chose to stay small, experiential, high intimacy, and high customer service.”

Michael Dubin, founder and CEO of Dollar Shave Club – acquired by Unilever in 2016 for one billion dollars – has talked about growing into more markets and differentiating through their customer experience.

“We see a really big opportunity in the men’s grooming and skin space… we think there’s a huge opportunity there because guys are just as frustrated with buying those products as they are buying razors.”

For Dollar Shave Club, the customer experience is tightly integrated with their brand. Their tongue-in-cheek humour is evident throughout, from their launch video (with over 24m views) to  quirky faux quotes on their packaging, and social media interactions.

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Brand also forms a key part of the Warby Parker customer experience.

Their stores are set out like libraries with “book” shelves and ladders, while their social program provides a pair of glasses to one of the estimated one billion people worldwide who lack access to glasses.

Tim Riley, Warby Parker’s director of online experience, has also mentioned the extra steps they took when designing their POS (point of sale) system to “allow salespeople to be one-on-one with the buyer” and ensure their customer experience didn’t ask customers to keep repeating their preferences whether shopping in-store or online.

And just as every customer-focused brand receives free publicity for their above-and-beyond approach, vCom brands are no different.

  • Warby Parker’s General Counsel goes beyond the call of duty to track down a customer who left a pair of glasses on a train, and you’re never too far from tweets full of praise.
  • A “Fit Guarantee” offered by The Black Tux receives excellent writeups for its human touch.
  • When a customer realized their new mattresses weren’t right, Tuft & Needle’s decision to refund the full price and arrange for them to be donated to charity encourages word of mouth and secures future purchases.

While any brand can go the extra mile for a few customers, vCom brands pride themselves on providing an excellent service for every customer.

The price – plus everything else – is right

Brands who “get” customer experience understand that nothing lives in a bubble.

Take Warby Parker. Here are some examples of how far their customer experience stretches:

  • Their ‘home try-on” program receives much praise: customers can order, for free, five frames to trial, delivered to their home before they commit to buying.
  • Store visitors are personally welcomed by a greeter who can get you to where you need to go. Their POS system remembers you, whether you shop in store or online.
  • Their returns policy is generous, reducing friction while you’re shopping or after you’ve purchased.
  • The customer experience team are empowered to not only help, but delight customers in their interactions.
  • Customer service interactions are speedy too: a six-second phone pickup rule makes sure every customer is served as quickly as possible.
  • The products are quality, stylish – and cost from just $95!
  • Customer feedback is taken seriously – whether it concerns the website, the product, or the store experience

The level of customer-obsession is clear. While Warby Parker began hoping to differentiate on price, they quickly realized that offering a consistent, high-quality experience across every aspect of their business is much more powerful than knocking a few bucks off a pair of glasses alone.

Here are just some of the elements to consider when looking to improve your customer experience.

The pre-sale experience

From 100 night trials for mattresses to Dollar Shave Club’s quirky advertising, vCom brands pride themselves on their pre-sale experience.

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The scope is broad and encompasses everything from the moment a customer finds your brand to their purchase experience. From getting your marketing and advertising right, to offering trials and reducing friction, here you’ll want to start building close relationships with future customers.

The product

Obviously, having the right product for your audience is key. Iterating based on customer feedback is even more important to react to trends, drive sustainability, and fuel growth.

vCom brands, who design and produce their own products, also control an extra element: the price. By reducing the need for wholesaler/retailer markups, vCom brands can optimize for cost-efficient quality, rather than quantity – leading to a more quality product.

The shopping experience

vCom companies must invest in their purchase experience, whether that’s online, through mobile apps, or through physical retail experiences.

Like Warby Parker, that could mean investing in a POS system that remembers your customers, or using customer feedback to improve the website experience.

Customer experience consultant Micah Solomon advocates the use of technology to “streamline the customer experience, rather than letting it overwhelm it” – for example, using tablets in-store to ring up orders, rather than standing in line for a till.

Similarly, websites and mobile apps must be intuitive, simple to use, and fast.

Personal customer service

Knowing your customer like you know your best friend is crucial to building long-term customer relationships in any business, especially those in vCommerce.

Where possible, use the data you already have to inform your customer service reps in their interactions, and ensure they have the freedom to help customers get what they need.

At Bonobos, this means a “do what it takes” approach to customer satisfaction that recognizes excellent, no-fuss service that pays dividends in word-of-mouth referrals.

The brand

Being absolutely clear on your brand story, culture, and who you are doesn’t just help marketers produce pretty adverts.

Having a strong, story-led brand attracts customers and creates loyalty, and aligns marketing and customer service to create a consistent brand voice.

Chubbies do this well. Their quirky, confident tone of voice shows across traditionally boring website pages and brightens up otherwise-predictable product descriptions.

Customer experience is a profit center

Traditionally, customer service has been seen as a cost-center that produces little-to-no revenue for a business. Brands are fast realizing that customer experience is not a hype and actually generates profits in the long-term.

Excellent customer experiences grow customer loyalty

You’ve paid $95 for a pair of Warby Parker glasses. You checked out online with ease. You received two-day shipping for free. When you realized you preferred the other color, your phone call was answered in six seconds, and within four days, your new shiny frames arrived.

Next time you need glasses, would you go to an overpriced opticians, choose from their small selection, pay two-to-three times the price, and have to wait a week to collect?

Probably not.

vCom brands are focused on increasing a customer’s lifetime value: the full amount of revenue a customer generates over their lifetime through repurchases.

Building a low-friction experience that delights your customer increases the probability they’ll buy from you in the future.

Happy customers tell their friends

Take Warby Parker’s ‘home try-on” program. Not only does this help customers get feedback from friends and family to choose the pair that suits them best, but it also acts as a marketing tool. When those friends and family go shopping for glasses in the future, Warby Parker will probably be at the top of their list.

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Bonobos also recognize the impact that happy customers has on word-of-mouth.

“The cost to serve somebody 2 percent better, 20 percent better, 30 better, whatever it is to give them a reason to tell their friends and family about us, is easily worth the investment as long as we are actually delivering on our promise.

Social media and reviews

Search Facebook or Twitter for mentions of  vCom brands and you’ll see hundreds of tweets spreading praise and telling their friends and followers about their great shopping experiences.

To step forward, you need to step back

Whatever industry you’re in, there are many lessons that you can take from the rise of vCom brands to drive the concept of customer experience within your business.

Step back and evaluate your customer’s experience, from end-to-end.  Consider:

  • How they first become aware of your product or service
  • The steps they take to find out more information
  • The way they purchase
  • When they contact your support teams for help
  • When customers complain
  • When they refer a friend or repurchase

With a solid understanding of the journey your customer’s go through and the typical interactions they have with your brand, you can start to prioritize with a mixture of quick-wins (like an improved customer support process) and long-term goals (such as improving product quality).

Start to ask other teams “what is best for our customer?” Hold them to account for customer feedback, and start to embed a culture of customer-obsession.

Putting the customer at the heart of your business must be a top priority, but won’t happen overnight. From working with over 200,000 support heroes in organizations all around the world, we’ve discovered two simple things that you can start doing today.

The two CX success steps of 200,000 support heroes

Firstly, our most successful customers empower their teams to be customer advocates – not just support reps. Encourage them to be truly personal (rather than scripted) and empathic. This may be something many of your team already do, or perhaps a trait you should look for when it’s time to hire your next customer support rep.

Secondly, successful support teams pay more attention not just to the specific feedback a customer provides, but they understand their context. The feedback is then taken within their context of the customer journey and how it’s affected their experience. Issues and complaints are often treated as ‘one-and-done’ cases to be quickly resolved, but can often be endemic of wider problems that may be negatively impacting your business today, and for the future.

Join the future of retail customer experience

vCommerce brands are seen as the future of retail. Their unwavering focus on the customer experience means they are better placed to react to customer needs, which leads to increased customer brand loyalty – meaning sales grow, revenue rises, and ultimately generates profit and sustainability.

Can your business afford to miss out?

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