When Cornish lingerie company Mish shut its doors due to Covid, it had to find creative ways to maintain its personalised service via digital technologies. Now it has reopened, founder Michele Poynter tells Essential Retail a number of those changes have become permanent features.
“Fairly early on we utilised Zoom to set up virtual fittings,” she says. Demand was still high for that service, particularly among women with specialist needs such as maternity fittings.
The virtual service is also available through WhatsApp or FaceTime. Sales assistants chat with customers online and see what they are currently wearing and rather than use a tape measure, all their fittings are judged by eye. Up to six different sizes are sent out to first-time customers, with half the payment taken. They are then invited back for a second video consultation to see how they fit and decide which ones they want to keep.
“A lot of customers don’t live in the county… so we’ve been able to take advantage of that. And it’s helped sales, as they would have eventually shopped elsewhere,” says Poynter. “There’s certainly been teething problems and hiccups but it has gone well. So much so we’ve decided to keep [the virtual service].”
Open for business
But now Mish has reopened there are a number of customers who want to use its in-store fitting service. In order to remain Covid-compliant, it has introduced an online booking system so it can properly clean the rooms in-between appointments.
“Initially we just went with the Facebook booking system, but then had a look around and went with [online booking platform] Fresha, which is used by spas and hairdressers.”
The software has made the booking process more efficient, as staff previously wrote down times down on paper – with the added benefit of allowing Mish to capture more data about the customers’ needs. It has also helped plan staffing, as it gives an overview of what customer demand will look like.
“We can write staff rotas in the software – it is inexpensive and it has saved us a huge amount of time and a lot of money,” she says.
But despite the number of positive changes, the landscape remains uncertain (a truism for all retailers). Overall the online business has grown, but swimwear remains down as people haven’t tended to go away this year.
Planning ahead is an almost impossible task. “At the moment we’re trying to buy for spring and summer and we’d normally be going to trade shows… so that has to be very carefully thought out and measured. We don’t know if we’ll be heading for another lockdown or the state of the economy. But we’re still placing orders that that will take us through to June.”
A lack of inventory could also be a challenge – as some brands have decided to roll over stock into the next season, potentially leading to a more limited choice for customers (for example Christmas-coloured underwear in spring). “We’re having to cherry pick very carefully what willing to take,” she says.
“It will be a challenging 12 months even if it is all plain sailing. How do we grow like we have been year-on-year when there are limitations on stock?”
However, despite the uncertainty, Poynter says the company will continue to “think outside the box.”