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Luxe Brands Submit to Hoi Polloi Reviews

Posted by Bill Lee on October 18, 2010 at 02:56 PM

Bar the gates, fill the moats. The Wall Street Journal reports that luxury retailers such as Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy's, Nortdstrom, and even Neiman Marcus (sort of) are opening their websites to customer reviews, following in the path of book, electronics and heaven forbid, office supply retailers. 

Kidding aside, the concerns of luxury brand owners are legitimate. One negative customer review can overturn a dozen positive reviews in the minds of consumers--and create serious problems for high end brands that depend on a relatively small number of sales. "The notion of having a user saying that Chanel No. 5 smells like Brooklyn is so scary that [luxury brands] were literally paralyzed," said Scott Galloway, founder of L2, a think tank that specializes in prestige brands. But even luxury retailers have to bow to changing customer expectations. "The customer wants a more objective voice saying, 'I own this, and these are the things you need to know about it,"' says Denise Incandela, president of Saks Inc.'s Saks Direct.

Neiman Marcus is trying to manage the dilemma, allowing only its "insiders"--an elite group of customers--to provide feedback on purchases. They may be on to something. Call me a snob, but why let a one time buyer have as much say as your most loyal repeat customers?

Two retailers provide a striking contrast in handling negative feedback. Bud Konheim, chief executive of the brand Nicole Miller, was furious when a customer complained that a dress she bought from Notdstrom was "hot and uncomfortable." His first reaction: "Let's go find and kill that woman." HIs second one was acceeptance: she "was tapping into something we are well aware of: Our clothes do not fit everybody universally." he remarked. Hey, how about figuring out if this is a problem that needs to be fixed?

Which is what Nordstrom did when a customer complained about a pair of Burberry riding boots that looked "cute online" but were too big in person. Nordstrom is forwarding the comment on to Burberry to see if there's a manufacturing issue. I'd give that a 5 star review. Why not get over the idea of portraying your products as always perfect and beyond reproach to the public? They know better.  Why not engage in a healthier exchange in which you work with customers to approach that ideal together?

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