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If experience is the new loyalty, as many believe, then now is the time for brands to harmonize channels, products and programs to capitalize on this digital-inspired shift in expectations.

Taking that to the lingerie space, we find many of the same issues impacting experience — returns, payments choice, shipping — as are seen elsewhere, only in a category that is intimate by definition and where shoppers demand that same sensibility in experience.

Speaking with PYMNTS’ Karen Webster, Nicolas Capuono, chief customer officer at Adore Me, said customer experience must be true to shopper perceptions of the brand while also taking in the digital trends that are now seen as indispensable in the connected economy.

“We’re digital native brand,” Capuono said. “Since day one [we’ve been] a true believer that the online experience can bring something very new to the customer. What we do is reinforce … the shopping experience itself on the website, trying to make sure that the customer has the best knowledge about the product and our value prop during the two, three, four, five minutes [they give] us.”

Webster focused on the returns process as a case in point where that experience with a brand can be a make-or-break moment. Capuono described decisions that go into successful returns.

“Do we refund you when you ship back the item to our warehouse and trust that you shipped back the product?” Capuono said. “Do we apply … some kind of penalty fee if you return something damaged? Do we give you the ability to place another order while your return goes back to the warehouse? [Those are] the two key moments in the experience that define satisfaction.”

In Adore Me’s case, the first move isn’t a refund but a credit for that amount to spend on another product.

“If the customer wants to return and refund, we do it,” he said. “But once you initiate the return, we give you the option to place a new order without buying a second time.”

See also: The Power of Payments in Driving Digital Transformation

It’s a shrewd way of keeping those dollars inside the Adore Me ecosystem, avoiding return shipping, chargebacks and most importantly, preserving customer experience. It’s also how smart businesses are operating as the threat of recession overshadows everything.

“Companies that were not profitable before will probably have difficulties in the coming months,” he said. “Hyper growth without profitability is no longer relevant to anyone.”

‘Digital Styling’ Is Experiential Gold

Adore Me operates six physical locations as well, which gives Capuono insights into how the digital shift is switching gears as real-life reopens and digital habits adjust to that new normal.

With online sales of lingerie now hovering in the 15% to 25% range, showing the powerful magic that physical retail holds in some categories, he said that eCommerce is prime channel for intimates sales, offering cool new ways to engage and convert more customers.

Asked about the recent TikTok kerfuffle and roadblocks to its livestream selling approach, he said Adore Me is experimenting with this as part of an over test-and-learn strategy.

Read more: TikTok Drops Livestream Shopping Plans in US, Europe

“We started to [offer] this kind of live shopping experience, it could be on Instagram, it could be directly on the website. We saw very positive comments from customers,” he said. “We saw a lot of viewers. We saw probably 10% to 20% of [our] revenue at that time generated directly by live shopping. So, it’s something that starting to be significant.”

Experientially, Capuono said livestream selling scored with consumers who felt the quality of interaction was good, with no need for professional influencers.

“It could be someone internal,” he said. “No need to have a professional anchor, but someone knowledgeable about the product.”

He added that live shopping can strengthen overall messaging around new product launches and offers, overlaying digital presentation with human interaction for optimal engagement.

Calling live shopping “a way to alleviate the frustration we have when we communicate over email,” he said it’s hard to match the effect of live people doing the selling.

“It’s very effective in live shopping where you have the creation team saying everything they like about [how] they designed product, and you can really [see] the thought process of the creation team in a live experience,” he said. “It’s very reassuring to have this kind of way to communicate what we try to do.”

This “digital styling” is a trend-within-a-trend that Capuono sees on the rise in his space, even though Adore Me has lowered its social media spend to control customer acquisition costs.

Inventing the New Loyalty

Building its direct-to-consumer (DTC) business depends on nurturing loyalty, and that comes down to the right mix of products, pricing, shipping and returns. In a word: experience.

On that count, “The first one I would say is product. We see it when you return your first order,” he said. “This for us is a sign that the quality of the product is very important. The second one I would say is the shipping experience. We see customers that are very demanding on the shipping experience. It doesn’t mean fast shipping. It means a seamless shipping experience.”

Balancing the hard realities of unit economics and shipping costs with the warm fuzzies of good customer experience is a delicate dance. Adore Me does it using a membership model.

He said “membership, by definition, creates additional loyalty to the brand, additional loyalty to the product. We have two different memberships. Regardless of the membership [tier], the fact that we offer this value proposition is well reviewed by customers and increases the loyalty.”

Related: Leading Online Retailers Make Customer Experience Part of the Product

Returning to how shipping times and options are having a big impact on customer experience, Capuono said Adore Me — which currently offers free shipping on all orders — is tinkering with different delivery ideas, including charging for premium (as in super-fast) delivery.

“We need to have probably two or three shipping experiences at the checkout, communicate well about the shipping duration — slower when you pay, longer when you do not pay — and I’m sure everyone will be happy with having the choice,” he continued.

Another test-and-learn project, Adore Me is now experimenting with low fees ($5-$10) for premium delivery, and Capuono told Webster, “I’m very curious about the results.”

Sidestepping supply chain problems somewhat by having stocked up on inventory early and then rolling it out creatively, Adore Me is still facing the same decisions as other DTC firms. For two examples, there’s crypto payments and buy now, pay later (BNPL). He doesn’t see either as especially relevant to a lingerie firm with its feet on the ground businesswise.

He said crypto payments are “probably too much of a hassle for maybe some very low additional value. We didn’t even think about it. The one we are thinking about is buy now, pay later. That could have a lot of potential.

“We are going to launch some experiments for that in the coming weeks and months, but still, I am very cautious … because we have an AOV around $50 to $100 … so I don’t think that buy now, pay later [will be] the bread and butter of our business.”

There’s more to come shortly on product and pricing innovation, but Capuono was taciturn. Talking about Adore Me’s line of on-demand boxes where people only keep what they like and return the rest, for example, Webster asked if these boxes would have different price points.

His reply: “I will answer your question in a few weeks.” Stay tuned.

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