COMPANY PROFILE: Luxury retailer Sunglass Hut first launched in 1971 by optometrist Sanford L. Ziff and has since grown to more than 2,000 stores around the world. The business is part of the Italian-based Luxottica Group, which recently merged with French lens manufacturer, Essilor.
IRW: You’ve recently had a big focus on training your staff. What did that involve for Sunglass Hut?
PM: “Throughout 2016 we continued to invest in the training of our store managers, more than doubling the number of training opportunities compared to 2014. The training program’s main focus is what we call the Sunglass Hut Experience, which provides a toolkit for our stores to ultimately increase customer engagement and conversion.
Storytelling is important. It is not just about staff learning the technical features and benefits of each pair of sunglasses, but being able to convey value to the customers through face shape recognition and brand heritage in an informative way. We encourage our associates to get to know our customers and understand what they are looking for. We really put in a lot of time and effort into training the guys to convey all of that to customers in an authentic and genuine way. We’d never want to send someone away with a pair that didn’t suit them that they will be unhappy with.
Customers are always looking for bigger, better experiences. The truth is, they can find the brands we sell elsewhere, so for us, it’s about telling the stories of the brands, their heritage, even the manufacturing processes.
They have so many decisions and options as to how they spend their money and how they get that experience – there are cafes, cinemas or shopping centres that are being refurbed all over the country. Customers aren’t often going to give you a second chance because there are too many others ways for them to spend their money, and really, they shouldn’t.”
PM: “We’re rolling those across the network now. It’s a cleaner, more premium experience than hanging banners and logos. We’re working on completing the network in the next three months. Today, we’re at about 100 stores with digital windows and we have 241 stores across Australia and New Zealand. Our ambition is to have every store with these windows. It’s a significant investment, but it’s worth it for the end experience that it helps deliver.
Basically, they’re screens that show current campaigns from the brands that we carry as well as imagery from fashion shows. They’re beautiful, whether they’re displaying Coach, Oakley or Michael Kors.
Digital windows offer dynamic display keeping our windows fresh and energetic, initiating the Sunglass Hut experience before customers even enter a store. Digital screens give us the opportunity to tell more stories and appeal to a greater number of our customers’ style interests, within our campaign calendar. Digital windows also enable us to have multiple campaigns running at a time, tailoring our calendar by segment store. Last but not least, this reduces our print waste, reducing costs and allowing us to be more environmental friendly.”
IRW: What changes have you made to your online store recently?
PM: “One of the things we’ve done is expand our assortment quite a bit. We’ve got a huge assortment that exceeds what the average store carries. That means if you can’t find a product the first time in the right colour or model in a store, you can easily go online there and then. We’ve now been able to make that an immediate process – customers can go online on the spot, order it and have it sent to their home.
We’re launching a ‘live in-store’ feed which in August, too. A customer will be able to see the availability of inventory in stores in real time. That’s pretty important and there’s nothing worse than seeing a SKU that you’ve seen online, then rocking up to a store, and it’s not available there.
One of the things we’ll have up and running that will position us better is click-and-collect and we’re working on making the experience as tailored to a customer as possible. We’re in the midst of executing that – we can offer in a few months down the road.
My experience of click-and-collect is that it’s hit-and-miss with other retailers. The bad news we’re probably a bit later to the game than we’d like to be, but the good news is we’re able to learn from what we’ve seen elsewhere and make it a better experience from day one. We need to ensure that we have the right training in place, educating our staff with the new processes and procedures to ensure a seamless experience.
Click-and-collect is an increasingly important part of omnichannel retailing as it allows the customer to be in control of where and when they receive their item. For example, a a lot shoppers can’t receive deliveries at work, which means that retailers need to find ways to accommodate those customers with click-and-collect solutions.
Additionally, with click-and-collect our online customers are also able to take advantage of our complimentary fittings and service that only our stores can provide.”
IRW: Sunglass Hut also partnered with eBay last year. What was the thinking behind that and what’s the partnership been like for the business so far?
PM: “We partnered with eBay last year, so we’re able to reach more customers – we offer them sunglass brands that weren’t previously available on the platform.
We decided to partner with eBay to reach new customers who are loyal to eBay. The eBay customer is highly interested in the sunglasses category, and combining our premium sunglass brands with our Perfect Pair Promise service on this platform, we are truly providing a unique offer to the eBay customer. Currently, we offer on eBay a selection of those premium brands that we know will resonate well with these customers. We are talking about a range of approximately 1,000 sunglasses on the site and looking to increase the offering.”
IRW: A lot of your customer base is made up of millennials, which love Snapchat. Can you tell me about the Sunglass Hut filter that was launched recently?
PM: “Snapchat in Australia currently has over four million daily users, with a significant proportion of them being millennials, a key target for us. The Snapchat lens filter allowed users to engage with our brand in a way that was relevant to them, creating user generated content that was shared to hundreds of thousands of Australians, in addition to other social media platforms including Instagram and Facebook.
The filter also expressly linked to Sunglass Hut and allowed users to play with multiple pairs of sunglasses in a seasonally relevant way, which included summer music, a pool background and splash sound effects.
Our team used the filter as well and they loved it. Some of these social media vehicles aren’t just for customers – they’re for employees who prefer to be communicated with via digital platforms and emails and memos and things have been done in the past. We’re happy with the responses, good and bad, and we’ll continue to use those vehicles more and more. You’ve got to move with the times and the fact is you have to be where your customers expect to find you and if not, your brand decreases in relevance.
The lines between traditional media and digital marketing are blurring and we’re constantly tweaking the model we use to communicate. We get feedback via NPS and research that tell us how customers want to be spoken to, so we’re forever tweaking the communications mix to speak to them in the way want.”
IRW: There have been quite a few disruptors in the online eyewear space lately, like Warby Parker. Does Sunglass Hut see them as a threat?
PM: “It may sound clichéd, but competition forces you to stay on top of your game and the best thing we can do is make sure our store locations stay relevant with well-trained staff, we’re frequently updating our product offering and making sure customers have the best experience in our store. Those are the things we need to stay relevant, as well as evolve our online offering and make sure it not only satisfied but exceeds what people are looking for. That’s just a fact of business today – there will always be disruptors and you’ve got to stay ahead of them and it keeps us on our toes.
Some would have unique newly created brands and some would have a mix of different brands available, but the best thing we can do is continue to lift our game, because you’re never going to stop disruptors from coming in the business you just have to continue to evolve and make sure you’re relevant.
You’ve got a cautious customer who’s tighter with how they spend their money and they’ve got higher expectations. I think retail in particular is a demanding business where every day, you have to be on your game.”
IRW: You’ve now worked at Sunglass Hut for more than 10 years ago. How have your customers changed in that time?
PM: “In terms of shopping habits 10 years ago, people weren’t always on their laptops and shopping and researching. There’s a lot more pre-shop research today and a lot more technology that helps customers refine what they’re looking for. Customers will come in and show us a picture of sunglasses they saw on Instagram that they love and want to find them in a store.
Customers now have a lot of information and opportunity to choose where to shop, so staying up to the speed with the buying cycle is important – you have to constantly introduce newness to stores. Previously, we would have had two or three drops of newness per season. Now it’s almost every week, so you have to be great at managing inventory, but also having the latest and greatest looks out there and knowing the trends. Online luxury sales for items will prob grow 400 per cent in the next six to seven years, so we want to make sure we’re relevant online too.”