About one year ago, we were settling in for what would be an entire year of pandemic living. For local retailers, shop doors closed in an instant and owners had to act fast if they hoped to reopen once this was all over. While it was no easy task, many local luxury boutiques met the challenge, successfully keeping their shops in business while also providing shoppers with a much-needed outlet during time spent at home.
In Newburyport, Wheat Boutique got creative behind the scenes with owners and sisters Meghan Bonanno and Colleen Roy. “Our priority has been to provide a safe and comfortable shopping experience that met the needs of our customers and adhered to adjusting safety measures,” says Bonanno.
In response to this goal, the sisters launched their own Wheat Newburyport website and expanded their social media presence on Instagram. They also began their “Style Drops” campaign, which allows customers to provide their sizing and preferred styles, leaving it to Wheat to take care of the rest; mailing clothing, accessories, and gifts to the customer who keeps what they like and returns what doesn’t work.
Wheat has also been offering free local delivery and store pickup. For Bonanno, it has been encouraging to see “an outpouring of support from people who understand that if they want their favorite stores to be around after the pandemic, it is important to support them through it," she says. "To see a name that we recognize come across in an online order and know that there was a person in our community on the other end of the transaction meant so much.”
In Andover, Chic Consignment is no stranger to the luxury market, and more than a few people were spending time online in search of that perfect purchase. Their Facebook Live videos (taking place multiple times each week) were creative and fun and a way for clients to stay engaged with the store. Owner May Doherty was cognizant of reaching clients where they were in digital spaces, whether that was on Facebook, via Instagram stories, or by sending emails to make shopping online easier. They also offered free, no-contact curbside pickup and doorstep delivery.
Everything Doherty did was driven by her desire to connect with customers. As she puts it, “Relationships with my customers and consignors is extremely important to me and is my favorite part of what I do. Even though it was a lot of work, I think all of the steps my team and I took during this time helped create an even stronger bond with our clientele. They know they can count on us to show up consistently for them and continue to bring them the best in pre-owned luxury goods.”
At J.Mode in Salem, owner Janet Barsanti pivoted quickly at the start of the pandemic. This meant redeveloping J.Mode’s website, more online sales, and an increased use of social media. Like other retailers, J.Mode also offered curbside pickup and contactless delivery for local residents.
Wisely, Barsanti tailored her inventory to reflect the times. “We changed our collections to offer styles that would support looking good and feeling good from home. People stopped buying dresses for weddings or date-night tops, and instead invested in chic loungewear or at-home work attire. We supported looking great and stylish, even if you were stuck at home,” says Barsanti. Now that things are returning to normal, the store is so thankful for the locals who supported them over the past year.
Thanks to owner Stephanie Sipley, SoleAmour was able to revamp how it did business during the pandemic. While she was willing to work hard to keep her Andover and Winchester stores in business, Sipley says “Catering to the needs of the customer during this time happened naturally.”
At the start of the pandemic she noted the number of customers reaching out via Instagram and realized she could “use the app to provide clients with a highly personal level of digital customer service.” Her Instagram videos were effective in terms of generating sales, rewarding in terms of providing personal connection, and unique in that Sipley got down to details. Videos often featured Sipley explaining an item, wearing it, explaining the fit, talking about the material, and more, going far beyond the traditional experience of clicking “add to cart” on a website, effectively bringing customers into the store during a time when that wasn’t possible.
Contact: Wheat, 8 Inn St., Newburyport, wheatnewburyport.com; Chic Consignment, 44 Main St., Andover, chicconsignment.com; J.Mode, 17 Front St., Salem, jmodefashions.com; SoleAmour, 10 Main St., Andover, 17 Thompson St., Winchester, soleamour.com