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Testing out pandemic pivots at three retail brands


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Mainstream Boutique

Facebook Live shopping at Mainstream Boutique is easy, with awkward pauses.

To weather pandemic shutdowns, Mainstream Boutique stores took to hosting Facebook Live shopping events where employees model clothing items and give customers advice on how to style them with different outfits. Customers can purchase clothes by registering for CommentSold on Facebook, an add-on that allows users to simply comment “sold” with the item number, the size they’re looking for and the color. Once a user registers on CommentSold, they can shop all the items previously modeled on Facebook videos, then have items shipped or pick them up via curbside by calling the store. If picked up, customers can try on the item and swap sizes if needed—a nice touch of hospitality. A few technical difficulties, typos and awkward pauses during the replay I watched made the experience a classic example of technology showing the “human” side of companies during COVID-19. The Roseville, Minnesota, location opened for limited in-person shopping May 18, with reduced hours and additional shopping by appointment. Its website, however, does not advertise the Facebook Live events or curbside pickup option—a missed opportunity, for sure. The Roseville location ships items anywhere in the U.S. for a flat rate of $7.50, or customers can get free shipping with the purchase of two or more items from Facebook Live videos.

The upshot: It took some sleuthing to uncover just how Mainstream Boutique was handling online shopping during the pandemic, a marketing mistake the brand would be wise to correct if it wants to take full advantage of its live events. —C.E.


Pet Supplies Plus

Curbside pickup from Pet Supplies Plus means no more hauling heavy cat litter.

As one of those rare individuals who likes running errands—maybe it’s the sense of accomplishment, however small, like checking the box on a to-do list—I’ve been reluctant to relinquish control of grocery shopping to a delivery service. But what the pandemic might have forever changed is having to haul 42-pound flats of cat litter to my car, thanks to the launch of curbside pickup at my local Pet Supplies Plus. After hearing about Beth’s and Callie’s experiences with a couple of retailers, my expectations weren’t too high, but the Pet Supplies Plus website visibly touts its free curbside option and makes ordering for pickup easy, no hunting for the right checkout selection. After filling the virtual shopping cart with Mark and Grace’s litter of choice, plus cat grass and some new catnip-filled mice toys, it’s simple to pay online. Orders are typically ready within two hours, but not more than 30 minutes later I received both a call and email telling me my items were ready. After a quick call to the store from the parking lot, a cheerful, mask-wearing employee deposited my order in the trunk. The only misstep: She didn’t shut the trunk, which I didn’t notice until putting my car in reverse resulted in frantic beeping.

The upshot: I’ll gladly tip the worker who takes over cat litter-lugging duty. Plus, with curbside pickup, I still retain some of the errand-running satisfaction. —L.M.


The first week for “non-essential” retail businesses to open in Chicago was undeniably tough for Fleet Feet and others, with neighborhoods hit by vandals as some protests turned violent. Day one, I showed up at the Lakeview store and called the phone number, but no one answered. Day two I tried to use the very promising-sounding “virtual fitting” service, in which a trained outfitter invites you to a Zoom call and analyzes your wear pattern and gait and recommends shoe options. Alas, I got the spinning beach ball of doom, as our graphic designer calls it, and the same on day three. Day four, I made an appointment to shop inside the store, and I’m glad I waited for the in-store experience. A friendly staffer measured my feet and analyzed my arches using a scale-like gizmo, then watched me walk and did the same for my husband, my fellow tester. After all that, though, I expected the shoe suggestions to be tailored for each customer but we both were shown different colors of the same two brands.

The upshot: High-tech offerings ensuring a perfect fit fall short if they don’t work or result in generic solutions for all customers. Right idea but wrong execution, Fleet Feet. —B.E.

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