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Virtual retailers may claim an advantage over their bricks-and-mortar competitors in terms of convenience, price and possibly even selection, but what they can’t offer is experience. Toronto’s Yorkdale Shopping Centre has been cultivating brand partnership to elevate the Yorkdale shopping experience, first with RBC’s Avion cardholders, and most recently with American Express.
The RBC Avion and Amex programs are similar in their objectives: elevate the shopping experience at Yorkdale, reward the partner cardholders and demonstrate to non-cardholders the advantages of membership.
The Avion program was launched in 2013. It runs during the winter holiday season, offering cardholders complimentary valet parking (a $15 value and a precious commodity in Yorkdale’s massive parking lot) and access to an exclusive lounge providing gift wrapping services, snacks and non-alcoholic beverages, phone charging stations and an opportunity to decompress from a day of frenzied shopping.
The just-launched Style Concierge Presented by American Express is an elegantly appointed space where Yorkdale Valet shoppers can book a one-on-one consultation with a fashion stylist from fashion consultancy La Closette. For a $150 fee, the stylist will assess the shopper’s fashion needs and guide him or her through a shopping experience to meet those needs. American Express cardmembers have access to an additional suite of complimentary benefits, beginning with valet parking and including “fashion emergency” support, such as advice on an outfit for a last minute event, lost luggage or an urgent clothing repair. Premium cardmembers have access to even more benefits when booking personal stylist appointments. They will also receive an invitation to Yorkdale Privé by American Express, a cardmembers-only shopping event coming up in advance of Mother’s Day at Yorkdale’s new luxury wing.
It’s important that Yorkdale and its partner share brand alignment and that partnerships support Yorkdale retailers, explains Yorkdale Marketing Director Lucia Connor. The American Express partnership began with an exploratory meeting to understand what American Express would expect out of a Yorkdale partnership.
“We asked questions like, what would a successful program look like? What are your KPIs?” says Connor. The answers allowed her and Specialty Leasing and Brand Activation Manager Mary Cipriano to customize a sponsorship package that would meet Amex’s objectives and elevate the Yorkdale experience.
The partnership was an easy sell to Yorkdale retailers. American Express is almost universally accepted throughout the shopping centre and all retailers can expect to benefit from the increased traffic and spending generated through Amex’s promotion of the style concierge service.
That being said, sales attributable to the Style Concierge will be only a small part of the evaluation of this program’s success. Yorkdale and American Express agreed from the outset that this program would be about experience, not sales. Style Concierge stylists are not there to sell, merely to advise based on the customer’s expressed needs.
FOMO and the virtual retailer
Yorkdale is also adapting to the challenge of virtual retail by inviting virtual retailers into their space.
It’s a response to the need among virtual retailers to offer consumers something resembling the live shopping experience.
“In the past three years we’ve had a very strong response from the online retailers to have that bricks and mortar physical space,” says Cipriano. “What they do struggle with is the touch and feel that people very much need.”
And then there’s FOMO – the Fear of Missing Out. It’s a powerful driver of behaviour among millennials, and a key element of FOMO is shareability. Receiving a product in the mail is not a shareable moment, whereas experiencing it among friends at a pop-up retail location is.
Yorkdale’s response is Concept, a new space within the shopping centre dedicated exclusively to pop-ups.
“This space will turn over several times per year,” says Connor.
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