Trend: A Million Thanks

Fawning and flattering sales tactics are no longer reserved for über-spenders. (Hint: Check your mailbox)


K., a co-worker of mine, likes to occasionally splurge on the finer things in life when her publishing-biz salary allows. For a recent birthday, her favorite present was the one she gave herself — a timeless Burberry trench valued at close to $700. And while it’s certainly a gift that keeps on giving, K. said she had no idea just how much until she received a handwritten note from the Walnut Street Burberry sales associate who sold it to her:

I hope you enjoy the coat and have a wonderful birthday. Please let me know if I can be of further assistance. Thank you, Vanessa

Months later, K. received a year-end bonus and again treated herself, this time to a pair of shiny patent leather mary janes. And another note arrived, this time from the Cole Haan store:

You’ve got the hottest shoes! Enjoy them! You looked fabulous in them! My best, Madison

K. was flattered. Beyond the rare retail romp, she’s hardly a big spender. But she might as well get used to it.

One-on-one fawnings from saleswomen with names fit for Victoria’s Secret models have long been used by Philly boutiques to keep customers coming back. But luxury brands? Yup. These days, a thank-you note may arrive in your mailbox for just about any purchase: Burberry now sends one when you buy a mere quilted patent plaid headband. The luxury chains deny any company-wide policy changes: “We treat customer service as a priority,” blah blah blah, says a Bloomie’s rep — but boutiques say their approach is being copied. “If chain stores are trying to personalize the relationship more, that’s smart, because that’s how customers feel loyalty to a brand,” says January Bartle, owner of the Old City boutique Third Street Habit.  

Can Philly’s department stores and high-end chains hold a lime-basil and mandarin Jo Malone candle to boutiques when it comes to people-pampering? “No matter how much high-end retailers amp up customer service, they will not affect boutiques. My clients shop at both my boutique and high-end retailers, but they buy the brands we both carry from me,” sniffs Jimmy Contreras, of Kimberly Boutique, a trendy shop on 16th Street. His success, he says, is in large measure due to cultivating “client-based relationships that high-end retailers will never be able to match.” Ooh, grab a seat.

Chains have always courted mega-spenders, but now they’re sending handwritten appreciations to infrequent splurgers, as part of a pull-out-all-the-stops customer service push that’s become vital, not just to seeding future commissions or beating out the competition, but, frankly, to staying afloat. You can’t cherry-pick customers anymore, à la Julia Roberts’s visit to Versace in Pretty Woman. A., the wife of a wealthy Wayne developer, and a frequent ­Nordstrom shopper, was miffed when her husband got fan mail after picking up a $400 Joseph Abboud blazer at Nordie’s — probably his only purchase of the year. Not once has she received credit for her ­credit. Which just goes to show that VIP is no longer the only way to spell L-O-V-E.

K. is already planning her next splurge, a Chloé bag, when she gets that fat tax refund next month. But while she’s deciding on the right spring color, she can’t help but wonder whether Neiman’s or Bloomie’s will  use cuter stationery.