Nina Alexander-Hurst, BaubleBar, fashion, social media, Brendan Lowry, Curalate, marketing, business, retail, ecommerce

Photos by Brendan Lowry

Welcome to another edition of UNFILTERED, a series of interviews with influencers and marketers that are shaping the future of e-commerce. UNFILTERED was created by Curalate Marketing Director Brendan Lowry and Manager of Content Strategy Jared Shelly.

Nina Alexander-Hurst knows that customer service is a business process in need of serious disruption. Making customers wait on hold or chat online with a faceless company rep often leads to frustration — especially in want-not-need industries like fashion. Why can’t customer service online feel like walking into a department store and chit-chatting with a sales associate?

Nina, the Vice President of Customer Experience at fashion jewelry retailer BaubleBar, had a better idea. Why not develop a group of in-house stylists who can make personalized recommendations and create one-of-a-kind shopping experiences via online chats, video chats and phone calls? Why not have those stylists create user-generated content for each new product so customers can visualize how the products will look in real life? That’s just what she did by creating the company’s Service With Accessorizing Talent (SWAT) program where 12 women offer their style recommendation services, showcase their favorite items and develop social media personas on Instagram.

BaubleBar works with Curalate to place user-generated content on all its product pages — a way to show how merchandise looks on regular people rather than just fashion models. Some of images come from SWAT stylists while others are curated from fan photos from Instagram. BaubleBar also uses Curalate’s Like2Buy tool to make their Instagram account shoppable to 393,000 followers.

I met Nina at BaubleBar HQ on Broadway in Manhattan, where we discussed the importance of personalized interaction, her previous life as a startup entrepreneur, and how the SWAT program has helped drive larger sales and lifelong customers.

With SWAT, you’re turning in-house stylists into influencers that help customers make fashion decisions. Explain why you created that program.

Why should customer service online be so impersonal and transactional? When you walk into a department store, you engage with a sales associate, they walk around the store with you and get you excited about your purchase. They make it fun to shop. But online, you talk to someone and you will never talk to that same person again. You have no idea where they are in the world, no idea if they even know about the products that you’re trying to get help with. I wanted to bridge that gap and use technology to create an experience online that was on par, if not better, than experiences that a customer would have in person. The bar has been set relatively low so there’s a lot of opportunity to surprise and delight.

How does the SWAT program work?

We created Instagram profiles for each of our SWAT stylists, allowing the team to showcase their personalities as well as our jewelry. It’s not just about our products, it’s what they’re doing on the weekend, their favorite brunch spot or their favorite skyline photo. They’re sharing their lives.

Each SWAT stylist also has their own page on the BaubleBar website, showcasing a curated, shoppable list of product recommendations. Any way that you can curate a selection for customers will make it easier to shop. If we can do that while also showing who these stylists are so that our customers feel more comfortable interacting with them — it’s a win-win. We’re not just stylists behind the screens. You can engage with us, we’ll help you with your order, help you place your order and make sure it gets to you in a timely fashion.

We photograph every product before it goes live on our site. Those Instagram images live on the product page so when a product launches, we already have user-generated content — which helps with conversions. We don’t have to wait for a customer to receive the item then post about it. Our customers are able to see what it looks like on a real person immediately when the product launches.

Can you provide some metrics around the program?

  • BaubleBar sees its basket size increase 4x on average when customers engage with a SWAT stylist.
  • 30% of customers who have made two or more orders with BaubleBar spontaneously mentioned either SWAT or customer service as a reason they were satisfied with their most recent shopping experience.
  • BaubleBar has successfully created brand loyalty with customers, with over half of repeat buyers making three or more purchases.

Nina Alexander-Hurst, BaubleBar, fashion, social media, Brendan Lowry, Curalate, marketing, business, retail, ecommerce

How did you come up with the idea of video chats?
We started by doing 20 video chat sessions — and 19 of those 20 customers converted after the chat. Their average order value was triple the site average. It was a no-brainer. Now we offer voice, video and regular live chats. If you start a chat with us, we can co-browse and shop the site together, which is like taking you around a store and showing you products they think you’re going to like.

How important is human interaction in keeping customers loyal to the brand?
I think it’s very important. There are a lot of customers who, even when they’re shopping online, like engaging with other humans and getting feedback. We say shopping with a SWAT stylist is like shopping with your best friend. These days, people aren’t always able to do that. Having some human interaction and enjoying the shopping experience is important. Fashion is not the same as buying toilet paper on Amazon. You need the toilet paper, you don’t need the earrings. You want the earrings, so we want you to have fun with the purchase. We want you to play around with new trends. Try the choker you thought you couldn’t wear. We want to convince you that not only can you wear it, but you’ll get a ton of compliments on it.

Let’s talk about your career arc. You were a startup entrepreneur at one point, fixing Blackberry trackballs and selling phone cases. How did that entrepreneurial experience affect how you do your job now?

I think it’s a benefit. I really love solving problems and building my own business forced me to solve problems all day. I quickly learned that every day was going to be different — truly different — and I had to push through the challenges to make it work. Building out a team at BaubleBar has been a similar experience – every day brings a new challenge, and I feel well equipped to find solutions to whatever problem comes our way.

What is BaubleBar’s relationships with influencers outside of the SWAT stylists?

From the start, BaubleBar has had strong organic relationships with bloggers. It’s one of the ways that we grew quickly at the beginning — bloggers were excited to wear the jewelry and post about BaubleBar. The showroom at our Manhattan office is a great opportunity to meet face-to-face. We’ll invite bloggers and influencers into the showroom to see the brand up close, try on product, and even see collections before launch. We’ll often gift them something they’re excited about, too.

What’s your mission when creating content? Do you want life-long customers? Do you want to find new customers?

All of the above. The purpose of the content depends on where that content is being created. For social media, we definitely want to engage with customers, so we measure engagement above all else. Yes the sales come out of it but engagement is really important, and I think the social team does a great job of making sure that the content we’re putting out there is not just for the purpose of selling jewelry but also excites our customers. Maybe it’s a funny quote that’s going to pick them up on a Monday morning. If we’re only posting jewelry, we’re not giving our audience a chance to see who we really are.

Do you have a philosophy that drives your team?

Question every single process – strive to improve upon it. Whether we’re launching a new technology or giving feedback to other teams in the company, we have to remember that we’re advocates for the customer. It’s easy to say the customer is wrong or missed something. It’s easy to feel like we can’t have an impact but if we were to accept that, we would not be effective. It’s important that we keep pushing the boundaries. And most important: a happy, motivated and challenged team creates incredible experiences for customers.

Nina Alexander-Hurst, BaubleBar, fashion, social media, Brendan Lowry, Curalate, marketing, business, retail, ecommerce

Photos by Brendan Lowry

Regardless of the industry, influencer marketing can give any brand a much-needed boost. Download our free guide How to Win Fans & Influence Purchases to learn how to build relationships with bloggers and social media influencers so they’ll build relationships for you.

For a quick, painless way to find influencers, use Curalate Explore, which allows you to discover micro-influencers eager to post authentic content about your brand, helping you gain audience and reach new customers.