On the Hot Seat: BaubleBar's SWAT team

Nina Alexander-Hurst uses Vee24's SWAT technology to show off jewelery.

Online jewelry retailer BaubleBar has reinvented a very traditional product category by creating a business model and brand that specifically appeals to younger shoppers. Today, the retailer is reinventing a traditional customer experience with new technology to advance their vision.

"Service With Accessorizing Talent (SWAT)" leverages video conferencing technology from Vee24 to connect shoppers to stylists via live chat. The program has increased the average order by 300 percent and boosted the rate of return shoppers by 250 percent.

FierceRetail spoke with Nina Alexander-Hurst, BaubleBar's VP of customer experience to find out how the technology works, and why it's increasing shopper engagement.

FierceRetail: BaubleBar has been partnering with retailers including Nordstrom and Anthropologie, even opening a stand-alone pop-up shop in New York City. Do you still consider BaubleBar an online retailer?

Nina Alexander-Hurst: The main part of our business will always be the online shopping experience. One of the most important things for us is to bring new and innovative ways to shop online. In a brick-and-mortar store, for example, you're used to having that human interaction, you can talk to the customer. With e-commerce it can be a little bit more challenging, but not impossible by any means. So, we're always looking for ways to remove that friction from the online shopping experience and make sure that our SWAT stylists are there, and they have those meaningful interactions and build relationships with customers in the way that is usually thought of as something that can only happen in person, in brick-and-mortar. The video chat is one of the ways in which we're able to do that.

FierceRetail: Tell me how it works.

Nina Alexander-Hurst: If you go to our site, there will be a pop-up after two minutes that will invite you to chat with a stylist, and when you accept, a stylist will be on your screen and the video will pop up. A great thing is that the customer's camera does not go on (automatically). The customer has the option to turn their camera on, but they can otherwise talk back to us or text chat back to us, and they still have the opportunity to see one of the stylists. They can trust their opinion more because you have that smiling face. You have someone who's there showing you the jewelry, who's guiding your screen, helping you figure out what to purchase, whether it's for yourself or a gift for someone else.

We have a lot of boyfriends and husbands who have been using this service. They're really loving that face to face interaction where they can trust the person that's helping them, like if they walk into Saks or Neiman Marcus, but they don't have to leave their desk.

FierceRetail: Men are using the service quite a bit. Was that a surprise to you?

Nina Alexander-Hurst: That was definitely a surprise. Customers aren't required to turn their camera on to chat, but we found that men are more likely to turn their camera on as well. They really want that high-touch experience, which is fun to see.

Another good thing about this video conferencing technology is that the customer doesn't need to download anything, which is probably one of the reasons why this is so successful. When we were beta testing long before we launched this version of videoconferencing, we were using Google Hangouts (which we still use for group sessions), Skype and Facetime. Pretty much whatever the customer felt comfortable with, whichever technology they preferred is how we would conduct the session. But although we interacted with all age groups and no one really had any trouble with the technology, it's much different to have it integrated within the site and to be able to co-browse, shop together, direct their screen, and help them check out.

FierceRetail: After the first five months with SWAT, the average order value increased by 300 percent and the rate of customers returning to the site to shop* increased by 250 percent. Is this all attributed to SWAT?

Nina Alexander-Hurst: When the customer comes to our site, sometimes they can be overwhelmed by all of the options, which is really where the SWAT team comes into play, helping to narrow down the site and help people figure out what pieces they can layer together and what goes together. We're able to increase the (average order value) and the basket size just because we can say "these earrings are going to be fantastic with this necklace." Or a ring is so popular right now all the SWAT stylists are wearing it. And we can point to our Instagram account and really give people an idea of who's wearing it, what that style is.

FierceRetail: Do you have any idea what kind of incremental sales this has given you? Has it managed to bring in new customers?

Nina Alexander-Hurst: Yes, it has been very successful with new customers as well. We work with a lot of brides, and the brides are looking for themselves and their bridesmaids, and often time it's the customer's first purchase or visit to BaubleBar. So, we have the opportunity to work with customers that don't feel comfortable with the site, so the conversion on the video chat and live chat is much higher than the site average.

FierceRetail: How do you keep it from being one of those reading from a script experiences and have it be genuine and true to what BaubleBar really is?

Nina Alexander-Hurst: We're able to do that in a few ways. Everyone is not only encouraged to use their own voice and infuse their own personality, but we also work on ways to do that. Whether it's making a connection about where someone's from, or making sure that we have the stylist talking to people who we know will relate to them.

Every SWAT stylist has their own Instagram profile. It serves two purposes. One is it's another way to show the jewelry on someone, but the second and equally important part is that it gives the SWAT stylist an opportunity to show the customers their own style and a peek behind the scenes into their own lives: what they're doing on the weekends and how they like to accessorize the jewelry. [They can] see the things on their desks. When we send customers pictures of the jewelry, we're not just sending them a model shot from the site, we're sending them an Instagram link of one of the SWAT stylists in the jewelry, so everything just feels a little bit more genuine and you know who you're talking to.

It's much easier to build relationships with customers when it's not an anonymous person on the other side of the computer, the other side of the phone, or the other side of the screen. They really know who they're talking to.

*Clarification: In the orginal story, the question "After the first five months with SWAT, the average order value increased by 300 percent and the return rate increased by 250 percent. Is this all attributed to SWAT?" mistated the measurement tool. The correct statistic refers to the rate of customers returning to the site to shop. The story has been corrected to reflect this.