With footfall in central London remaining depressed (according to Springboard foot traffic is down almost 52% year on year) brands, in particular luxury brands, in the capital are having to think long and hard about the role and purpose of their stores in the post-lockdown era.
Things will, of course, improve as workers gradually return to city centres and the tourism trade picks up again, but this side of a Covid-19 vaccine, no one is really expecting a huge leap in footfall, and, even once we are on the other side, physical retail will be changed for good.
Luxury brands once considered flagship stores in prime international city centres to be confident “marketing exercises” but with sales across all of their channels, and across all of their international markets, challenged as a result of the global pandemic, that approach is being questioned.
Not that Sojin Lee and Paul O’Regan ever felt that was ever the right approach. These two seasoned luxury professionals always thought the luxury store could work so much harder and with Toshi, the last mile delivery business that aims to “make logistics sexy”, they’re doing just that. O’Regan says he wants luxury brands to think of their stores as “micro warehouses” and if that doesn’t sound exciting then, hold your judgement and read on.
Lee established Toshi three years ago and has quietly built the business up with some of the world’s most desirable luxury brands, including Chanel, Erdem, Christopher Kane, Christian Louboutin, Huntsman and Roland Mouret among others. One of the beta testers for the service was London-based luxury label Galvan, where O’Regan had been CEO; he’s now joined Toshi, at what is proving to be an opportune time, as Chief Commercial Officer to drive growth and awareness.
If those brands seem impressive then it’s not entirely surprising since Lee’s CV includes stints at Chanel, Bottega Veneta and Net-A-Porter, where she was a member of the founding management team. As well as Galvan, O’Regan can count brands such as Burberry, Oscar de la Renta, AllSaints, Gucci and Ralph Lauren among his former employees. They are clearly well connected and they know luxury.
So, what is Toshi? Essentially it’s a luxury, local delivery service, which is very much tech-driven, but with a unique human touch and plenty of opportunity for amplifying your brand and service credentials, as well as upselling.
At its most basic level, luxury brands can plug the Toshi software into their websites (a single one of code connects it to partners such as Woocommerce, Shopify, Magento and more) enabling e-commerce consumers to select Toshi delivery (this will be dependent on postcode – if Toshi isn’t available in a client’s area, it will not be offered as an option). It then offers them a 30-minute time-slot for delivery where customers can receive ordered goods, try them on and send back those they don’t want straight away.
A Toshi associate will stay with the customer for as long as needed (offering styling advice and pinning for alterations – using the Toshi Perfect Fit kit – if required) while they try goods on. The associates will arrive at the customer’s home in a private car. Before lockdown, public transport had been used to avoid extra traffic on the road, but now safety is paramount. Customers can also add instructions in their order for Toshi to bring additional sizes and there is an “Inspire Me” option where complementary items can be sent out to try.
“What else are you going to do?” says Lee of the alternative solutions, “Put it in a black cab or an Addison Lee?”
The benefits are clear for the consumer with a convenient delivery time and no need to arrange for returns or to have your cash tied up in purchases you don’t want to keep. For the brands, they can fulfil from local stores (i.e. the mini warehouses), if that is where the stock is most readily available, and any returns can be back in the system within two hours.
But this being a solution conceived by a pre-eminent luxury industry figure, there is more to it than that. “The technology is quite sophisticated,” explains Lee. “We are SAAS [software as a service] but was are using our own SAAS and partnering with a network.”
Toshi’s service can be tailored to each brand and even to each customer and it really comes into its own when placed into the hands of a personal shopper or store sales associate. Video “selling ceremonies” are becoming increasingly popular as consumers are unable or reluctant to travel to city centre stores and Toshi can enhance that experience greatly.
Once a customer has participated in a selling ceremony, the sales associate/personal stylist can make an order on Toshi, using the store interface, sending over the items that have been showcased and chosen by the customer but can also add their own suggestions for the client, so the the upsell opportunity is not lost. And again, alternative sizes/colours can be sent to try. Specific notes on the order can be added so that the Toshi associate can interact with the customer in a consistent way.
“If your personal shopper, let’s call her Marine, identifies you as a VIP then [the Toshi associate] will show you the additional items and say ‘Marine wanted you to see this’, so that language is carried through,” explains Lee. While she is a huge advocate for technology, the human touch is very important, especially when selling luxury.
The personal shopper/brand is kept up to date in real time with how the at-home appointment is progressing with updates on what the client is keeping/feeding back made in real-time, which they can access on their dashboard. Payment is taken at home but, for e-commerce orders, the brand can set parameters around whether payments are made up front or at home, or via a blend of the two if additional sizes and inspirational items are sent.
Currently available in London in Zones 1-3 and important shopping neighbourhoods in Zone 4, Toshi is also active in New York. As well as bringing new brands on board and helping their stores to find new purpose as showroom backdrops for selling ceremonies and mini warehouses, Toshi also had its sights set on launching in other major capitals around the world.
But more than that, Lee wants to bring the tech teams out of the basement and make a statement about how now, more than ever, focusing on logistics could be the key to success for your business.
“I want to make logistics sexy,” she says, “It’s like the veins in your body. If you didn’t have veins, your blood could not run through your body and you would be dead.”
With many brands considering survival strategies for their stores, Toshi could just be the thing to revive them.