X-ray technician Karen McGuigan of Wantagh gets the celebrity treatment when she shops at the Uniquely Yours women’s clothing shop in Seaford. She can have the store all to herself almost at any time she wants — and owner Linda Rhoads personally shops with her.
“If I want to go in at 8:30 in the morning before the shop opens I can, or I can go in after closing time,” McGuigan says. “I’m not rushed at all.”
McGuigan is one of many shoppers on Long Island who are loving being able to shop by appointment now at stores trying to accommodate customers who want to do in-person browsing in a socially distant fashion. Shopping by appointment — traditionally reserved for the rich and famous — is now being offered at dozens of stores ranging from small boutiques to giants such as Bloomingdale’s as they try to design ways to keep customers comfortable.
But whether in-store appointments are really good for most fashion stores long-term or whether they’ll continue to be offered widely beyond the pandemic is up for debate.
“If you don’t feel safe coming into the store with a lot of other customers around, appointment shopping is the way to go,” says Marie Bosconi, who owns Stony Brook bathing suit shop, Lovely Lady Lumps. She started offering virtual and in-store appointments because of the virus and plans to continue with both for the foreseeable future.
Fotini Michaelides, owner of Eastport’s Little Secret, which features fashions for women and children and products for the home, says she started shopping by appointment at her store during the early days of the reopening and she continues to offer it upon request.
“Appointment shopping is good,” Michaelides says, because store owners can get to know customers and give them individualized attention. "My customers loved browsing around and having the shop to themselves.”
Karen Beatty, manager of Omnibus Fashions in Babylon, a shop with special occasion styles for women and girls, says that pre-COVID appointments were offered only to mothers of the bride, and those took place just on Sundays before opening. The decision to have appointments for everyone now, and during a wide range of hours, has “definitely been popular,” Beatty says. At that store, customers shouldn’t expect to have the place to themselves although they can still practice social distancing, she adds.
“We’re having people call in for appointments and we can do three of four at a time because our dressing rooms are in different zones of the store,” Beatty says. She adds, “The advantage is I’m able to staff according to appointments, which cuts down on the overhead. Customers also feel more comfortable knowing the store won’t be overly crowded.”
Elevated, and attainable, experience
Helene Obey, general manager for Chico’s in Southampton and Stony Brook, says appointment shopping has been their business model for 38 years because it helps build customer relationships. “We want to be prepared for you — you usually don’t find that except for your high-end stores.”
Danielle Merollo, Americana Manhasset director of personal shopping, notes that just about all stores at the exclusive mall — from Hermes to Louis Vuitton — offered appointment shopping before COVID. “We have many customers who have relationships with specific sales associates at their favorite stores and they prefer to shop one-on-one with them.”
She adds, “Now, more than ever, customers are looking to shop by appointment or with an Americana personal shopper.”
Suitsupply, a men’s clothing store at Roosevelt Field, also offered appointments pre-COVID for custom clothing but after the pandemic hit, expanded appointment shopping for anyone wanting to come into the store. Also new are reserved fitting rooms where special plexiglass panels have been installed for minimal contact during fittings, and live virtual shopping is now available during which shoppers can be personally guided through the store by a salesperson.
“We’ve seen much success coming out of the planning and organizing that takes place with advance notice of a store visit,” says Suitsupply CEO and founder, Fokke de Jong. He adds, “Customers discover favorite pieces they didn’t know they were looking for, and are more willing to try things beyond their go-to style.”
Dylan Su, 27, manager of Tai Show Sushi in Massapequa, had a suit fitting at Suitsupply recently and says shopping by appointment makes him feel safe. “I think appointment shopping has become the new norm,” Su says. “It will help people feel safer in an environment where it might usually be overcrowded.”
Consider the flip side
But there can be downsides to shopping by appointment, Long Island shop owners and retail authorities say.
Eduardo Andrade, CEO of the Manhattan-based Retail Experts store development company, says most brick-and-mortar fashion stores are based on foot traffic, so for them, appointments can’t work forever. With stores that aren’t in the luxury category, “They’re going to lose that impulse buying momentum for sure.”
Appointments for customers not used to the practice can be intimidating, he says. Someone may think they’ve wasted a person’s time if they fail to make a purchase, he adds.
Obey, of Chico’s, says appointment shopping is something a customer loyal to a certain brand or store is most likely to do and adds, “Some people like the idea and some want no part of it.” And Michaelides, of Little Secret, admits, “When you open the doors to everybody, there are more sales.”