Merchants Are a Thing of the Past in Canada

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By Mina Ely

We know that the fashion retail landscape is changing. Merchants are a thing of the past. Now, retailers need to be marketers. The difference between the two is subtle yet significant. Sales staff need to know the ins and outs of the products they are trying to market. Educate the consumer on the product, explain why supporting this designer, or wearing this garment, or sporting a new pair of shoes better their life. They need to tell the customer about the product without pushing the sale.

Business is no longer about selling, it’s about creating a relationship, establishing trust, building a rapport. The customer doesn’t want to feel as though we are trying to add a simple product to their life, they want to feel as though we are adding value, fulfill a need or solve a problem.

We’ve seen time and time again American companies enter the Canadian marketplace only to shut down within a couple years time (if they even make it that long). Walk into any of the new Nordstrom or Saks locations in Canada and you may notice something missing … the customers. Why is that when these companies are already implementing modern sales tactics? Department stores typically lack connection. They need to work on the practice of turning a “customer” into a “client”.


It’s not about the brands anymore — it’s about the liaison between the client and the product. Having a genuine relationship with the client, getting to know them and letting them get to know you. Help the client to build trust with you and want to listen to your advice. This way, when you tell them about the benefits of adding a product or garment to their life, they listen rather than shutting you out.


So should the luxury retail marketplace be scared of e-commerce? To put it simply, I don’t think so. The luxury consumer is looking for an experience. Would you buy a car online? Most people would say no. This type of service is typically referred to as experiential retailing – offer the customers a place to sit, music to listen too, something to drink then allow them to touch and feel the garments, visually digest the quality of the materials. Allow them to do this with friends, integrating yourself, and become their friend as well. Shopping is still a social and entertaining experience.

For those clients swaying towards e- commerce, provide them with the same services. E-commerce allows for home delivery, I do this myself and this only helps to better our relationship. E-commerce sometimes provides clients with “gifts” at this level of luxury, a points card isn’t going to do much… instead, I treat my clients to lunch or dinners or deliver baby toys or ice cream with their garments for my clients with kids. Going for a weekend away with a client is something I value, they support me not only as my clients but also as my friends. It’s not an obligation, but I develop relationships with these women so I am able to surpass my duties and their expectations.


Hiring an executive stylist with credibility or adding executive stylists to your business is a way to ensure that the buyer no longer feels as though they are being “sold” too. My years of experience in the field have awarded me with badges in different areas of knowledge. This extensive knowledge of the fashion market allows me to exceed my clients expectations and provide them with more than just the clothing they request. They leave with a wardrobe that matches their lifestyle and allows them to excel and feel confident in whatever they may be doing.

I believe that cold-calling still works. Old school marketing tactics such as cold calling are beneficial to this type of business. Why? Luxury markets require a more personalized service. Not every person is willing to spend this kind of money on clothing. I find the people that will and I make them my target mission. By calling or emailing these people, I create a personalized service from the beginning that allows me to better understand and execute their wants and needs.

Relationships with my clients often transform from strictly business to meaningful friendships. I take personal appointments in the clients homes. They introduce me to their kids, to their husband and their pets. They tell me about their weekend getaways and busy work days. All of these details allow me to dress my clients to their specific requirements, surpass their needs and assure they are happy with the services I am providing.

Mina Ely

With twenty years in the luxury retail industry, Mina Ely has a broad understanding of the retail and fashion world. As a Luxury Retail Sales Specialist, Retail Strategist and Luxury Wardrobe Consultant, Mina provides a wide range of services to her portfolio of executive clients. Mina firmly believes that retails core values stem from the overall experience of the consumer and her goal is to ensure that the clients expectations are exceeded every time. Mina brings expertise that span the width of the business. Giving back to the community is important to Mina so she is passionate about partnering with charity organizations and hosting private events with the theme of “Fashion Cares for a Cause” in mind.

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  1. While I appreciate the intent of this post, there is nothing new in it. True Merchants have been practicing these customer relationship building skills since the beginning of time! Just walk into a specialty retailer like Harry Rosen and you will be enveloped in it.
    To say that Nordstroms or Saks can pull that off is delusional.
    I have no doubt that Ms Ely is phenomenal in building her own client relationships, but how those translate to department store marketing escapes me.
    I not only see an absence of customers in the department stores but sadly also of salespeople.

  2. I strongly agree. Stores such as Nordstrom and Saks need to implement new selling tactics… Small scale is the way to go for top of the line service!


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