Exclusive J.Jill Q&A: ‘We Want to be a Part of her Life Versus her Being a Part of Our Brand’

J.Jill Q&A We Want to be a Part of her Life Versus her Being a Part of Our Brand
Image courtesy of J.Jill

The J.Jill customer doesn’t need a confidence boost — she is already comfortable in her own skin. Recognizing this characteristic of its women’s apparel customer is key to building the loyalty of these clients, according to Elliot Staples, SVP of Design, Product Development, Technical Design and Creative Marketing, and Kara Howard, SVP of Marketing and Customer Experience at J.Jill. These customers are women aged 45 and up who have built extensive purchasing power, so J.Jill serves as an informed style partner rather than an authority.

“We’re not trying to give her confidence,” said Staples. “We’re trying to fuel what she’s looking for in her life, and she really needs clothes that fit her very active lifestyle. She has lots to accomplish, a lot she is working on and a lot she’s involved in, so the versatility of the collection is critical for her and [her] expectations of quality. It can move with her throughout all of her day and even transfer into an evening event.”

In an exclusive interview with Retail TouchPoints, Howard and Staples discuss how the J.Jill heritage of providing quality products and supporting its clientele with attentive, knowledgeable service are at the core of reaching customers across all touch points.

RTP: Where does J.Jill find the perfect balance between the heritage of its brand and a fresh approach to the apparel retail business?


Elliot Staples: We put two big pillars into place. First, focus on quality. Make it matter. Make it count. Make great decisions she will appreciate in terms of style, fabric, silhouette, hand feel and outfitting. The second is to keep it simple. We’re not a complicated brand; she’s not interested in complicated. My team coined a phrase, ‘We’re about style made simple.’ These are not revolutionary silhouettes, but the composition of how we put them together and accessorize the outfit makes them unique, individual and gives her the sort of style she is looking for.

Kara Howard: The other piece is a heritage of a very well-designed concept and collection, and storytelling. Facebook Live is not part of our heritage, but it is a really great way to tell a story and be very authentic in terms of how we do it. In fact, we do Facebook Live with our own employees as models, and our customer loves that!

Our influencers have a variety of body types and they’re much more diverse. They have a lot of interests they are building on as they share with the communities they connect with. That is another aspect of our evolution toward more authenticity, and a little bit more variety, in terms of all the different touch points we use to connect with her.

RTP: How is J.Jill working with associates to enhance customer-facing experiences in stores?

Howard: Our associates are stylists and their role is to introduce her to the collection. Customers appreciate how they are walked through the store, how it is laid out so thoughtfully in terms of how we place the collection. Associates provide expert advice and a little bit of encouragement, to try something the customer might have walked by but [that could] help her to complete her look.

One of the things we’ve seen work quite well in the pandemic is the connection to an individual associate. Somebody who might not have been comfortable coming into the store would talk to an individual associate about what’s in the collection. The associate could put some things together and meet the customer at the car so she can try them and make some exchanges.

It was a very personal experience, these one-to-one connections, and the ability to make an appointment if a customer is not comfortable coming in when it’s busy. We’re still promoting it because it was such a great experience for the customer.

RTP: What omnichannel elements is J.Jill incorporating to serve this customer?

Howard: We try to be channel-agnostic. If she prefers a store, she can shop in the store. If she prefers online, she can shop online. All of our messages and all of our offers are consistent so she really can make that choice.

We’re really seeing an increasing amount of interaction in our digital marketing as well. We’ve traditionally done a lot of [direct] mail, plus we’re ramping up our digital interaction through our email program, social, or reaching out with influencers. Different points in the journey are really omnichannel, not only that end purchase point.

RTP: How do you align trends with a sophisticated, confident consumer who has a considerable amount of spending power?

Staples: What we’re really moving toward is focusing not on [her] age but where she is in her life. What is her mindset? I put into place an approach I call ‘fabric first.’ We’re not necessarily reinventing silhouettes but we have the opportunity to provide her with amazing fabrics, amazing hand feel, amazing touch and tactility, and the quality of that is a value-add for her as well as the style element.

Our customer very much responds to touch, so when she’s in our store environment shopping live, she touches everything. If she doesn’t like the hand feel you can see she pulls back. She is not looking for things she will throw away in a short period of time, so we’ve got a lot of traction in the lifespan of our clothes, and it’s something we make sure we protect.

RTP: With an emphasis on creating pieces intended to have a long lifespan, do you see the focus on quality as an investment in sustainability?

Staples: We’re on the front end of the sustainability journey. It’s definitely an important factor in terms of what we’re trying to move toward and introduce to her. We had some success with organic cotton and sustainably grown fibers; we had quite a bit of sustainable fibers in our assortment that we weren’t even talking about. We’re able to translate the language to be able to highlight some of that for her. I think it’s growing in importance in her mind and we’re still learning what’s important to her.

RTP: How does J.Jill maintain and cultivate customer loyalty?

Howard: It is the ability to listen to and respond to what she needs, whether that’s coming in through the store associates or feedback from our ratings and reviews. We get a lot of feedback on social in terms of what she’s reacting to. That ability to listen and respond is really important. We’ve tried to connect that experience across all touch points. When you’re looking at the catalogue, you’re on the website, you’re receiving an email or you’re in the store, you really do get this feeling it’s a bit of an escape.

RTP: What is the primary component of J.Jill’s approach to serving its customers?

Howard: We try hard to be very customer-centric, listen to customers and not make assumptions about what’s important to her, and to do it continuously because it is evolving. We listen for what’s new, what’s different and what’s important to her. There are so many new things that happened in the past couple of years. Even if folks thought they knew this audience, they probably don’t. If they haven’t talked to her lately, they will not know there has been a change in her mindset.

Staples: We want to be a part of her life versus her being a part of our brand. Some brands relay messaging that says, ‘This is who we are,’ and they attract that. Having the sensibility of knowing what she is, meeting her where she is, knowing the expectation of what she’s looking for from us and having a deep understanding of her allows us to provide her with great trends that are interpreted for her. She’s not looking for the trend she throws away tomorrow, but she wants to feel modern, she wants to feel relevant, she wants to feel included in all of that. Having that translation point is a really good way of creating loyalty because she is coming to us knowing we understand her.

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