Those who said work-from-home was here to stay might be surprised to learn that we are witnessing a shift back to the office, with many organizations small and large instituting mandates for at least a partial return to office for the majority of their employees. The return to office (RTO) mandate is already strong in Europe and Asia and continues to grow in the U.S., where almost half of workers are back in the office full-time, and two-thirds of employers are asking employees to come back to the office at least two to three days a week.
While consumer spending might be slowing as a whole — the National Retail Federation’s most recent analysis showed the year-over-year increase in consumer spending dropping from 4.2% in the first quarter to a mere 1.6% in the second — spending on apparel that’s appropriate for a mandatory return to office will also not be optional for those who have invested in little other than athleisure while working remotely the last few years. Whether individuals are returning on a hybrid basis or going fully back in the office, work wardrobes are due for a refresh for most returning employees.
This transition from remote work to returning to the office brings new opportunities for luxury retailers as their customers now begin revisiting their wardrobe choices. Having spent the last few years in casual comfort, the challenge for these workers now is to strike a balance between the comfort they’ve become accustomed to and the professionalism, even if now slightly relaxed, that’s expected in an office environment.
Notably, younger employees who went straight from their schooling into the world of remote work and are now perhaps starting their first in-office roles might find themselves navigating previously uncharted territory, without any office-friendly wardrobe staples to draw on at all. Luxury retailers, armed with their styling expertise, can offer valuable guidance during this phase. Through the effective use of their customer data and clienteling capabilities, retailers can craft deeply personalized shopping experiences, making the wardrobe refresh portion of the RTO journey much more enjoyable for the customer.
Retailers’ first move should be to assess current trends, and how well they align to office culture, so they can be used to drive recommendations. For example, the contemporary “quiet luxury” trend — an aesthetic that emphasizes quality, sophistication and subtlety without the overt logos — conveniently aligns very well with the concept of rebuilding the essentials in a work wardrobe.
For a return to office, retailers can suggest a curated collection of versatile pieces such as tailored trousers, pencil skirts and silk blouses, complemented by the elegance of well-cut blazers and, in cooler climates, classic cashmere. Such selections not only ensure longevity but also offer multiple mix-and-match opportunities, laying a solid foundation for an evolving professional wardrobe. Other currently on-trend items like vests and long coats are also office-friendly and can be used to round out retailers’ basic RTO recommendations.
But embracing office attire doesn’t mean sidelining personal style, and this is where clienteling capabilities are even more relevant. Having enjoyed the freedom to experiment with styles during remote work, employees are likely to now seek to merge their personal fashion sensibilities with office-appropriate attire. This is where the power of clienteling can best serve your customers; by harnessing its capabilities, luxury retailers can create in-depth style profiles for each customer to provide the kind of recommendations that are a real differentiator in the customer experience.
Retailers that build out robust customer profiles that factor in data from customer purchase history, style quizzes or even feedback from past in-store interactions will put their associates in the best position to make the right recommendations. With this information, associates can then suggest pieces that beautifully blend the customer’s individual style — be it a preference for vibrant patterns or an inclination toward streetwear vibes — with the more neutral elements of everyday office attire. Luxury retailers can help bridge the gap between personal fashion choices and the expectations of the corporate world, ensuring that each customer feels authentically themselves, even within office walls.
As we all adjust to a hybrid, new style of working, the role of a retailer in helping its customers adjust to a return to the office is best accomplished by understanding the customer’s needs and preferences, and providing high-touch customer service and recommendations using clienteling best practices to deliver personal style consultations that land within office requirements. Doing so will help enhance customer relationships and ensure that your brand stays entrenched in the customer’s mind as aligned with every aspect of their lifestyle, including their work life.
Retailers have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to help their customers navigate an RTO transition with confidence, enabling them to express their unique style even within the confines of office attire. With a clienteling-focused strategy of combining timelessness, trends and individual customer tastes, retailers can provide the guidance that their customers need to look and feel their best as they step back into the workplace.
Alyx Kaczuwka, Director, AI Development for XY Retail, combines her insights into luxury market trends with a passion for digital transformation to help drive the future of retail. She focuses on not just reacting to industry shifts but anticipating them to create seamless, innovative, and personalized shopping experiences.