Screen Shot 2013-12-11 at 2.22.16 PMPS Dept, which calls itself the Genius Bar of fashion, could be the next driver of multichannel retail. The app enables users to message in-store salespeople for help finding an item. Founded by former Barneys, Donna Karan and Marc Jacobs buyer Michelle Goad, PS Dept aims to be a free personal shopper for those who are short on time, or a resource for those looking for a last-minute gift or outfit piece.

When we tested PS Dept, it offered a list of over 40 stores based on the zip code entered. Online stores such as Moda Operandi were in the mix, as well as stores within commuting range of New York City, such as Hirshleifers in Long Island. PS Dept’s human element is extremely helpful, because it facilitates conversations about where to put a piece of home-décor, or what type of events a certain dress can be worn to, precisely what lacks in online search. In our test search, we messaged Canvas Home, and a salesperson messaged us back pictures of different vases that fit our description of large and turquoise. Each photo had buy button in case we were ready to purchase, but the she also told us what retail locations had them in stock.

PS Dept can benefit brand and department stores by a way to get or remain on the consumer’s radar. It lists smaller independent retailers in addition to department and brand stores. An Instagram-like feed with pictures by the staff of PS Dept and any stores the user chooses to follow is fodder for new purchase ideas.

Our 2013 Intelligence Report: Multichannel Retail shows that brands should look at internet and mobile sites as drivers of in-store retail. An L2 Collective survey found that for the majority of prestige brands, e-commerce generates less than 3% of total sales. By 2016, however, over half of sales are expected to be influenced by e-commerce. The disparity presents opportunity for brands, but very few have taken advantage. Only 11% of retailers have an in-store pickup option for online purchases and only 22% allow users to see if a product is in stock at a retail location. Consumer interest in digital interaction with brand employees is high; 65% of online shoppers in the U.S. customers have chatted online with a sales representative in the past year.

Even if more brands decide to follow the steps of Nordstrom and Sephora (named in our report for their integration of e-commerce and in-store sales), a single app that enables messaging of multiple stores offers a convenience that individual store apps or sites do not. As of now, PS Dept falls short in the quantity of stores to message, and a few of the retailers lag in response time. If perfected, however, PS Dept or similar apps can be prime examples of how multichannel retail should work.

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