Luxury retail isn’t just about the products on offer: it’s about the entire shopping experience, where carefully curated displays and highly-trained staff are par for the course. Customers are made to feel special and unique when browsing in high-end bricks-and-mortar stores – which in turn helps to justify the significantly higher price tags.
The critical challenge for luxury brands that are adapting to the new digital-first reality is translating this premium in-store experience into an online setting. Here are some of the tactics that leading brands are using to achieve this consistency of experience, across proliferating channels and touch points.
In-store, luxury shoppers (understandably) expect a certain level of service and expertise from staff, given the investment they’re making in high-end products. It’s therefore not uncommon for sales assistants to receive in-depth training on the new-season stock so that they can speak fluently and compellingly about the products, whether regarding the provenance and quality of the materials or the craftsmanship that has gone into their design and production.
Online, however, there are no sales assistants to draw the customer into the brand universe and tell the ‘story’ of products – so content, and in particular product, descriptions and editorial guides, play a critical role.
One example of a brand that understands this principle is Moet Hennessey, which launched its high-end ecommerce site, Clos19, last year to sell its premium alcohol brands online. Product descriptions on the site are detailed and evocative, exploring the colour, scent and unique notes of the drinks. The distilling and maturing process are described and accompanied by tasting notes from experts – an essential part of the experience when the sale of a £7,000 bottle of whisky is at stake. Even food pairings are suggested to make the experience more artisanal. The tone of voice is consistently luxurious, appropriate to the high-spending audience.
The site also makes shrewd use of inspirational video content, offering cocktail recipes and helpful visual guides on related topics like ‘how to chill your bottle quickly’. Given the effectiveness of video as a storytelling medium – and considering 90% of customers say that videos help them make purchasing decisions – this Is a smart strategy, both from an engagement and conversion-driving perspective.
Personalisation is essential in an industry that prides itself on the bespoke. Whether in-store, on-site or in marketing emails, customers need to feel as though brands are speaking directly to them, with tailored and relevant communications that reflect their interests and preferences. For brands to achieve this (while erring on the right side of the privacy line) they need to use customer data sensitively and craft content carefully.
One brand striking this balance is Luisa Via Roma (LVR), a luxury fashion retailer that sells well-known brands including Gucci, Balmain and Dolce & Gabbana. By leveraging Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning technology, LVR has implemented – at a macro level – custom versions of its website geared toward each of the markets that it operates in, surfacing the products and content that perform best in each region, based on customer behaviour, local trends and preferences.
At a more micro, individual level, LVR utilises customer spending data, based on previous purchases, to automatically sort on-site search results – ensuring that historically higher-spending customers are presented with higher-value (and possibly more appealing and relevant) goods.
AI is likely to become an increasingly useful tool in personalising the shopper journey for both high-end and mass market brands. Forrester estimated that brands would increase investment in AI by 300% in 2017, while 57% of brands expected it to improve customer experience and support. And there is already evidence to suggest that personalisation is making a positive impact on retailers’ bottom lines. According to BCG, brands creating personalised experiences using digital technology and customer data are experiencing sales increases of between six and 10%. Overall, Accenture claims personalisation could boost profitability by nearly two-thirds by 2035.
While luxury brands are often associated with heritage and craftsmanship – epitomising the so-called ‘slow movement’ – they are also often prime innovators, both regarding product development and marketing tactics.
Burberry is an old hand at the new technology and has been a consistent early adopter of emerging social media channels. It was one of the first brands to trial Snapchat as a customer engagement channel, sponsoring the network’s Discover channel for 24 hours and filling it with exclusive ‘access-all-areas’ content, including stills and videos from its fashion shoots.
Burberry has also maintained a prolific presence on Pinterest, collaborating with the visual bookmarking tool on a campaign to showcase personalised Burberry content (including product tips, look guides, how-tos and makeup inspiration), based on user makeup preferences.
In 2012, Burberry was one of the first brands to experiment with shoppable, interactive video – and its exploration of this medium came full circle in 2016 with a campaign centred around the Burberry Runway show, in which customers with the Apple TV app could order items and request a call from a personal shopper, directly from the app.
By employing these types of tactics, Burberry demonstrates a sound understanding of its target audience and the activities that are likely to improve brand loyalty and advocacy. Recent research from Global Web Index reveals that:
• 37% of affluent consumers would promote a brand to their networks when they have received great customer service
• 23% will promote a brand if they feel they have ‘insider knowledge’ about the company or its products, while 20% would do so if given access to exclusive content or services
Whether a retailer is selling products at the £5 or £50,000 end of the spending spectrum, delivering a seamless online shopping experience is critical to driving conversions. For luxury brands, this pressure is magnified by heightened customer expectations – meaning they need to work harder to ensure that their online offering reflects the level of experience delivered offline. And this simply can’t be achieved without high-quality content.
Ed Bussey is chief executive of Quill.