CONCEPT: Anderson | INDUSTRY: Luxury Retail | TYPE: Product strategy and design
E-commerce has long been a sore point for many luxury brands. Luxury brands differentiate themselves in part by the high-end experiences they offer in-store and have sometimes struggled to adapt those experiences to the web. Online, without the immersive experience of walking into a luxury storefront and being greeted by a thoughtfully curated assortment of products and a knowledgeable salesperson, high-end retailers worry whether their luxury goods will be as appealing.
Brands fear that it signifies the contrary to a real-life luxury retail experience: a lack of intimacy, the personal touch and, above all, exclusivity.
Luxury retailers seek to solve this problem by re-creating luxury experiences online. Here are a few ways I see how this can be achived, particualru on small real esate such as mobile phones
The next generation of luxury consumers – millennials – is here. They are younger, digitally savvy and have higher expectations of brands.
Not only do they expect brands to be available online, but one sub-par experience with those brands and millennials will not hesitate to look elsewhere. However, brands that do make the move to ecommerce face a big dichotomy.
While millennial luxurians are increasingly looking online to buy luxury goods, 54 percent also felt that when luxury brands become easily accessible, they cease to feel luxury, according to Hearst’s New Language of Luxury study. Which leaves luxury brands in something of a stalemate.
Storytelling is arguably the most important aspect of the luxury e-commerce experience. Luxury brands are defined by their heritage, by a rich history of craftsmanship and design, and those aspects of the brand must be communicated online.
Storytelling is a critical component for the success of nearly any lifestyle brand. But for luxury brands in particular, storytelling around heritage is a way for them to distinguish themselves from lesser competitors.
Luxury brands focus on storytelling content as a means of differentiating and communicating their value. In the online world, without all the benefits of the in-store experience, customers need a reason to commit to expensive purchases. Storytelling is all about luxury brands telling customers what makes their products special and why they’re worthy of their customers’ attention.
Burberry does a lot of storytelling around their fashion heritage and expertise. They have an entire micro-site dedicated to video and content surrounding their fashion week shows. This content demonstrates to the user that Burberry is on the cutting edge of fashion.
Customer service is a key element of the luxury in-store experience. Knowledgeable salespeople are on hand to guide the customer experience, to pamper them, and to answer their questions about products and styling. This experience, of course, is one that can’t be translated (or not precisely translated) to the digital sphere. To attempt to bridge that gap, luxury retailers place an emphasis on enhanced customer service on their websites. Most product pages on luxury ecommerce sites prominently feature ways to get in touch with customer service and emphasize the high-end nature of delivery service.
Burberry’s product pages list a handful of key benefits -- complimentary shipping, in-store pickup, and complimentary returns. They also feature imagery of lovely custom boxes to speak to the quality and attention-to-detail attendant in their delivery service. Finally, they also feature a prominent “CAN WE HELP?” message, with the option to receive a call from an experienced salesperson.
Because the in-store experience is such an important component of luxury retail, luxury brands use their e-commerce website design as a means of promoting their stores and boutiques.
Luxury brands know that though many customers will conduct research online, some may ultimately prefer to visit a store to actually make a purchase. More than other e-commerce brands with brick-and-mortar presences, luxury e-commerce sites heavily promote the ability to find an item in a store, or to order it online and pickup in store.
On product pages, Burberry features two calls-to-action -- one to add to bag, and one to find in store. The CTAs are given equal prominence and weight, suggesting the importance of the in-store option.
Luxury e-commerce sites pay a lot of attention to detail, particularly as those details pertain to translating the brand’s personality to the digital space. Savvy luxury brands do not sacrifice web usability in favor of unique aesthetics (though many luxury brands, in an effort to stand out, do end up with barely functional websites that are unpleasant, if not impossible to shop).
Still, luxury brands find ways to differentiate themselves online with high-end visuals and specificity of language. Think: “complimentary delivery” instead of “free shipping” and “place in cart” as opposed to “add to cart”. These are subtle differences in language, but they are deliberate choices that help convey the high-end nature of the brand.
A lot of people once believed that luxury e-commerce was a pipe dream but by now most of us accept that even though in-store experience is critical to the success of luxury brands, e-commerce can also be a successful channel. Luxury brands have to work hard to differentiate themselves in e-commerce and have to invest in finding ways to communicate their value and heritage. This is done by an emphasis on brand storytelling, and keen attention to detail. Luxury brands also find ways to marry the e-commerce experience with the in-store one through attention to customer service and a focus on driving to brick-and-mortar.