How are luxury brands and products perceived in the U.S. today? What is important for luxury fashion brands to understand about the ever-changing American luxury consumer’s expectations and needs? Can brands satisfy these needs without sacrificing their own brand DNA and integrity? How will American luxury clients shop in the coming years? Will they want the in-store engagement or the convenience of the internet?
In the past, most Americans perceived the term luxury, specifically related to products, synonymous with quality, exclusivity and more conspicuous forms of consumption. Luxury was also associated with rarity and affluent American consumers well understood and accepted that a luxury item, mainly from the European-based luxury legacy brands, took time to produce which only added to its desirability. Today, the luxury market has become more diversified due in large part to the increased millennial spending and to the arrival of digital and niche born brands which are challenging the legacy brands. “The main growth engine of the luxury market is a generational shift, with 85 percent of luxury growth in 2017 fueled by Gen Y & Gen Z.” (Bain & Company) The world is moving faster and this new client is less patient and more about speed and convenience.
The impact that digital influencers have on a brand is immeasurable. Heritage brands have traditionally relied on storytelling to market their own brands to much success as luxury consumers had shown that they were more likely to trust a brand whose story they know. Luxury brands have come to understand that social media is one of the most viable and expedient ways to tell their story and digital influencers allow luxury brands to participate in social conversations. “Instagram is now the top social media site for luxury retail shoppers in terms of both followers and engagement”. (PMX) The digital revolution continues to influence spending, especially among millennials. “62 percent of millennials are more likely to be loyal to brands that engage with them on social media”. (Forbes) and according to Deloitte, “social media is the number one way millennial buyers discover luxury brands”. Millennials require, more and more, that craftsmanship and technology go hand in hand.
These new American luxury customers also want to align themselves with brands which share their values in terms of authenticity, transparency and sustainability. This customer is looking for brands whose core values mirror their own. It’s also no longer just about the product as the modern-day luxury consumer is also seeking an experience which in turn deepens the emotional connection to the brand and inspires brand loyalty.
Even though the importance of social media platforms is undeniable, brick and mortar still holds its own. “When it comes to where millennials buy luxury items, more than half still prefer physical stores, while just over four in ten buy online”. (eMarketer) According to a Deloitte study, “there are changing consumer demands: 45 percent of luxury shoppers want more personalized products and services. 65 percent of luxury shoppers prefer to see and touch items before they make a purchase highlighting the key role of physical stores”.
With all the focus on millennial spending, boomers should not be forgotten. According to Deloitte, “99 million millennials versus 77 million boomers now make up a larger segment of the luxury market” and while millennials are the ones to cultivate, boomers have greater spending impact in the market place right now. It is also a reality that increasing life expectancies will require brands to not overlook the older generations who will be healthier due to current trends in wellness and healthy living and have new spending patterns. Some luxury brands are keenly focused on the millennials and the result could lead to alienating the loyal boomer customer base.
With the hope of adding clarity to what is in store for the future of luxury in the American market, Terri Cohen has spoken to seven U.S.-based fashion-industry leaders who imparted their thoughts and observations on what luxury means today, notably: Jacqui Lividini, CEO Lividini & Co. / Jeffrey Kalinsky, CEO Jeffrey & Executive Vice-President Designer Merchandising, Nordstrom / Joseph Boitano, Brand President of the Powell Companies Real, LLC / Laure Hériard-Dubreuil, Founder & Creative Director, The Webster / Marigay McKee, CEO & Founder MM Luxe Consulting & Fernbrook Managing Partner /Robert Burke, Chairman & CEO, Robert Burke Associates / Sarah Tam, Chief Merchant, Rent the Runway.
What does it mean to be a true luxury brand today and how would you define luxury?
J. Boitano: Today, the meaning of true luxury has changed. I believe that there is a dichotomy between two buckets of luxury brands. One is the traditional luxury brand where craftsmanship and quality are the driving factors. Brands such as Hermès, Chanel and possibly Bottega Veneta would fall into this category, as while these brands are recognizable and convey status, they attract the luxury customer who is not just interested in logos. The other bucket contains the luxury brands which attract a younger clientele more attuned to logos and social media influencers. The brands which fall into this bucket would be Gucci, Dior and possibly Saint Laurent.
J. Lividini: In the U.S., luxury is being defined in an entirely different way than it has been in the past. Luxury today is about convenience and customization. It’s getting what you want, how you want it and when you want it. Price is not an important component in this new valuation of luxury. Amazon Prime is luxury because you can order something on line and have it delivered the same day. Starbucks is luxury because you can order a customized drink and pick it up in the store without waiting. Those are the aspects of luxury that are the most important today.
L. Hériard-Dubreuil: Luxury means many things to many people, be it an object or an experience. For The Webster, we are in the business of discovering the most beautiful exclusive products and presenting them within inspiring highly curated environments while offering impeccable service without compromise, be that in-store or online. Also, a luxury brand today needs a strong point of view and uncompromised execution. As much as things adapt and change, as they should, I do also think there are things that stay the same and retain their value. At The Webster we work with over 200 of the most exciting brands and designers in the world and what’s thrilling about now is the blend of both hot young newcomers and the renewed energy within the global heritage brands. There is enormous value in tradition but even more when it is updated for the now, which we are seeing a lot and is resonating very well with our customer.
M. McKee: Luxury today is ever evolving but still focused on the core values of heritage, provenance and a strong positioning platform.
Luxury brands today are focused on experience, environment and emotion and getting the emotional engagement of the discerning consumer.
R. Burke: In the most recent past, if you look at for example the 80s, 90s and early 2000s, luxury was defined primarily by a level of exclusivity that was driven by pricing. Luxury product was more heavily centered around logos, so these two elements together clearly conveyed a certain level of status. Now that we’ve transitioned towards “lifestyle” shopping, luxury has become much more multi-faceted. Luxury is now more about the value that the brand and its products add to the consumer’s lifestyle.
The category of luxury has become broader as a result. So, in addition to the fashion brands we have traditionally considered luxury, brands like Apple are now also included in the luxury category for the level of convenience and connectivity it offers, alongside the trailblazing way it incorporated an elevated level of aesthetic design to electronics.
S. Tam: Luxury today is defined as both products and experiences. The word denotes quality, exceptional details, and fine craftsmanship. True luxury delivers unanticipated contentment and beyond what is expected. Luxury can no longer be defined solely on price or a savvy marketing campaign. A luxury brand today must deliver on the promise to exceed the consumers’ desires and elevate the experience beyond the norm.
What do you believe are the specificities of the luxury market in the U.S.? Do you think that the American fashion luxury market is specific in terms of the following: customer demographics and habits, retail, marketing, digital, pricing, and why?
J. Boitano: What’s different about the U.S. market is the size of the country which makes it important to understand how the varied climatic regions affect the selection of product assortment. Apart from that, I don’t see any marked difference as American luxury customers shop the world over and also buy online.
J. Lividini: Again, customization and convenience and of course, a high-quality item is important as well. The luxury market in the U.S., although innovative in design, is not innovative in terms of delivery or customization initiatives. The mentality is still if we make it, they will come, and although this may be the case for a more traditional customer, it is not the way a younger consumer shops.
M. McKee: The U.S. is a huge market for luxury and whilst traditionally it was focused on the American department store segment, more and more it’s focused on stand-alone brand flagships in addition to these.
They are building brand equity and launching with smaller multi-brand luxe boutiques like Forty Five Ten, The Webster or The Conservatory to build brand awareness in a more personalized environment.
The American fashion luxury market is quite diverse as you have many geographical locations and variations, and East Coast/West Coast differences in climate and profile.
There are ten key cities that have the lion’s share of luxury – New York and Los Angeles are the two largest primaries, then Miami, San Francisco, Washington D.C., Boston, Chicago, Houston, Atlanta, Seattle and Dallas are the key target destinations for most brands today.
There are seasonal summer hotspots like The Hamptons, Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket and Malibu, and winter spots like Aspen, Vail and others that have booming business for 3-4 months a year. Many luxury brands create pop ups and trunk shows in those markets.
For most international luxury brands, the department store market gives them access to ten or twenty key locations with one partner and without having to lease costly flagships on premier city streets. There is also a huge growth of partnering with niche, more multi-brand style boutiques and a more personalized product and service, or even exclusive lines for these premium environments.
R. Burke: I think the American customer more than anyone, is driving the broadening of the luxury market. They’ve been early adopters of wellness for example and they expect the same level of luxury from that world as they do from fashion.
There are certainly differences between the American luxury customer when compared with customers globally. Local personalization is important from this perspective, but given that all customers today are traveling more than ever or interacting with the brands on social media, the differences are not as pronounced as they once were. As a result, luxury brands today must also have an overarching message that resonated with customers globally.
S. Tam: Millennials and Gen Z will be the primary growth demographics for the luxury market. According to Bain & Company, Gen Y and Gen Z will account for over 55 percent of luxury purchases in 2025 and will contribute 130 percent of market growth between now and then, offsetting the decline in sales among older generations.
Understanding these consumers will be a key factor to generating growth. These generations have different value sets prioritizing sustainability above any other prior generation. Relevancy, authenticity and personalization will be important as well to capture this market. Gen Y and Gen Z have also grown up at the height of the sharing economy thereby accessing luxury in unprecedented ways propelling the growth of the luxury resale and rental markets.
Which are the emerging luxury brands that could be the next mega brands, and why?
J. Boitano: Three brands which come to mind are Loewe, Céline and possibly Bottega Veneta. These brands are led by three very talented artistic directors and are backed by large luxury groups. It is virtually impossible to become a mega brand today without the backing and stability of a large group. While Jonathan Anderson, Hedi Slimane and Daniel Lee are all great talents, mega brands do not just happen with creativity alone and need the heavy financial investment and savoir-faire of a solid and stable luxury group. In achieving mega brand status, it is also important to have a clear and strong shoe and handbag strategy as it is not enough to have ready-to-wear alone.
J. Lividini: Emerging brands like Warby Parker, Cuyana and Orchard Mile are the next generation of luxury mega brands for a few reasons. They are customer centric, they have re-imagined the customer experience and tried to remove any friction points that distract from fully participating in the brand. They are digitally powered for the most part. They all started as digital businesses. Part of their DNA is to deliver a quality product in the most efficient way. Digital for them is not just functional but a fully integrated brand experience. That’s what sets them apart.
Quality product is at the core of all of these brands, but in the case of Warby Parker and Cuyana, transparent pricing in part of their offering. With the middle man out of the picture, these brands are able to offer sensible pricing to the consumer – that too, is part of the new world order.
M. McKee: This is a hard question as there are so many brands launching today in both the digital and DTC (direct to consumer) space and some starting the traditional route in brick and mortar.
In beauty, there’s lots of brands, whether it’s Le Labo, By Kilian, Augustinus Bader and Westman Atelier, to name a few, that are growing well. Sites like Goop, Glossier and Violet Grey are creating new beauty and lifestyle marketplaces and when looking at the traditional groups like Lauder, Coty, LVMH and L’Oréal, these are all purchasing new brands to keep growing in the new, brave world. Hourglass, Anastasia, Too Faced, Drunk Elephant, Beauty Counter and Charlotte Tilbury, are all recent examples. The focus on future luxury is all about clean beauty, organic beauty, no toxins, no harmful parabens and protecting the planet, while being cool, chic and commercial.
In fashion, there are so many young brands on the circuit and so much talent, we have personally invested, through our Fernbrook Venture Fund) in DTC brands like La Ligne, Maisonette, Universal Standard and Knot Standard. These brands are growing nicely in the digital space and have future proofed their strategies and their bases with personalized emotional strategies to create loyalty and commercial longevity.
Then, there are the fashion platforms such as Matches.com, Net-à-Porter, Moda Operandi, MyTheresa.com, Shop Bob, and other multi-brands competing with the traditional department store groups who are having to reinvigorate and revitalize their traditional models of luxury retail to make the magic happen for this new more informed, more aware consumer, who is also digitally savvy.
If we look at luxe street style brands like Supreme, Kith, Off White and Amiri, these have grown exponentially over the last few years and are having a moment.
There are also a lot of digitally native brands like Warby Parker, Everlane, Cuyana and Olivela, to cite a couple, yet some would consider luxury for the new, younger consumer who are coming into their own understanding of brick and mortar as an expression of their brand. Knowing that customer interaction, relationships and views are the holy grail, and data interpretation of this content is key for success and consolidated growth.
R. Burke: I think Gabriela Hearst is an interesting brand to watch as it continues to grow. She has been very strategic and measured in her growth so far, maintaining a clear and consistent brand image and a commitment to values like sustainability. This created a meaningful connection between the brand and its likeminded customers. She’s very careful not to overproduce, so her popular handbags are made according to demand. This has in turn made them even more desirable and allows the brand to preserve a full priced sell through. With a recent investment from LVMH, the brand has all the right elements to continue on its growth trajectory.
S. Tam: I believe the brand Six Senses Hotels and Resorts will gain further worldwide recognition and growth in the coming years. The brand was recently acquired in February by IHG. With the focus on guest rejuvenation and reconnection alongside a commitment to wellness and sustainability, the brand is highly relevant to today’s luxury consumers. The Resorts guide you on a personal path to finding harmony and balance from the inside out, while respecting your personal needs and wellness goals. Six Senses also bans the use of plastic water bottles and focuses on corporate sustainable practices. This personalized approach on amenities, services, sustainability and health will propel Six Senses further in the luxury sector.
Which luxury brands have a clear brand strategy, and why?
J. Boitano: Chanel and Hermes are good examples as there is a consistency in their message which translates very well to their product. They are both successful in communicating the brand heritage and they also have created in-depth training for artisans so as to maintain the superior level of craftsmanship for generations to come. Burberry also seems to be doing a good job in changing direction and communicating their new brand message.
J. Kalinsky: Today, there are a lot of desirable luxury brands with a clear strategy. Chanel, Gucci, Saint Laurent, Dior, Louis Vuitton, Hermès, Céline and Balenciaga all come to mind. There is also Supreme and Off White which are doing well with the millenniums.
Luxury brands need to be able to take the customer on a journey. Clients need change and you need to give them something new. It’s all about evolution. Some luxury brands are not pushing themselves enough and need to evolve with the customer. The ones that do, are doing well. A clear brand strategy so much depends on the road map outlined by the CEO and designer who need to be in sync.
J. Lividini: Brands like Warby Parker that offer transparent pricing, ease of purchase and return as well as customization.
M. McKee: Traditional heritage brands like Chanel, Dior and Louis Vuitton are having a moment of huge growth, as are Valentino, Chloé, Givenchy and Saint Laurent. The fusion of heritage and modernity coming together in a digital and physical world with strategies for growth that include: community, consideration, partnership, planet-focused strategies, as well as, pure player luxe marketing and advertising, is like navigating a new equation in a new retail landscape where values and principals are as important as ambassadors and influencers, if not more so.
In the sports arenas, Nike, Adidas, Puma, Under Armour and Lululemon are having to make moves on design and value propositions as well as create fun, new ongoing collaboration in order to stay fresh and keep the brands growth moving forward.
R. Burke: An obvious choice and a brand that is at the forefront of luxury right now is Gucci. Alessandro Michele has seamlessly translated his distinct vision across all areas of the brand, from the runways, to the store design and experience, to the marketing and beyond. He brought a completely new idea to the market at a time when customers were craving real fashion and he has continued to deliver.
Hermes has always been in a league of its own when it comes to creating a truly exceptional luxury experience that touches all elements of the customer’s lifestyle.
Chanel is another constant on that list. Karl Lagerfeld was meticulous in reinventing the brand’s signature elements in unexpected ways each season. I think it speaks volumes about the brand’s clarity of focus, consistency and strength that in an era when many brands are jumping at the chance to appoint star designers, its design team will remain unchanged, with Virginie Viard at the helm.
S. Tam: The most iconic brand in luxury fashion today is Hermès. The brand is automatically linked with remarkable craftsmanship, rich heritage and the highest levels of quality. The objects are treasured and desirable because the company has done a stellar job in providing transparency and knowledge to the consumer. A customer can almost feel the stitches being crafted by hand and the hard work used to create the item made by a single trained artisan.
The brand takes pride in its heritage and traditions, but is also known for innovation. It consistently looks for new concepts and collaborations that can enhance the brand. In 2015, Hermès launched a collaboration with Apple. The collection leveraged Apple’s advanced technology while infusing customizable Hermès typeface, exclusive dials, and signature colors. Hermès also launched a new project titled “Petit H”. the initiative promotes the company’s effort of “luxurious recycling” of raw materials that are in excess in the production cycle. Understanding the need for experience, the brand launched a series of Wanderland exhibitions. It infuses whimsy themes and extravagant sets that people meander through while showcasing Hermès product. All of this coupled with the fact that the Hermès products are never discounted have catapulted the brand to iconic luxury status that has lasted way beyond decades.
Which luxury brands are the most sustainable and do you believe that the luxury goods customer feels strongly about sustainability?
R. Burke: Stella McCartney has been a noted leader when it comes to sustainability and anti-animal cruelty practices. Her new store in London is a testament to this, with a system that filters the air of pollutants and biodegradable mannequins. She’s become a case study in how to seamlessly integrate these elements into a brand without it becoming a caricature of an eco-conscious brand.
As mentioned previously, Gabriela Hearst stands out for her sustainable practices as well, like her use of non-synthetic or treated materials in her Madison Avenue store, or her use of wool sourced from her family’s sheep farm in Uruguay that is then shipped using biodegradable packaging.
S. Tam: Stella McCartney has long been the leading example of sustainable fashion with a cruelty free, ethically sourced, vegan approach to her production and design. Stella uses cutting edge technologies, regenerated cashmere/wool, recycled textiles and encourages prolonged life of garments through care to decrease textile wastes. Today, many designers employ sustainable practices within their supply chain and production. Gabriela Hearst uses wool sources from her own farms in Uruguay. She also uses partially biodegradable plastic in all of her packaging to decrease shipping waste.
Growing concerns about the environmental impact of climate change and the importance of sustainability continues to gain momentum as a priority among consumers, the media, and corporations. According to Nielsen’s 2015 Global Corporate Sustainability Report, 73 percent of Millennials are willing to spend more on a product if it comes from a sustainable brand. In addition, 9 in 10 Gen Z consumers believe that companies have a responsibility to address environmental and social issues (McKinsey).
The fashion industry and its consumers have gained a notorious reputation for being wasteful. The average woman throws away 82 pounds of clothing per year and the industry has become the second highest polluting industry in the world. In fact, many of our brand partners and our customers were motivated to join Rent the Runway because of the inherent sustainability in the rental market as it prolongs the use of each items and decreases the waste of textiles. In addition, we have implemented recyclable garment bags, responsible dry cleaning and no-fur policy. Because the average age of our customer is 29, we know she prioritizes sustainability in her choices.
What are millennials and Gen Z looking for in a luxury brand?
J. Boitano: I believe that the desirability of a luxury brand to the younger generation is in large part status and social media influencers.
J. Kalinsky: Having the right Nike or Adidas and mixing streetwear with luxury; high-low. Millennials are very savvy.
J. Lividini: For the younger consumer, convenience, customization and some degree of sustainability.
R. Burke: It wasn’t long ago that most luxury brands didn’t have an e-commerce presence. Today, it’s a requirement. All customers transition between shopping online and shopping in-store, but it’s millennials and generation Z that are the strongest force behind the drive towards digital. They want choice in how and when they interact with luxury brands, whether that’s on social media, mobile, a messaging app or in-store, so the brands that offer this 360-degree experience are the ones that have been successful.
On top of this, these generations are often looking for meaning, purpose and authenticity from the luxury brands they are interacting with. A genuine focus on sustainability, ethical practices and inclusion are key considerations for these generations and as we’ve seen recently, they’re ready to hold luxury brands accountable if they find fault in their actions.
S. Tam: Millennials and Gen Z are digital natives and expect strong digital presence from consumer brands. To these customers, convenience and responsiveness are key. These customers are more likely to drop a brand for poor responsiveness and place more value on experience and product over brand loyalty. Both millennials and Gen Z are more comfortable with “self-service” technology and more immediate service options such as texting, messaging or chatbots. At Rent the Runway, we have leveraged self-service technology in our stores as we have a large segment of our customers who prefer to check in and check out on their own versus interact with the associates.
In addition, these customers want to ensure the brand is synergistic to their lifestyle and value set. This is where authentic storytelling, personalization, and sustainability are key. Brands are beginning to invest in technologies that can strengthen relationships with their consumers and can predict and forecast their preferences and needs. These generations also place a larger emphasis on their impact on the world and how they can preserve and improve it. Companies that promote the value of sustainability will attract this customer set more easily.
In the luxury sector, does brand loyalty still play a major role?
J. Kalinsky: Customers are loyal to brands as long as brands give them what they want and stay relevant.
L. Hériard-Dubreuil: Absolutely, it’s still important but you cannot rely on it. The beauty of online is that almost everything is at your fingertips and there is now so much choice and information available that a brand has to work much harder for that loyalty. Our clients are very global and they are coming from everywhere in the world and shopping everywhere in the world so it’s important to have things at The Webster you cannot find anywhere else. We have a very strong point of view which is why our clients shop with us. I think brands, and in turn our customers, appreciate our mix and enjoy the different perspective our merchandising gives to their collections. We also aren’t buying pieces that are only hot for two months. Even when it is a super fashionable or trends piece, there is a timeless quality to it. That’s important to me because that’s not how I shop or dress and I think our customer appreciates that.
What are the merchandising and marketing strategies which best resonate with the luxury customer today?
J. Boitano: The role of traditional magazines and publications has significantly diminished in recent years. There has been a major move away from traditional print advertising to more direct marketing with the increased importance of social media channels such as Instagram. Today, many luxury customers look to digital influencers to give them fashion direction more so than with Vogue, Bazaar and Elle due to their substantial number of followers. Luxury brands increasingly rely on these digital influencers to help convey their brand stories and sell product.
J. Kalinsky: The luxury customers today want to be taken on a journey. They need change and a brand always needs to be giving them something new. The luxury customer today is savvy and doesn’t want all smoke and mirrors.
J. Lividini: Sustainable product and customization.
L. Hériard-Dubreuil: Social media platforms open a whole world of opportunity and exposure which is invaluable but being compelling across all channels is the greatest challenge. There are so many options for where to shop, what to shop, how to shop, that providing a unique and consistent experience across all touch-points is fundamental to create customer loyalty. It’s important that the experience we create in store, from the environment to the product assortment and curation is consistent with our online touch-points.
R. Burke: As the definition of luxury has become broader, so too have the merchandising strategies of the luxury brands. At the top, luxury prices have steadily risen, but there has been a simultaneous broadening of the opening price range for many luxury brands in an attempt to capture the attention of a younger customer and bring them up through the brand. Gucci is a great example of this with its infamous mule slippers which were at the opening price end of its footwear offer. They sparked a viral trend and became one of the strongest marketing strategies for the brand as the distinctive fur-lined silhouette was an instantly recognisable piece of the brand both on and off social media.
S. Tam: A clear shift I see in the consumer behaviour as it relates to merchandising is the consumer is no longer buying items so far in advance. The concept of merchandising a “pre-Fall” delivery with outerwear shipping in July and August does not resonate with today’s consumers. The consumer demand has shifted into more immediate purchasing with the focus on items a customer can wear at that moment and less about buying items in advance.
In addition, there are newer marketing strategies that are gaining traction. The majority of luxury brands use wholesale, retail, and e-commerce to reach their customers. Today, brands are now adding a limited number of influential brand customers and local influencers to the strategy as a way to tap into their friends, family and followers in order to increase customer acquisition. This strategy is proving more successful than highlighting celebrities as it is a much more personalized approach and the reaches of social media are greater when enabled productively.
Other strategies include a focus on the way the customer is being serviced. Innovative brands are trying to deliver remarkable and relevant service levels to luxury Millennial consumers who don’t want to feel the pressure of a sales team. This includes providing service teams with a variety of ways to communicate with customers such as personalized concierge services, messaging, texting and chatbots.
Lastly, there is a trend of consumers having a greater voice as consumers have seemingly endless options in today’s digital age. Design houses and retailers are harnessing the consumer’s voice through data collection and feedback loops. These data points are integrated into key decisions within production, marketing and service.
E-commerce was once a game changer but is no longer as effective as a stand-alone strategy as more and more, customers seem to want an ‘experience’. What are your thoughts?
J. Boitano: Brick and mortar is still very important to the luxury customer. The possibility to ‘touch and feel’ the product and to have a qualified sales associate explain the product is an important part of the experience in buying a luxury item. Stores also give the opportunity for brands to immerse potential clients in the culture and heritage of the brand. A lot of consumers use websites to research a brand or a product but ultimately prefer to have the experience of buying a luxury product in-store.
J. Kalinsky: You cannot be a luxury brand today without a strong social media strategy, however, brick and mortar will always have a place in luxury. If I’m going to buy something expensive, I want to try it on in the store and have it altered. Shopping can be a fun experience.
J. Lividini: Digital, just like brick and mortar, can offer a terrific experience. Recently, we did a brand audit for one of our clients and the majority of the respondents felt that superior service, ease of use and a seamless experience between digital and brick and mortar shopping added greatly to these sought-after experiential moments.
L. Hériard-Dubreuil: Well, you are talking to someone who cares about and believes deeply in brick and mortar! I remember opening our first store in Miami 10 years ago and everyone was telling me “retail is dead – no one cares about going to stores anymore”! I disagree. I think people care about certain stores, ones that create an experience and build an environment you actually want to spend time in. Online is growing very quickly and has become a significant important part of our business but our stores will always be the heart of The Webster. There is something really very special about each of our locations. I love brick and mortar and when done right, there is a magic to it that I think is very difficult to replicate online.
R. Burke: At the same time that we’ve seen the key luxury brands finally adopt strategies for e-commerce, we’ve also seen them double down on the in-person experiences within their stores in order to preserve the level of service and storytelling that is a key element of the luxury experience. Take Louis Vuitton’s flagship on Place Vendôme in Paris for example. I walked through shortly after the opening and while I was admiring the artwork, the sales staff was able to tell me about each piece and provide me with a book they had printed as a guide to their art installations. While it’s not directly related to selling, it’s something that is valuable and memorable for the customer that they will always associate with the brand.
S. Tam: There is a consumer shift in the modern luxury market favoring experiences over material items. This has been fueled by the sentiment that experiences are likely to be more personalized and authentic to the consumer. Travel can spark genuine interaction with local communities, cultures, and experiences that are more of a rarity and irreplaceable. Brands that can capture the essence of authenticity as a cornerstone of service will make a deeper connection with the consumers. Luxury companies can do this by raising the standards of personalized service and creating unexpected moments of enjoyment for their customers. With experience at the forefront, Millennials and Gen Z in particular are choosing access to luxury over ownership of it, giving rise to the gently-used luxury market and the rental model from Rent the Runway, The RealReal and AirBnB.
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