Can Luxury Fashion Survive The Digital Age?

There’s nothing quite like breakfast at Tiffany’s or tea at Chanel. So, can luxury fashion survive the digital age? We asked an expert

By Chere Di Boscio

It’s a fact that more of us are shopping online. Pandemic aside, it’s just far more convenient for many of us to click a few buttons rather than board the metro and hit the shops.

This has had various implications, from the high environmental costs of international shipping and returns to the laying off of millions of retail staff.

But one area that has been hardest hit is the luxury market. And if you’ve ever had a luxury shopping experience, you’ll know what I mean.

You walk into the shop and you’re warmly greeted. You may even get a cup of tea and some biscuits. The brand’s latest lookbook, expertly shot, might lie on a table. You’re surrounded by the most beautifully made products on the planet. You’re encouraged by a highly professional staff member to try them on. Alterations are offered if the item doesn’t fit you perfectly. If you’re not fully enamoured with some aspect of the garment, changes can often be made.

But with the rise of online shopping, this personalised attention and exciting experience is going the way of the Dodo.

Indeed, luxury fashion faces many challenges with the rise of internet shopping. Fake branded items are more available; customers miss out on the sensual experience of touching and seeing items up close; and much of the beauty of the brand’s branding – be it the flowers in their shop, their interior design or signature scented air perfumes – is lost.

I asked luxury retail expert and CEO of Delta Global, Robert Lockyer, if luxury fashion can survive the digital age. I sensed he was positive about the future of luxury fashion, but he was adamant some things have to change.

How Can Luxury Fashion Survive The Digital Age?

Can Luxury Fashion Survive The Digital Age?

How can wealthy shoppers be lured back to luxury stores if they’re shopping online?

In many ways, the distinctives of the luxury fashion industry was derived by the exclusivity and simplicity of the one-on-one in-store service.

Today, the luxury industry has had to adapt to live streaming, and offering of exclusive virtual events, as well as factoring in the introduction of VR technology and immersive ecommerce experiences to produce virtual and personalised results for its consumers.

As consumers got eco-friendlier and the fashion industry was made to act on overstocking, building a zero-waste and resale strategy, sustainability has somewhat expanded luxury’s audience to those with similar aspirations, but not the financial wealth. However, for some brands such as Chanel, these new tactics have been considered as alienating the wealthy consumer and the true value of high-end luxury.

How have you seen the pandemic affect the luxury industry?

Due to the shutdown of a season, the industry had already suffered a huge loss. Many luxury brands had to increase their prices to soften the blow of decreased profits. But what must come with an increase in price is an education and upsell of better innovation, craftsmanship and exclusivity. If a company is investing in sustainable material sourcing or re-purpose functionality for the user, then this must be desired and interacted with by them.

It’s important to note that this isn’t about moving backwards. Luxury doesn’t want to ‘get off the internet’ and revert to its roots. Instead, it must adapt to new consumer agendas.

As the pandemic has forced remote working and the inspiration of new business models and independent self-starter companies, there is equally a new pool of wealthier target individuals who conversely still need digital connectivity from a brand.

What kinds of new collaborations could help luxury fashion survive the digital age?

Luxury must see the resale and second-hand industry as an added value agenda, rather than lose this value, partnering with the likes of mystery luxury boxes like HEAT, for instance, could see you make a profit on end-of-line and overstocked goods. Alternatively, building their own subsection in the way that Farfetch has done would also enable the brand its own control over pricing.

What added value can luxury brands provide consumers who shop online mainly?

The one thing you can do to ‘get off the internet’ and give a personal, luxurious experience is invest in your packaging. This will give a feeling of timeless of luxury. It could offer a more personal experience; the theatre of feeling like the brand cares only for you. It must address the unique portrayal of ‘aspiration’ and ‘achievement’.

Furthermore, outer and exterior design should wow every person it meets along the delivery process. It must make the customer want to rip it open yet preserve the beauty of the box. It must also be social media savvy. Influencers of today should want to feature the box as much as the product itself on their feeds.

On a sustainable front, the box should be considered a reusable product in itself. For example, could your product packaging cleverly convert into a luxurious magazine rack, phone stand, or a desk tidy? The user must want to keep it in their home, and prolong its original lease of life.

Following on from the endurance of the packaging, the longevity of your products is incredibly important, with timelessness being key. Diversity should also be considered. For example, a gold-plated handbag handle could disconnect to become a luxurious bracelet.

Product innovation can not only help to improve the longevity of a product, but it can also positively contribute towards sustainability goals for both consumers and brands. Consider how Carolina Herrera diversified its lipstick range. Their refillable containers became accessory based keyrings to add a new dimension to the users every day.

How can high end customers feel valued without that famous in-store luxury shopping experience?

In a time where value and appreciation are needed more than ever, brands should take every opportunity to reassure their customers they’re important. There are a few effective ways to do this. You can digitalise your luxury business offerings, while giving your customers a little extra something.

For example, consider offering exclusive access to virtual events for the purpose of announcing and showcasing new items. Here, brands must consider their platinum rated customers and give them the opportunity to be the ‘first in the know’, which can help to make them feel closer and more connected to a brand, and ensures their advocacy is being acknowledged.

Another way to show appreciation to your customers is through your branding. Take Tiffany & Co., for example, and how their iconic shade of blue is an association the entire world makes with the brand. They went as far as to splash taxis with it and build a London based café that was an instagrammable haven for luxury fans.

So…ultimately, can luxury fashion survive the digital age?

Yes, if brands adapt. By using your branding to create an additional customer experience, you can demonstrate your willingness to go the extra mile.

Robert Lockyer is founder and CEO of Delta Global, a sustainable packaging solutions provider for luxury fashion brands such as Tom Ford, Coach and MatchesFashion

Chere Di Boscio
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