Luxury shopping is largely an experiential, tactile, in-shop experience.
The personal service together with the look, touch, sound and smell of shops combine to create a sense of exclusivity and specialness. According to McKinsey, millennials in particular are looking for increasingly experiential and instagrammable luxury shopping experiences.
However, with non-essential shops re-opening with strict social distancing measures the specialness of the luxury shop is under threat.
The introduction of mandatory hand sanitising, masks and steam-cleaner-filled dressing rooms may make the luxury shop less of an appealing place to spend time moving forward.
Much like the supermarket shop, luxury shopping has now become more of a pre-planned mission than casual browse.
As a result, the luxury industry has taken a hit: less international customers and a significant decrease in in-store footfall means sales are predicted to decline by 15-35% in 2020. Luxury jewellers are struggling, in particular, with customers not being allowed to try before they buy.
However, despite this stumbling block, the luxury market is finding new ways to create luxury experiences for consumers – even if they aren’t able to visit in-store.
Are digital spaces set to replace physical spaces?
For those shoppers who cannot visit a store (particularly wealthy, overseas clients), many luxury brands are attempting to re-create in-person shopping experiences online. Since lockdown:
- The luxury property market is increasingly relying on VR, recreating the inside of homes so that potential buyers can ‘view’ them using VR headsets.
- Burberry has launched an AR experience through google search, with searchers able to see how the products would look in their home before purchasing.
- Some brands, such as Ganni, have taken digitalisation a step further, recreating their dress designs in Animal Crossing ( a Nintendo game where users create their own islands and homes) – allowing users to purchase their latest designs for their digital avatars.
However, when digitally recreating real life objects, brands are still faced with a problem – how to translate value and quality when consumers cannot touch the products?
Firstly, brands are introducing new online personalisation options.
Burberry’s Bespoke service allows customers to customise their classic trench coat to their own taste, while Gucci’s DIY service allows them to personalise knitwear. Outside of clothing, Rolls Royce’s online collaborative design service CoachBuild pairs buyers with design teams. Giving consumers the opportunity to co-design their own luxury items adds an additional level of value and sentimentality that high street brands can never replicate.
Secondly, since the tangible value of non-personalised luxury products can be difficult to communicate digitally, luxury brands are looking for new ways to be of value to consumers.
Increasingly, brands are using their social media platforms to position themselves as authentic tastemakers in art and culture:
- French designer Balmain recently launched its ‘BalmainEnsemble’ initiative on its social media channels, providing their followers with exclusive content from artists associated with the designer. Last week, up and coming duo Chloe x Halle performed their new single live on their Instagram.
- Prada is offering its followers access to exclusive one-on-one talks between influential fashionistas. In order to be of value to consumers, brands are looking to provide valuable experiences and information.
There may be another interesting repercussion from these digital experiments as well.
Social media, AR and gaming spaces are more accessible to broader audiences – which, in turn, could potentially democratise the luxury industry. Previously exclusive physical events like Fashion Weeks, launch parties, industry talks are now readily available via brands’ social media handles. In the UK, for instance, London Fashion Week has been completely digitised, with the public able to access its digital showcases as well as podcasts and photo diaries for free.
With luxury experiences increasingly moving online, more and more people will be able to access previously exclusive content and spaces (even if they are unable to purchase the items).
Will technology re-shape the in-store experience?
Clearly, a sense of exclusivity remains an important part of what differentiates the luxury market from the mass market – so will an increased online access to luxury brands and experiences lead to an increased focus on the in-store experience as the site of ‘true luxury’?
Creating this kind of experience isn’t particularly straight forward in a time where consumers face real restrictions on their shopping experiences. As consumers deal with the many restrictions put in place under the current epidemic, brands are starting to explore how even these hinderances can be given a luxury twist through new tech.
Mario Ortelli of Ortelli & Co. suggests that luxury brands could adopt a ‘Disneyland’ model by providing entertainment during the long waits consumers will inevitably face waiting to get into a busy shop, or introduce apps which will allow customers to digitally browse the store before they enter. VR e-commerce developer Obsess has seen a 300% increase in inquiries since lockdown with Dior already trailing their technology this year.
New technology could also potentially be integrated within the store, offering customers new ways of trying before they buy. Amazon has already patented a blended reality mirror which will allow customers to ‘try on’ clothes in store without having to touch them.
Luxury brands are also relying on technology to both broaden their reach to new audiences, whilst at the same time controlling and limiting in-store footfall. Currently, Giorgio and Emporio Armani are offering an online appointment booking service for customers to visit stores. At Dior in Paris, sales assistants can text customers directly to let them know when their appointment is ready. As a result, in-store customers get a more personalised and luxury experience, and a limited number of chosen-few customers makes store visits the ultimate accolade for a high-end luxury shopper.
What does this all mean for luxury shopping during Covid-19?
Going forward, luxury brands will have to look at how to communicate luxury and high value in an increasingly democratised digital space, whilst also retaining the specialness of the in-store shopping experience.
Having opened up access to virtual spaces and experiences luxury brands will want to keep reaching bigger, potential pools of customers. However, they will also be aware that luxury is bound up with exclusivity!
We’re excited to see what this means in-store and how big brands will evolve the luxury shop to keep high-end consumers coming back for more.