On Monday 6th June we were joined by a panel of speakers to consider how luxury brands are navigating digital spaces — from social media to in-store tech.
Wary of gimmicks, and keen to maintain an air of exclusivity, the luxury industry has often approached digital with scepticism. In recent years however, the traditionally staid industry has become increasingly open to new technologies — whether that’s launching online personalisation platforms, engaging in conversations on social media, or using messaging bots to deliver a more intimate service.
On the morning of the 6th of June, we explored how brands are leveraging the opportunities afforded by digital technologies to provide richer and more tailored experiences for luxury consumers across all channels — all while retaining the sense of scarcity that makes the brand desirable.
We were joined by Pia Stanchina, Founder Advisor and formerly Industry Manager of Fashion & Luxury Retail at Google. She shared insights into how digital technologies have shaped the behaviour and expectations of the luxury consumer — and considered how brands need to respond in order to remain relevant and valuable.
Pia was joined by Jonathan Chippindale, Chief Executive of digital creative agency Holition. Using emerging digital technologies, Holition aims to understand the role technology can play within the luxury industry, helping brands enrich consumer experiences, both in-store and beyond. From virtual try-on technologies to wearable tech, Holition has crafted innovative experiences for a host of clients including De Beers, Louis Vuitton and Lacoste. He shared his thoughts on how premium brands can use digital to elevate the service and experience they offer.
Here’s what we learnt.
Luxury goes everywhere
Over recent years we’ve seen consumer adoption of technology accelerating exponentially — people are buying and using new products and new technologies at increasing pace. There’s also been a move from discrete computing to continuous computing, with separate devices dedicated to different functions giving way to smartphones that allow us to be connected to all our online platforms and services at all times. Google’s newly-launched GBoard is taking this to the next step, allowing users to gather and collate their online activities within one interface, rather than switching between apps.
With Uber famously billing itself as everyone’s private driver; Deliveroo and Quiqup bringing goods to people’s doors or offices; Quiqui looking to drop parcels by drone; and Amy using AI to act as your personal assistant, previously premium services are all now easily accessible to the average joe consumer. Convenience has been democratised, and is no longer the purview of an elite who can afford it.
As convenience becomes the norm, luxury has to go beyond it, if it is to continue trading on the exclusivity and rarity of its offering.
Droga5’s ‘I WILL WHAT I WANT’ campaign for Under Armour starred Gisele Bundchen, and cleverly leveraged live social media content to participate in the debate around sexism and gender roles — positioning itself as a thought leader and letting consumers know that it’s a brand that stands for something.
Luxury brands should also be looking to creative immersive experiences and infuse elements of theatre into their offerings.
Entitled ‘Displaced,’ a project from The New York Times’ saw the paper use VR storytelling to enhance its reporting, delivering Google Cardboard headsets to more than a million of its print subscribers to provoke empathy and a greater understanding of the thousands of refugees worldwide who are children.
Florida start-up Magic Leap is overlaying VR onto actual reality to create impactful ‘mixed reality’ experiences that are wowing audiences, while the popularity of You Me Bum Bum Train or the thousands-long waiting list for the newly opened naked restaurant are proving that people are hungry for new and ever-more immersive experiences
Given this expectation for convenience, what luxury might once have called “exclusivity” is now simply seen as difficulty. Consumers will no longer stand for brands shrouding practical questions such as how much a bag is or how you can get it in mystery.
Pia argued that brands must adopt a new conception of luxury that thinks differently about scarcity and exclusivity.
This doesn’t mean that luxury has to abandon the idea of offering rarified products or experiences. Rather, brands must find new, more meaningful kinds of friction. For example, personalisation and customisation allows consumers to create items that are unique and desirable.
She also argued that brands need to recognise that one of the prevailing consequences of the rise of digital technologies is that consumers are overstimulated. Digitally literate brands are too often interrupting us — with mailers or targeted online ads. If luxury is defined by rarity, time and space are perhaps increasingly the most hard to come by commodities.
Cater to consumer behaviours
Luxury brands might do well to learn from the innovative spirit of start-ups, identifying pain points or opportunities to innovate in ways that actually benefit consumers — whether that’s offering free tailoring services, or more knowledgeable in-store staff.
Rather than leading from the front, dictating to consumers what is stylish or beautiful, brands must instead consider how to cater their offerings and services to consumers’ needs and behaviours.
For example, Harvey Nichols recently re-organised its menswear department according to items, irrespective of brand – with black biker jackets or white t-shirts merchandised in the same place.
Reticence and resistance
As Jonathan explained, when he originally founded Holition eight years ago, digital was seen as too impersonal a medium through which to convey the ideas of craft, heritage and quality that lie at the heart of luxury.
Pia agreed that the industry has historically been very staid, often run by people that have developed a very traditional and singular conception of what luxury stands for, and who often lack a sense of what really matters to millennials.
The iterative approach taken by technology companies in some ways seems anathema to luxury, which has traditionally been about perfection, and creating products and experiences that will stand the test of time. Brands have often approached technology with caution, fearful of compromising their hard-won brand equity by buying into gimmicks or jumping on bandwagons.
While brands do need to embrace a new, more experimental mindset, as Pia argued, in some ways luxury has always been about newness, about pushing the envelope and consistently defining and redefining what is beautiful.
Technology should always be in the shadow
Obsessed with the idea of delivering “omnichannel” experiences, brands often end up trying to blur the lines between the mobile, e-commerce and in-store experiences by inelegantly sticking tablets in-store. Screens in stores make us look down, Jonathan argued, instead of looking up – at the product, the architecture, the interiors.
Instead, brands should be considering how they can use technology to enhance the elements that are particular to the in-store experience.
More often than not, our interactions with store staff can be inane and practical — where are the fitting rooms? Do you have this in my size? As Jonathan explained, a large US retailer is investing in robots to take over the practical tasks associated with retailing – from transporting product to taking inventory – as a means to liberate store staff, freeing them to have engaging conversations, provide a personable service, and help shoppers interact with product in ways that will truly enrich the in-store experience.
Location:Shoreditch House Library,
London, E1 6AW,
Start:6th June, 2016 at 9:00am
End:6th June, 2016 at 11:30am