The luxury sector is the one area to have been immune to the recession - but does it miss out when it comes to competing online?
Yes - Victoria Gallagher, news reporter
Luxury brands have always known that one of the most important parts of the shopping process is the experience in store. The lavish seating, sizable fitting rooms, shiny fixtures and knowledgeable staff all combine to give the customer the value-added experience that makes their extra expenditure almost as valuable as the clothes themselves.
But when this is translated online luxury brands simply cannot compete. The levelling effect of making a transaction online means – as long as the website functions well – there is no difference in the experience between buying something at Primark and buying something at Prada. In store customers can feel the expensive fabrics and view the luxurious detailing, whereas online it is hard to distinguish one polka dot dress from the next.
And in a world in which so many private sales sites exist – Secret Sales, Gilt, Brand Alley and the like – the brand can’t even compete on quality because they are up against their own discounted products. They may not be fresh off the catwalk, but these items can be 70% cheaper, and that is a tough temptation to resist.
In store, luxury brands can seduce the consumer with shelves of lavish product without any other distractions. Online, shoppers can compare prices and cross check with products at other retailers at the click of a button. Where bricks and mortar encourage focus and loyalty, the virtual world feeds promiscuity.
Luxury brands and retailers are now attempting to emulate the in store experience online, but with varying degrees of success. Versace’s site is busy and slightly confusing. On Saks.com you must click into each category in order to narrow down your options, meaning more clicks per transaction. Valentino.com has a lengthy intro, my pet hate, and the main site is plagued by flash, making purchases a long-winded and complicated process.
But no matter what brands attempt to do online they will be hard pushed to ever offer as luxurious as an experience as you can get in store. I’m yet to receive a complementary drink while browsing a website and until I do, there is no competition.
No - Ruth Faulkner, news reporter
Luxury brands more than any other are able reap the benefits of the flexibility that ecommerce offers by using it as a window to the collection.
Traditionally reserved for big city centres, the move online opens luxury labels up to people who aren’t fortunate enough to live in big cities.Not everyone who is a luxury shopper lives within commutable distance of London’s Luxury Quarter and it is absolutely essential that luxury brands have a presence online.
Websites allow a designer to showcase his or her entire collection in a way that they would not be able in a small store or concession in a department store. A user can search for any item they may have seen – and at any time, day or night.
Search optimisation also means that potential purchasers can stumble across a luxury brand they may never have considered while looking for a particular style.
Brands also have full control over how they display their products, offering them the opportunity to present items to an audience with the same impact created on a catwalk. Online also offers a wealth of opportunity for brands to post additional editorial content about their collections and interact and engage with their customers in a way they may not be able to in store.
Burberry’s recent move – to bring its online offering in store – just demonstrates how fluid the channel has become. By incorporating ecommerce with the in store experience, Burberry is making the point that the two should not be treated as mutually exclusive.
The success of sites such as Net-a-Porter has demonstrated that the appetite for full price luxury purchases is strong. Own-brand sites may be in their infancy, but they are sure to become an essential part of the luxury business.
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