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Drapers Debate: Do luxury brands miss out online?

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

Victoria Gallagher

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

Ruth_Faulkner_for_web

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.   

If you work in the luxury sector, we want to know what you think about the business. Please fill out this short survey and be in with a chance to win an iPad https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/DrapersLuxurySurvey.

Readers' comments (3)

  • As Victoria says, it's harder for luxury brands to recreate their luxury physical environments online. They need to be more intuitive and more innovative than the rest of the fashion market, which is why you see fewer, very successful online luxury platforms (and there are some, as Ruth notes) compared to more mainstream offerings. But when a luxury brand or retailer gets it right online, they really do stand out.

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  • www.Anthony&Brown.co.uk

    I think luxury brands should be making more sales online that they do, generally if someone likes a specific brand they will search for that brand. They know the quality of the brand - so as long as the product pictures are well done sales should be easily made.
    I think they go wrong by over complicating the sites effecting speed of the transaction which has a bad effect on their sales.
    I could imagine people into luxury fashion would rather buy direct from the brand website, they should offer price match if the same item is avalible cheaper on other sites.

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  • I don't think anyone has cracked online luxury e-commerce yet.

    Despite clean white backgrounds and simple presentation I don't think the likes of Net-a-Porter, My Theresa et al make the items look covetable enough. Having worked at an etailer before, I am acutely aware of the huge volume of product that has to be shot every day but I just don't think they're trying hard enough.

    I have a personal dislike of mannequins - if I'm going to drop north of a grand on a garment I want to see it on a body. For womenswear I would demand this even more, so I get a gauge of where a section falls, the fit round the bust or how the fabric moves.

    Furthermore, all the experiential guff that clutters the luxury market's websites just gets in the way. Snazzy videos, interactive features and flashing carousels are annoying, especially considering when you get to a product page it is, quelle surprise, shot on white, looking very ordinary.

    This is not a shocking revelation - for years the Miu Miu website consisted of just a flat, non-clickable holding image indicating just how far behind the digital revolution some luxury houses are. But it is no excuse now.

    You'll never be able to completely recreate the experience of being welcomed at the door, touching the fabrics and trying something on but there is still some way to go before luxury retailers and brands are using their e-commerce sites to their fullest potential.

    Ian Wright
    Fashion Director, Drapers

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