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Drapers Fashion Forum: Quickfire Q&A, luxury online customers

Drapers editor Keely Stocker talks to Very Exclusive managing director Sarah Curran about what fashion consumers expect from their digital luxury experience

Q: What is the demographic of today’s luxury fashion consumer?

A: It’s completely different to where it would have been 10 years ago. I think we need to look at her very differently from what we would have considered a luxury consumer to be 10 years ago. Luxury was the woman who was just buying Chanel or your top superbrands, but now it’s all relative to her. Today, luxury might be owning a Chanel compact or a Marc by Marc Jacobs bag. Brands have diffused and have second lines, so it’s opened it open and it’s become much more democratic and that’s always been my passion: democratising luxury. With the second lines that’s absolutely allowed that to happen for the customer.

Q: And how is it different between men and women?

A: Men are much more brand loyal, while women are much more store loyal. The store is very much a part of her experience and where she buys it from. So if I was to say: “I love your jacket, where did you get it?” you would tell me probably the brand and where you got it from. Whereas with guys it about the Paul Smith shirt or whatever it might be. I think also the way we communicate with men is going to be different and has to be. Men don’t open up the Daily Telegraph and look for the fashion pages – you have to hook in fashion a different way. The primary communication has got to be around sport or music or something they are interested in, and then you talk about fashion and luxury after that. That is changing with the new wave of guys coming through: they are much more proud of their appearance and where they buy things than my generation.

That’s always been my passion: democratising luxury

Q: What do luxury consumer want from a digital, multi-brand experience?

A: The great thing about going to multi-brand digital store is you get much more of a breadth. It’s different if you want to buy a Burberry trench – you’ll go to the best place for that, which is the Burberry store. But if you want a coat or bag, you go to a multi-brand store. I think also with multi-brand we’re able to give wider advice on trends and be a bit more demographic and talk to her in terms of high/low dressing. That’s really something we focus on and I personally believe in because I think that’s how many of today’s women shop: it’s very much high and low, it’s mixing the high street and the luxury high street with more contemporary brands. That’s been our focus and as a brand we’ve been able to do that and give the customer much more breadth of information. 

Q: What motivate customers into making the decision to buy luxury goods, especially online?

A: I think it’s convenience. You can’t ignore that: a store that’s open 24/7. There’s a convenience of delivery, there’s also customers now are much more used to buying online, so they’re much more informed about the sizes they are and what suits them. Convenience has got to be the primary starting point, so we really focus on a great customer experience and that goes across product, experience, delivery, after sales and email content as well.

Q: Is there a typical product that people like to buy online?

A: What we tend to find is that the lowest-returning items are within the bag, shoes and accessories categories. Ready-to-wear is different because there’s a size and fit related to it. That’s always the tricky party, particularly dresses. The no-brainer is working on bags, shoes and accessories. 

Q: Do you find it differs depending on age? 

A: Yes I think there is a reality to a woman’s size. There’s northing wrong with that – it’s just normal and everyone is in the same boat. So it’s about talking to her and giving as much sizing information, particularly on ready-to-wear. What we found is that we had higher returns on a particular category in ready-to-wear, so we had a brainstorm. We did a really simple thing in moving sizing information to the top of the editor’s notes on the product page and that immediately had a positive impact on returns. And there are other ways of dealing with it: if you have web chat, for instance, and you can see there is a customer that has put two sizes of the same dress in her bag, that’s an opportunity for a sales assistant on webchat to come on and ask if they need extra help with sizing. 

Value for money is not only in the product, it’s in how you treat her

Q: Is webchat a popular tool?

It’s growing very popular. You have to find a way of doing it in a non-obtrusive, not cyber-stalking or hovering – just like when you’re in a store. You very much have to be allowed into her space but there are times when she will allow you into her space if you’re adding extra value. You’ve got to come with a specific question/answering mode, rather than just “can I help you with anything?”

Q: You know this customer inside and out from your history in the industry. But what is the one thing you would say you’ve learnt about the customer that you didn’t initially know?

A: I have a lot of respect for  customers and sometimes price is not a barrier: it’s a about having a real “wow ”statement. However much she spends, be it £100, £1,000, £1,500, that money is all relative to her, so it’s actually about you have to work to make sure she has the best customer experience. Sometimes with certain retailing spaces there’s no thought in the customer experience. Customer experience is so important to her because she wants to feel like she’s getting value for money. But value for money is not only in the product, it’s in how you treat her. 

Q: Can you tell us anything about your preparations for Black Friday? 

A: Black Friday is interesting for Very Exclusive. Obviously we’ve only been launched since February, so for us it’s a different thing altogether. But I know for [Very Exclusive parent company] Shop Direct there are some really exciting things planned. I think it’s about making the experience exciting an engaging and I think online there’s an opportunity to do that as opposed to psychically in store – we saw some of the scenes on the high street. We’re looking forward to it.

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