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Talking Business: A lull in luxury in London – but hopefully not for long…

Lesley Exley is managing director of London-based executive search agency Exley Hervey, which specialises in both the luxury and retail sectors and has been in the high-end branded world for more than 25 years.

Lesley Exley

The luxury goods sector has hit a sticky patch in the UK – and especially in London. The capital has enjoyed dramatic increases in luxury sales over the last five years, from high-end Italian and French jewellery brands and beautifully-complicated Swiss watches to bespoke Louis Vuitton snakeskin bags and exotic Jimmy Choo killer heels. 

Last October, however, saw an overall sales dip and well-heeled consumers have not yet come back in their droves to snap up the luxury goodies in London. There are a few reasons for this downturn. Firstly the Chinese are trying out an enforced period of “moral gift giving”, which has certainly seen a reduction in revenues of prestige brands in London. The Russians have all but disappeared. And the value of the euro to the pound is far less favourable to our continental friends than12 months ago. So all in all, Mayfair, Knightsbridge and Bond Street have been slower than usual – and even the ever-improving Regent Street has had a bumpy ride. Delivering clients to the door and persuading them to open up their monogrammed wallets is more of a challenge in London right now.

When these high-net-worth shoppers are fewer in number, however, the leading luxury brands know exactly what to do. Service, service, service is the mantra.

They mobilise their well-trained staff to proactively seek out clients, both old and new, and deliver superlative service seven days a week. They ensure the database and CRM campaigns are spot on. It’s more difficult, and often inappropriate, for luxury marques to pop on weekly promotional Sales campaigns, which brands in the middle and value arenas are constantly doing in order to generate footfall and incremental revenues. So, discreet sweeteners, with the emphasis on personalisation, come into play. Deploying the digital channel effectively also helps in targeting clients individually, and as importantly, ensuring the experience of purchasing online, by mobile or in store, is superlative every time. But you will rarely beat face-to-face contact with a highly knowledgeable brand ambassador, aka sales executive, right in front of you.

When I buy luxury brands, I need every moment to be magical to make me feel special. So I require lots of charm school graduates, with dollops of TLC, and amazing “clientelling” skills. Bespoke events have to be special and truly engaging; they should leave me with les souvenirs extraordinaires!

A couple of recent luxurious magical moments illustrate how it should be done:  

• Having a My Burberry fragrance bottle personalised in Harrods with three simple initials to give to my daughter. A very pleasurable experience with well-informed staff who emphasised the use of the unique Burberry “button top” and the Burberry gabardine fabric bow;

• Choosing a classic Cartier watch in the VIP Room on the first floor of the glamorous Watches of Switzerland emporium on Regent Street, while listening to a Turandot aria and sipping champagne with courteous, smart-thinking sales associates. Sublime!

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