Can luxury retailers recreate the in-store experience online?

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How can brands recreate the luxury in-store experience online?

Luxury brands have excelled at creating special experiences for customers in-store to differentiate themselves from the ‘average’ retailer. This includes factors such as beautiful store design, great personal service and advice from store staff, and maybe a glass of Veuve Clicquot on arrival.

This quality of service, added to the quality of the products, provides potential customers with the best possible store experience.

However, luxury brands have faced challenges when attempting to recreate the in-store customer experience online, or to at least create an online experience which matches the brand image, and they have not always succeeded.

Some brands, for this very reason, have been reluctant to sell online. Some have felt that e-commerce cheapened the brand or made it less exclusive. Chanel, for example, only starting selling online in 2015 having previously stated that ‘to be able to wear Chanel clothes, you need to try them on.’

Online, any brand can provide a great user experience if it works hard enough and understands its customers. In this space, it’s harder for a luxury brand to stand out and the challenge of making a website seem luxurious is a really tough one.

Some luxury brands have failed this challenge in the past, attempting to differentiate through bold design. This meant sites often looked good but awful to use, as visual design was given more importance than usability.

Whistles is one such example. It relaunched its site back in 2009, with the company declaring: “We spent a lot of time researching best practice online. We then threw out everything we had learned and just designed something that pleased us visually.”

The result was a site that looked good but was very difficult to buy from as it had ignored basic best practice around crucial areas like checkout design. Whistles has since redesigned the site to make it more user friendly and many luxury brands have gone down this route.

There are exceptions. The Patek Phillipe website doesn’t match the quality of its products for example, but, in general, luxury e-commerce sites are now well designed and easy to use. The downside, from the luxury brand perspective, is that Gucci’s website users more or less the same functionality as Tesco.

Given the importance of user experience online, it is hard to go against the grain in terms of design. Balenciaga’s design stands out, while Hermes. com’s Maison des Carrés is a fun way to present its products. The key point is that both sites still function well, though usability tests would doubtless uncover some issues.

Rather than looking to reinvent the wheel with site design, luxury retailers should instead focus on the following factors that make for a great customer experience:

  • User experience: sites that are easy to use and buy from will sell more. It’s as simple as that.
  • Product imagery: images can be used to show products in the best possible light and should be high quality.
  • Great copywriting: product copy needs to work to convey the quality and luxury of the product. The tone of voice needs to match the product and price. For example, Rolex talks about the materials, the history and detail which goes into creating its watches.
  • Excellent service: online, luxury brands need to provide customer service where it’s needed. For example, a clear contact number placed prominently during checkout can help with any last minutes doubts shoppers may have.
  • Returns: customers are likely to expect a higher standard of service if they have any problems post-purchase. Returns should be hassle-free.
  • Delivery and packaging: customer expectations around delivery are higher than ever before. It’s no longer sufficient to simply order delivery within three to four days, so luxury retailers need to provide next day, specific time slots and even same day where possible. More importantly, items need to be delivered on time. Packaging is a great way to deliver that ‘wow factor’ for customers. To an extent, the packaging needs to reinforce the promise of the brand. If people order an expensive handbag, standard brown packaging won’t do.

Recreating the in-store luxury experience online may well be impossible to do. Retailers can show their products in the best possible light and create websites which are a pleasure to browse and buy from. After this point, it’s about providing the kind of service, including delivery and packaging, that customers would expect from a luxury retailer.

This article was originally published in The Drum Network luxury special. You can get your hands on a copy here. To be featured in the next special focused on the charity sector, please contact stephen.young@thedrum.com.

Graham Charlton

Editor in Chief at SaleCycle.

All by Graham