One cannot overemphasise the importance of going digital for the luxury sector at this time with a drop in sales, physical retail stores have not been opened for more than four months as the pandemic has forced people to stay at home. And so, the quickest and easiest way for luxury brands to reach out to customers is online.
First, let’s look at the place of the internet in the luxury sector. The luxury sector has not fully embraced the internet. They are unsure of what future the internet holds for their businesses. However, in the same way, when printing was introduced in the 15th Century, the internet has created a shift in marketing. Before now, the argument by industry analysts has been that the internet was not created for luxury as luxury ceases to be evident on it. They also believe the internet is not for luxury niche companies but large-scale or mass-market brands.
These explain why the luxury industry has been cautious in its relationship with the world wide web since it was launched. One could say the industry was conservative in its approach to the use of the internet. Also, the industry was fearful it will dilute its brand essence. This was a form of culture shock for the luxury industry that typically thinks long term and rarely act under pressure. Luxury brands are more concerned about the sustainability of their brand reputation than anything else which has been the staying power behind their pricing.
However, with the fast-changing times, luxury brand managers have realized they need to tap into the positive sides of the internet. They realized that there is a revolution going on with the worldwide web. Hence some luxury brands are tapping into some of the positive values of the internet.
The current reality of Covid-19 pandemic means the luxury industry has no choice but to fully embrace online retail. The internet is useful for many reasons. First, it is useful for brand awareness. The Internet can boost awareness of a brand without increasing brand penetration. What this means is that luxury brands need not worry that their brand value would be watered down or that their brand will become an all-comers affair. Internet is great for their brand presence. It increases their brand’s visibility and places it in the subconsciousness of the consumer. Simply put, it increases your popularity without making it easy for everyone to buy your product. It means only those who can afford the brand can buy it. Therefore, when a luxury brand combines the brand-building potential of the internet with its physical retail store, what it translates to is a great brand asset.
Second, luxury brands must know that online presence or having an e-store often doesn’t translate to direct sales. The foremost use of the internet is for communication. It is a great place to communicate important information about your brand. It will make the general public, even though they are not your main target, to be aware of your brand values. Internet is a good avenue to announce new things about your brand i.e. new product, store opening, new advert campaign and more. More importantly, the internet may not translate to direct sales, but it influences purchasing decisions as consumers search for information about a brand first online. The reviews and any information available online will influence their decision to buy the product or not.
Third, the internet is a brilliant way for luxury brands to increase their service levels. Service here refers to concierge, hotlines, help desk to get information about how they need to use a product they just purchased or if there is a need for return or replacement. The internet allows a luxury brand to engage directly with the consumers by providing information on which store currently stocks the product the client needs. It also enables immediate feedback from clients.
Furthermore, as the origin of the word internet shows, ‘inter’ and ‘net’, it is a way communities and networks grow and interact online. Therefore, what a luxury brand needs is not a community of many people who like its page on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, but to build a loyal community of connoisseur and get them up the commitment ladder by organizing local selective events and physical meetings. And so, a luxury brand must always remember that its survival is in its differentiation from any other kind of business.
Finally, luxury brands should leverage the ability of the internet to communicate images. Since the luxury industry is about dreams, and dreams are made of images, the internet is just the perfect platform to sell these dreams through images.
NOTE: This article was first published in Business Day in the column ‘Luxe Thoughts With Funke Osae-Brown