The Future of Online Luxury Retail is here – Are we happy to accept it?

Updated: December 16, 2019 7:21 PM

With consumers shifting to online platform from offline to shop, luxury brands face a challenge as exclusivity, rarity and customer experience comes to an end

 Debraj Sengupta, chief marketing officer, VictorinoxDebraj Sengupta, chief marketing officer, Victorinox

By Debraj Sengupta

Swiss-made watches adopting the online market place is a rare phenomenon. These timepieces follow a luxury model of business with complete control of distribution. An online selling platform contradicts this concept of control.

Tissot the well-known Swiss watch brand from the stable of The Swatch Group crossed this ‘Laxman rekha’, to announce Myntra as an official reseller recently. Many might wonder why the discussion; this is normal and organic evolution. Although Tissot is not a luxury brand but, the label does follow the luxury model of business, selling through brand corners and boutiques with complete control on price (no discounts) and uniformity in retail presentation. The brand that follows a luxury module does not embrace the online market place. The market place model of business which Amazon and Flipkart adopt is not apt for luxury, Prices can’t be controlled here, products are not displayed at its best and the glam-factor that of these brand needs is displayed is not curated as per the brand needs on these portals.

To understand why this is essential for Prestige labels, one needs to understand the philosophy behind what makes a brand Luxury. Luxury alone imparts ‘Status’ the much-required recognition that a commoner wants.

Luxury is a religion. The brand-stores its temple – which not many have access to, the selling ceremony – rituals of the religion, brand-lovers with the power to indulge; its followers and merchandise – the God himself, placed on the altar at the temple of a brand store. So, when the web opened up the scope to sell online the temple seemed redundant, the selling ceremony scrapped, the altar destroyed and the followers felt like one in the crowd of many, stripped of the exclusivity to access because online gives access to all. The religion of luxury shook and the priest (brand custodian) screamed for help. Luxury took a u-turn, never wanting to lose all control while adapting in this new model of online retail. The priest said it was not ready for this.

Digital is a mass media with access to all, a game of big numbers, big data, millions of followers, hundreds of likes and going viral. Luxury on the other hand is about rarity, exclusivity, ‘only for the discerning few’, and about customer experiences. Buying a Hermes Kelly bag needs weeks of waiting, the Benz Showroom delivers exceptional customer experience while selling a Mercedes. One becomes a part of an exclusive elite club when he owns a Rolex watch, people buy this status of exclusivity and don’t like this circle to be open for all. While selling online contradicts this concept.

Luxury also should have a high ‘dream-about’ factor to churn out Status. This is achieved from staying high on popularity and awareness, showcasing its rich heritage and coating its products with high aspirations, so that the dream quotient never allows its price to be challenged. The brand custodians realized that while online selling was against a controlled distribution philosophy, yet the web could unleash a controlled and highly curated brand aspiration. Being visual is always more impactful. Bringing to life the brand heritage through videos, allowing a peep into its world of craftsmanship, weaving an aura of sophistication around it. Instagram, Facebook, and Websites had ample to offer in this direction. The web is the apt carrier for this kind of awareness, and it delivers a superior result more believable and expressive than the glossy pages of a Lifestyle magazine.

Now the world today consumes data more than gasoline, especially Gen Z who are not just happy watching Jennifer Lopez unveil Versace collection 2020 on their smartphone but also want to check out its prices and order it online as well. Many today are reluctant to go to a brand-shop, avoiding a time-consuming activity or not sure if the sought-after merchandise is in the ready inventory. So, with time this change in behavior of the consumer made the priest realize that the best of both worlds (brick and mortar, online) was the need of the hour. A controlled, brand curated e-commerce portal replicating the exact boutique ambiance for relativity, history “live” through videos and the ‘dream-about’ unleashed on a click of a button displaying the lavish lifestyles of celebrities using the label, proved to be apt. The Luxury brand custodians finally took this forbidden path, but under complete control. Market place still stays a big ‘No-No’, to many and this is where I see the new challenge now. As I stated earlier, it was revolutionizing when Tissot, following a Luxury business module of complete control recently broke norms and partnered with Myntra. While Myntra uses a single-seller concept and is not a complete market place like Amazon or Flipkart, this allows the control factor to exist to a certain degree. Yet this is a big step forward!

Luxury shall keep embracing the web a little more every day, moving towards an omnichannel mode of business, but shall they ever adapt the market place still remains a question.


The author is the chief marketing officer of Victorinox

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