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5 Keys to provide great Luxury Customer Experience

In today’s competitive world, undoubtedly, consumer is the king and companies need to exceed consumer expectations to create loyal customer base. Technology driven global leaders such as Apple and Amazon have raised the bar of consumer purchase experience by providing excellent customer service, convenience, vast variety, on-time deliveries, free returns and what not. Luxury industry is no exception to this phenomenon and increasing consumer expectations from luxury brands makes it imperative for them to understand consumer psychology to thrive in the dynamic luxury retail environment.

For luxury brands and retailers, understanding the luxury consumer journey is most important to be able to deliver best to these well-versed, discerning consumers. It is about knowing what exactly your consumer wants and being able to provide that and much more. Luxury retailers must work to make consumers’ shopping experience a seamless journey. Every time when consumers interact with luxury brands, it is important for retailers to make them feel delighted. This will create customers for life and maximize customer lifetime value for luxury brands. Just think about the last time you stayed in a luxury hotel or shopped at a luxury store or took a ride in luxury sedan or visited a gourmet restaurant or ordered something on a luxury portal. You will certainly have some memory about how you felt about the entire experience. Did you loved the experience or hated it? Was it worth your time and money?

Happiness research reveals that retailers need to trigger emotions of shoppers not just during the time of actual purchase but also during pre-purchase and post-purchase phase. It requires putting the customer at the center of the entire consumer purchase journey and providing flawless experience across all touch points. Personal relationship built on trust should be at the heart of every customer transaction.

Here are 5 keys to provide great luxury customer experience:

  • Hyper-personalization: Luxury companies should use technologies like artificial intelligence enabled consumer data analysis to improve hyper-personalization in terms of product, promotion and shopping experience both in-store as well as online. For example, luxury Brands like Gucci and Valentino are using AI which help sales associates to recognize customers, greet them by their name and provide personalized recommendations based on consumers’ preferences and past purchase history. Sephora also uses AI technology to allow users to upload their picture and virtually apply makeup and visualize how products would look on them. The chosen products can simply be purchased via mobile, thereby making the whole purchase experience seamless, convenient and highly satisfying.

Similarly, live chat can provide real time assistance to the online luxury buyers making them feel important. Such engagement will boost consumers’ confidence in brand and refrain them to move to competitors’ brand. A recent study has found that shoppers who are engaged through live chat are 4.73 times more probable to convert and they can spend nearly 60% more than those who are not engaged.

Note: Technologies like AI and live chat are providing a new opportunity for luxury brands to offer better and seamless customer experience both online and offline. But, at the same time, technologies such as blockchain should be used to ensure data integrity and privacy.

  • Unified customer insights: Luxury companies should draw unified insights related to consumer profile from all channels such as social media platforms, brick and mortar stores, online stores, website, etc. This will help them in providing unmatched customer experience. For example, omnichannel brands are using online consumer behavior to make decisions regarding their in-store assortment. A Nike concept store in Los Angeles has furnished bright-colored products in their store based upon the data acquired from consumers’ digital footprint.  A 360 degree view of customer insights across touch points will permit luxury retailers to develop more captivating, discerned offers and deliver more meaningful customers experiences.

Note: Luxury retailers need to consciously invest in data driven analysis of in-store purchase behavior which will be the key in providing better customer experience in the future.

  • Customer feedback: For luxury companies, it is very important to get honest customer feedback regarding service, product assortment, physical environment, salespersons’ attitude and overall consumer experience. For instance, once a consumer is through with the purchase and making the payment or is checking out of the hotel, he/she should be requested for feedback preferably on a platform which is easy to measure. (Since most of the times either luxury brands don’t have consumer data or even if they have, it is in the form which cannot be measured and so it is useless). This will help brands to gain valuable customer insights and accordingly design strategies to provide frictionless consumer experience in the future.

Note: Luxury brands must quickly act based upon customer feedback as if they will not care about their customers, they will lose their customers forever.

  • Invest in customer service training: Regardless of the growing ecommerce business, physical stores and sales associates remain central to the success of luxury companies. Luxury sales associates have the power to transform transaction-led business into emotion-based relationships. As per a recent research by US based Luxury Institute, more than one-third of affluent consumers globally reported helpful sales associate as a prime reason for buying a particular luxury brand. More than 50% of opulent consumers mention product-related expertise as a key characteristic required by luxury sales associate followed by trustworthiness, courteousness and helpfulness.

Note: No matter how significant technology becomes in providing superior customer experience, role of sales associate will always remain most important.

  • Building micro-moments: Luxury brands claim that they are in the business of creating dreams and making them true. Therefore, brands must surprise and wow their customers again and again. Marketers must amaze their consumers by doing something which they least expected. For instance, sending a small gift with a hand written note wishing them on their birthday or giving a little freebie with their order just to make them feel special or simply inviting loyal customer to an exclusive VIP sale to make the customer feel part of the elite community.

Note: Small things like a handwritten ‘thank you’ note after the purchase can create a ‘wow moment’ for consumers. So take the extra step to thank them, put them in the limelight and make your brand more memorable and special for your consumers.

In today’s disruptive environment where everything can be copied by your competitors, unarguably the best way to win is- offering a ‘wow customer experience’. This is a most powerful moat to drive sales and develop eternal brand.

How to develop a Sustainable Fashion Business

The world is steadily moving towards sustainability. In fact, sustainability is well-poised to be the new normal. Now-a-days, veganism is a growing trend, battery driven vehicles are talk of the town and ethical fashion is a buzz word. High-end fashion labels are all of a sudden trying to reestablish themselves as ‘organic’, ‘green’, ‘cruelty-free’, ‘eco-conscious’ and ‘honest’. They have realized strong need to change their business models to succeed in the new paradigm. However, the path towards sustainability is not easy. The key question that haunts everyone is: What fashion brands need to do in order to evolve them as a sustainable brand?

Today’s discerning young consumers are much more aware and concerned about the environment as compared to their previous generations. They have refined tastes and preferences and are willing to spend more on quality products. They are not just fashion conscious but are also intrigued in knowing more about what goes behind creating a particular product. They want to know: Who makes their clothes? What are the materials used? How the materials have been sourced? Are fair trade practices implemented to create the product? What dyes are used and what is the social and environmental impact of the clothes produced? According to Sustainable Fashion Blueprint Report, 2018, sustainability is considered as one of the key factors while purchasing fashion products by the consumers. This clearly reflects the increasing awareness among consumers about sustainability as well as growing concern for sustainability in consumer decision making process. This poses great challenge for the companies to redefine their long-term strategies to fulfill consumers’ call for ultra-transparency and sustainability in the way they operate.

Here are the three most important things that are necessary to develop a sustainable fashion business:

Entrepreneur mindset

Even though creation of sustainable brand has lot to do with resources, but it is more important to have a mindset or willingness that goes a long way in creating such brands. Entrepreneurs’ beliefs are vital while framing an organization’s strategy and are manifested in their priorities, resulting in organizational process and outcomes. The perfect example of this fact is Stella McCartney, who is a role model for sustainable fashion. In one of her interviews, she stated “We really don’t have long now, to change things. But I honestly believe it’s doable – I couldn’t do what I do if I didn’t believe that”. Her eco-friendly ethos has led to disruption in the fashion industry. She has partnered with suppliers to introduce innovative textiles, from leather alternatives to recycled marine plastic and yeast-based silk. Recently, she has made the world’s first fully recyclable hoodie for her Adidas collection through collaborating with textile innovative company Evrnu. They used 60% NuCyclfibre, a material made using the threads from old garments and 40% organic cotton that has been diverted from landfills.

Remember: In order to implement sustainable fashion principles, the most important point is the strong urge to create an ethical product. Unquestionably, entrepreneur need to make long-term commitment and allocate dedicated budget. Use of technology like block chain; networking and partnerships with other actors; certification like Fairtrade, GOTS, etc. and learning by example from early adopters will act as key enablers in the process.

Organizational values

By having intensive knowledge about the value chain and the key influences at each phase, an organization can begin to start its sourcing, design, production and distribution in a more ethical way by considering its impact on people and planet. An environment of transparency can be developed across the value chain. For instance, global luxury group Kering, which owns brands including Gucci, BottegaVeneta, Saint Laurent, Alexander McQueen, to name a few, aims to develop 100% transparent and responsible supply chain by 2025. In 2013, the group developed Material Innovation Lab (MIL) dedicated to ethical material.Through collaboration with start-ups and academia, the group has developed new sourcing solutions and innovative raw materials. 

Remember: Sustainable initiatives should be fostered both internally and externally. Internally, fair trade practices (e.g. fair wages, proper working environment, etc.) should be followed and employees should be incentivized to encourage the adoption of sustainable practices throughout the supply chain. Externally, partnerships and collaborations with innovative start-ups should be promoted that will help an organization in reaching their sustainable goals.

Education

Sustainability efforts are not gaining strong traction among end-users owing to several factors such as lack of awareness and knowledge as well as lack of visibility and availability of sustainable products. Premium prices and limited styles also deter consumers who make an effort to try sustainable products. Brands need to patiently and diligently educate consumers about why their products are priced more, why they should care about the materials used and its environmental and ethical impact. Consumers should be motivated to buy less and learn to choose quality over quantity. Social media and other tools can be used to promote awareness about sustainability among vendors, consumers, etc. Also, there is a strong need to educate fashion entrepreneurs about strategies to implement sustainable supply chain practices.For example, Kering provides training to new-age designers. The group has partnered with universities across the globe to design sustainability curriculums. 

Remember:Education can play a key role in bringing change in the attitude of future designers, employees and customers. It can help enlighten the issues of social and environmental sustainability and encourage them to adopt green practices.

Businesses that can address these challenges can surely leap ahead in the sustainable fashion goods industry. They need to redesign their traditional business models to create a sustainable fashion business.There is great opportunity for businesses to move towards a more conscious
approach to fashion and help drive a shift to a more circular, sustainable industry.

Sustainability: New norm for Luxury Fashion Industry

 Recently, a paradigm shift has been witnessed in luxury domain.  There has been increased pressure on luxury companies to adhere to sustainability from not only government, media, NGO’s but also from the growing number of ethical luxury buyers. As the number of well-educated, socially responsible, affluent, global elite is rapidly rising, the concept of sustainability is becoming top priority for luxury brands. Today, global luxury consumers, especially millennials, expect companies to act responsibly. According to a 2018 study performed by McKinsey & Company in association with Business of Fashion found that 66% of millennials are willing to spend more on brands that focus on sustainability initiatives.

In the past few years, sustainability value has derived importance in buyers’ purchase decision.  Luxury buyers want the brands they use to reflect their concerns and aspirations for a better world. There has been a transformation from ‘conspicuous’ to ‘considered’ consumption, from ‘what you wear’ to ‘who you are’, within conscious luxury consumers, leading to rising consumer demands for product traceability, supply chain standards, product authenticity and quality. They want luxury brands to focus on moral issues related to luxury products and have convincing answers to questions of environmental and social responsibility. Therefore, many luxury fashion brands are working towards redefining their business models with the focus on reducing social and environmental problems through the use of progressive production methods and innovative textile inventions. They are using environment-friendly raw materials, like organic cotton and natural dyes, for instance, the leather of a Dior handbag is attained from Italian bio farms. Many organizations are also using recyclable packaging to ensure circular luxury processes.

Few luxury fashion retailers including Prada and Armani are retaliating to the rising consumer demand for making the value chain transparent and sustainable.  Eileen Fisher, an American clothing designer is disrupting the linear production model of take-make-use and dispose. She uses recycled fabrics and give new life to old textiles and discarded garments. Fisher has collaborated with numerous environmental conservation organizations and local artisans with a motive to support planet and people.

A recent study by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation reported that 73% of 53 million tons of garments produced every year ends up in landfill or incinerated. Sustainable consumption act as stimuli among luxury buyerswhowant to feel good and not guilty, when they are purchasing a certain luxury brand. Luxury warrants a psychological cost categorized as ‘guilty pleasures’ which might lead to negative emotions after the purchase. Therefore, growing number of consumers are buying sustainable luxury products to experience ‘guilt-free’ enjoyment. Millennial aspire to rationalize their luxury buying by contributing to social ‘well-being’.

It is a known fact that luxury industry is lagging behind other industries in creating and fostering sustainability. The Danish Fashion Institute (DFI) has pointed out fashion as the second most polluting economic sector after oil business.  Considering the gravity of the situation, luxury industry is progressing towards sustainability as luxury consumers seek for superior quality products which provide no harm to environment. Few luxury fashion brands like Burberry, Gucci and Stella McCartney have set examples for others.

The British heritage label, Burberry, last year took a pledge to stop destroying unsold clothes, which it previously did as a way to preserve its exclusivity. Burberry has partnered with sustainable luxury company Elvis & Kresse to convert 120 tons of leather offcuts into new items. It is also working to drive industry wide change to move towards zero discharge of hazardous chemicals (ZDHC) in the textile supply chain.

Similarly, Gucci, in its effort towards sustainable development, has recently launched Gucci Equilibrium, an online platform designed to connect people, planet and purpose. In October 2017, it made announcement that no fur will be used in any of its collections. It is also working towards creation of new natural materials.

Another example is Stella McCartney who is known for eschewing leather, fur and feathers in her collection. She has created an alternative to leather, made from mycelium- the root structure of mushroom. McCartney is continuously working on redefining fashion through the use of cutting edge technologies and sustainable materials like reengineered cashmere, ethically sourced wool, organic cotton and recycled textiles. She has aligned with various NGO’s such as Parley for the Oceansand Fashion Positive, to bring awareness among the people about how our clothing choices impact the world in which we live.

As we look forward, it is evident that there is a considerable risk to luxury brands that are resistant to invest in people and planet. Therefore, luxury companies should work on reshaping their business models to make it more ethical. Embracing sustainability will provide them with opportunity to enhance their brand image and reputation and possibly create additional value and gain competitive advantage over the other brands.

Though luxury and sustainability appear to be antithetical to each other, but luxury fashion brands must put efforts to reposition themselves as ‘the care taker of mother earth’ to establish a positive brand image among the new luxury buyers.  By 2050, the global economy is predicted to use three planets worth of resources annually. To change that trajectory luxury brands must commit to use less water, leave less fabric waste and emit less carbon. They must invest in renewable energy, innovative technologies, alternative ethical materials and empowering communities.

(This article has also been published in Textile Times in the month of May, 2019).

Decoding the Millennial Mindset for Luxury Brands

Millennials are the next rulers of the luxury market. They are more likely to spend more on luxury items as compared to the previous generational cohorts. Millennial consumers are projected to account for 50% of the luxury market in 2025 as compared to the current 32%. They are of significant interest for luxury brands as they tend to provide better lifetime value and brand loyalties. These new-age audiences neither follow celebrity trends nor believe in mindless consuming. They are much more demanding, selective and discerning than their parents and grandparents. Since, millennials’ beliefs and core value structure are significantly different from their prior generations, therefore, it becomes imperative for the luxury marketers to understand ‘millennials’ mindset’ and develop innovative approach to entice this lucrative market segment. Here are the 5 key characteristics of millennials which will help luxury brands to establish better connect with this peculiar group:

  1. Purpose-driven: Traditionally people have been buyingluxury brands for its history, craftsmanship, image, exclusivity and superior quality. As per Deloitte survey, these are no longer selling points for millennials. This generation look for purpose, transparency and genuineness. Millennials show greaterconcern for people and planet. As per Nielsen report, 73% of millennials are willing to spend more on a product if it comes from a sustainable brand. They demand for sustainable options that reflect their own values and beliefs. For example, Gucci has been able to pull its sales by winning the trust of millennials through its purpose-driven, ecologically progressive program, ‘Gucci Equilibrium’. Similarly, Adidas is focusing on purpose-based brand creation with emphasis on reducing waste and environmental impact. It has created ‘sustainable sneaker’ by utilizing eco-friendly items. Therefore, luxury brands must exhibit that they stand for a purpose and not just for profits. They can create a niche for themselves by promoting sustainability and ethical business practices.
  • Loves to spend: This market segment spend lavishly on discretionary items, without much consideration about their debt levels. Unlike their parents, they are less motivated to save and therefore have greater disposable income. They believe in instant gratification and ‘living in the moment’. Therefore, in 2017, young consumers accounted for 50% of Gucci’s profits.

Millennials prefers to spend more on experiences instead of products. They are willing to pay premium for comfort or services, particularly, opulent millennials who spend more for VIP experience like a gourmet private chef and golf-cart chauffeur service. They look for personalized experiences or products that are either exclusive or specially designed for them. For example, Louis Vuitton offers a monogramming or hot stamping service for their items which provides shoppers an opportunity to make their own unique product by adding their initials. Therefore, luxury brands must provide unforgettable experience or product that resonates with millennials’ self-expression.

  • Open to experimentation: Millennials are likely to try something new if it reflects their personal values and passions. They are open to experiment alternative business models thathave emerged in the luxury fashion industry such as luxury renting, luxury fashion libraries, luxury resale, etc. These new concepts provides members an opportunity to try different styles and looks without having to pay full price. Young luxury consumers don’t want to bind themselves to a single product, rather they want to enjoy the flexibility to try new items more frequently. In addition, short-term rentals gives them opportunity to flaunt and express themselves. For instance, if they want to show –off their discerning taste with Rolex or Bulgari watch but they can’t afford it, they can simply rent it. Therefore, embracing new-age focused alternative business models such as luxury fashion ‘recommerce’ can provide a way forward to luxury companies.

Millennials are embracing collaborations as they consider it ‘cool’. Collaborations like Louis Vuitton with Supreme; Chanel with Pharrell Williams; Gucci with Dapper Dan, have been highly valued by millennials. Thus, to succeed, a brand needs to provide millennials an experience instead of simply a label.

  • Tech-savvy: Millennials have been identified as first high-tech generation and they embrace new media much more than previous generations. Digital experiences are most important to this segment and luxury brands cannot afford to ignore this fact. They need to create emotional connect with them and build online shopping experiences to access young shoppers in their natural habitats.

Millennials appreciate personalization, interaction and co-creation. Unlike, previous generations. they are not passive consumers. Mercedes Benz’s ‘Take the wheel’ campaign is a perfect example of creating brand story by empowering and engaging millennial shoppers. A challenge was given to 5 Instagram best photographers to spend 5 days each behind the wheels of Benz CLA. Each photographer posted pictures on their account and the one with most likes was gifted the car. The campaign generated 87 million organic impressions on Instagram and more than half a million mentions on Facebook and Twitter. Therefore, luxury brands should utilize social media platforms like Instagram to provide savvy millennials a feeling of ownership over brand story.

  • Signal public self-consciousness: Millennials with high propensity to spend money, combined with goal of signaling fashion consciousness and status to other people, makes them an attractive segment for luxury brand companies. They spend unduly on high-end brands and this needless spending is possibly due to their desire to own luxury items to augment their social status. From handbags to hotels, this generational cohort has keen interest in status symbols. Therefore, luxury brands should stress on social cues to attract this audience.

Luxury brands must decode ‘millennial mindset’ and accordingly create new marketing and branding strategies to allure this most significant market segment.

(This article has also been published in ET Brand Equity on May 19, 2019).

Strategies for brands to succeed in Indian Luxury Market

Indian luxury landscape is rapidly evolving. With rise in middle class population and increase in disposable income, demand for luxury goods has expeditiously increased in India. Be it Canali’s nawab suit, Chanel’s tote bag or Balenciaga’s clutch, luxury goods are flying off Indian racks. Ralph Lauren launched its first store this year in New Delhi’s luxury mall- DLF Chanakya and brands like Alexander McQueen and Saint Laurent are all set to have their first standalone stores in India by mid of this year. Indian luxury market is expected to grow tenfold in the next decade from the current US$30 billion to US$ 180 billion by 2025. However, India still lags far behind other developing economies like China in terms of its share in the global luxury market. India is a culturally diverse nation with varied languages, religions, food, music, dance and customs. With such diversity, Indian luxury market provides huge set of opportunities as well as challenges to luxury brands. Therefore, it is critical for luxury players to understand idiosyncrasies of typical Indian consumers to successfully serve this lucrative and growing market. Here are four key strategies for luxury brands to succeed in the complex Indian market.

Understand Indian buyers: Indians perceive luxury brands differently. Their values, beliefs and attitude towards luxury vary significantly from their western counterparts. Luxury goods are mainly purchased for personal or social orientation. Indians buy luxury primarily for social gratification. They go for loud brands and signal their status through luxury consumption. Therefore, marketers must highlight on symbolic value derived from luxury brands to gain traction from Indians.

Indians are extremely value-conscious buyers. They are now well-travelled and educated and therefore aware of offerings available in rest of the world. They want full product mix, latest variety and style without having to pay a premium for it. They compare the product and prices across markets and cease the best deal. Therefore, luxury brands must make sure that they maintain parity while catering to Indian market.

Indians, even today are skeptical about buying luxury brands. For instance, they may buy gold worth million dollars at the spur of the moment but when it comes to spending the same amount on luxury brands, they may consider it as a wasteful expenditure. They look for value of raw material and potential resale price while making their purchase decisions. However, with greater exposure towards the international luxury brands, this mindset is gradually changing. Luxury marketers need to raise brand awareness among Indians. They may hire opinion leaders, influencers or Bollywood stars to promote these brands. For example, Shahrukh Khan’s association with luxury watch brand Tag Hueur has been a great success.

Entice young luxury shoppers: Demand for international luxury brands is rising among young Indian consumers with increased access to internet, overseas travel and growing discretionary incomes. Millennials are the next rulers of luxury market. They are experimental, discerning and demanding. Luxury brands can no longer use standalone platform to attract and engage these consumers, they have to provide them seamless bespoke experience which is consistent across all platforms. Young consumers choose social media to stay updated, therefore, a strong social media presence is key for success of these brands. Marketers should unleash the power of social media to tell their brand story and engage consumers to tell their own stories of brand interaction.

Invest in sales personnel: Sales personnel are the brand ambassadors who serve as the face and voice of the organization. They interact with the customer and make or break the brand in their eyes, hence luxury companies should put sincere efforts to empower and enrich their employees. They should be trained to understand what the brand stands for, its DNA, history and heritage so that they can rightly pitch it in front of customers

Focus on innovation: As quoted by Peter Drucker, “Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two—and only two—basic functions: marketingandinnovation.”

Age-old luxury brands known for their history have been reluctant to embrace technology. Today, luxury brands need to be innovative to gain attention of new luxury consumers. It is through innovation that these companies can extend existing products and invent new products suitable for Indian customers’ need and wants. For example, Mercedes Benz introduced compact luxury hatch back A class, particularly for Indian market to attract aspirational buyers. Further, innovation is the best way for luxury companies to create space for themselves in competitive Indian market. For example, they must work on advanced real time data or AI based analytic tools to make informed decisions about their target customers

To conclude, to be successful in Indian luxury market, brands must innovate continuously with an enthralling brand story, a clear approach and a system to deliver a consistent, notable experience for consumers.

(This article has been published in Fibre2Fashion on 20 April, 2019).

7 Tactics for Luxury Sales Associates to turn Prospects into Brand Advocates

Luxury retail landscape has undergone radical changes in the past few years. Thereby, it makes it imperative for luxury retailers to shift their focus from product to impeccable service; from selling to offering personalized experience; from providing consumer satisfaction to giving them ‘wow’ moment at each touch point; from being exclusive to being inclusive; from providing delayed gratification to offering instant gratification; from store associate to a story teller, expert and advisor; from happy visitor to loyal customer and brand advocate.

The convolution of modern retail sales process along with ever-changing business environment scenario makes it essential for luxury brands to empower and enrich their sales associates. Following are the 7 tactics that will help luxury sales associates to convert their prospects into brand advocates.

  1. Know your customer: Knowing what is vital to clients, their expectations and the role of luxury brands in their lives may help sales associates to develop deeper connect between clients and the brand. Have knowledge about your clients’ profile to provide personalized services and recommendations. Empathize your clients, listen to their specific needs and develop a personal bond with them. It is very important to engage customers, assist them and greet them as a distinctive guest.

Remember: Luxury customers want to be treated special.

  • Know your product: Pay attention to intricate details of your products. Make sure that each product has a story to tell and purpose to define. When customers resonate with these stories, they may understand the luxury brand DNA and brand promise which may create customers for life. Educate your clients on full range of merchandise available or else, you may undersell them. Let your clients decide what enthuses them rather than you limiting yourself or your clients.

Remember: You represent the best and you must be your best to sell it to clients.

  • Know your competitor: Do thorough market research and have knowledge about the industry’s best practices. Benchmark direct and indirect competition, identify improvement areas and enhance consumer’s experience. Focus on continuous learning as what is relevant today may not be relevant tomorrow.

Remember: Luxury clients are most discerning and well-equipped.

  • Develop interpersonal skills: Greet your clients with an enchanting smile, offer genuine help and assist them in finding the right product.  Build one-to-one individualized relationship with your clients. Be confident in reaching out to them in a way that makes them excited to hear from you. Keep a constant touch with them at every connect point through use of gifts, emails, letters, etc. and remind them of being special. Be passionate and show your enthusiasm.

Remember: Right attitude is key to selling luxury

  • Curate unique experience: Create a memorable experience at each step of customer journey, right from the point they enter into the store to initiating the sales process, from product demonstrations to closing the sales, from product delivery to post-sales follow up.

Remember: People may not remember what you said, what you did but they won’t forget how special you made them feel.

  • Make suggestive selling: Develop rapport with your clients and seek for ways to suggestively sell additional products to them. Don’t pressurize customers or hard sell but also don’t confine yourself to just one product that customer asked for. For example, if your client is looking for a shirt, why not recommend him a matching trousers or a pair of shoes to complement it. It might interest your client.

Remember: If you don’t pursue, it could be a missed opportunity for you.

  • Adapt new technologies:  Use CRM tools and advanced technologies to provide exceptional customer service. These tools will enable you to get access to intricate consumer details not just about their birthdays and anniversaries but also their previous purchased items, their preferences, prior visits, social media handles, etc. It will empower you to effortlessly create seamless shopping experience for your esteemed clients.

Remember: In this digitalized era, you cannot ignore technology.

(This article has also been published in Luxury Daily on Feb 4, 2019).

Next Frontier of Luxury Retail

Digital disruption has changed the norms of the traditional luxury retail industry. It has resulted in a radical shift in consumer shopping behavior, their beliefs, and expectations. Consumers live online today, even while they are inside physical stores. They have become more demanding than ever. Their growing need for ease of shopping, prompt service, and personalized solutions has left retailers with the only option, ‘either go digital or die’. It has become imperative for retailers to redefine their traditional business models, embrace digitization and unleash tremendous opportunities provided by emerging new ecosystems.

In today’s complex business environment scenario, luxury retailers need to work towards re-inventing consumers’ shopping experience by understanding their pain points, needs, desires, and aspirations. Retailers should embrace technologies such as blockchain, artificial intelligence, smart sensors, computer vision, chatbots and facial recognition to solve problems like counterfeiting, delayed check-outs, queuing, product navigation, waiting time for product returns, delays in online order pick-ups and late order fulfillment.

Just as e-commerce giants like Amazon and Alibaba offer remarkable online consumer experiences, luxury retailers are trying to curate lifetime memories for consumers through facilities like spas, beauty salons, personal styling classes, coffee houses, restaurants, fitness facilities, cookery sessions, wine bars, theaters, and art gallery. Top brands such as Gucci, Tiffany, and Chanel are giving shoppers better reasons to stick around longer and engage with the brand through coffee and caviar. High-end brands like Ralph Lauren are using smart mirrors to help consumers see how they look in different dresses and lip shades without actually putting them on. Rebecca Minkoff’s store in New York features an interactive video wall and self- checkout.

Brands like Ralph Lauren and Polo are using interactive fitting rooms to engage consumers. It uses RFID technology to recognize the product a consumer brings inside the fitting room. The mirror shows other available colors, cuts, and sizes for each product. It also makes suggestions based on the item a consumer has brought in and also enables consumers to do social media sharing. In addition, the consumer can change light settings and avail language options. A ‘call an associate’ button connects the consumer with a sales associate who gets all that a consumer has asked for. It provides consumer access to the entire store and the associate just being inside the fitting room. This is how technology is helping the companies to blend physical and digital channels to reinvent in-store shopping experience.

Millions of people visit luxury stores and once they exit from the store, there is no way to trace them. Technology is helping brands to replicate the concept of e-commerce data collection and use this data to make informed decisions. The trail of digital data that consumers leave behind is used to engage, inform and provide tailored offers to them. As soon as a consumer (X) enters into the store, through data analytics, he /she is addressed as, “Hi X, how are you doing”? It’s all about bringing what consumers expect on digital into the physical. Retailers like Neiman Marcus and Burberry have leveraged data analytics and smart technology to provide personalized product recommendations based on shoppers past purchase behavior and predefined preferences. Burberry has been successful in introducing an array of digital experiences into its physical store, created to replicate the online website experience. It includes magic mirrors, live 3-D streaming of runway shows and RFID tags that gives access to interactive digital content which has greatly helped the brand to boost its performance.

Although, digital channels have undeniable advantages physical stores still rule the hearts of the consumers with most consumers choosing to end their journeys there. The next frontier of luxury retail will seamlessly merge the physical and the digital to offer hyper-personalized experiences and provide operational efficiencies. Digital channels would reshape store footprints. Most of the tasks done today by store associates including checkout customers, fold clothes, inventory management, open and close store, etc. will be taken over by automated processes and machines. Store of the future will be equipped with a robot- enabled inventory management, AI-generated recommendations and wish lists, touch-less checkout, smart shelves, virtual shopping assistants and smart mirrors to name a few, relieving store associate from mundane tasks to work as a specialist and client’s mentor. Associate will be instrumental in providing a wonderful experience to the consumers and transforming them into loyal advocates and brand ambassador, thereby humanizing the technology-enabled retail experience. Thus, the coming years will be the golden era for consumers, with technology-enabled shopping experiences giving them simplicity, flexibility, convenience, information and pleasure they deserve.

(This article has also been published in ET Retail on Jan 16, 2019).

Luxury in India: The way forward

Indian luxury market is poised to reach US$ 50 billion by 2020 from the current US$30 billion (Assocham Report). Growing middle class, multiplying millionaires, rapid urbanization, higher disposable incomes, favorable trade policies, burgeoning millennials and social media proliferation are the key drivers fuelling the growth of the Indian luxury market. The Indian luxury landscape is undergoing a drastic shift; from conspicuous consumption to self-indulgence; from buying logo-driven brands to looking for experiential value and product authenticity; from going to physical stores to accessing online platforms; from being limited to upper echelon of society to being democratic; from brand new to pre-owned luxury items; from Bollywood celebrities to social media influencers and from uninformed and loyal consumers to well-travelled, discerning and prudent consumers.

Following are the key trends that will redefine the future of Indian luxury industry:

The roaring digitalization: In India, digitally influenced spending is presently around $50 billion a year and it is estimated to grow ten-fold to $ 500 billion by 2025 (BCG Report, 2017). Growth in internet penetration, convenient payment platforms, efficient logistics, user friendly shopping experience and better value proposition offered to consumers are some of the key factors triggering the growth of online shopping in India. Online luxury shopping is catching fire while putting the role of physical channels at risk. Various international luxury brands are collaborating with premium e-retailers to reap the benefits. As per BCG report, 50 to 60 million consumers are making fashion purchases online in India and these numbers are estimated to double by 2020. Around 70% of premium apparel purchases will be digitally influenced in the near future. Therefore, global luxury players need to rethink their digital strategies.

Younger luxury buyers: India is home to the world’s largest millennial population (AT Kearney Report, 2016). As millennials possess high spending power, they are driving and ruling the entire consumer market. They have greater preference for luxury items as compared to Gen X and baby boomers. They are regularly seeking social media as the first source of information. They crave for personalized and targeted promotions. This extremely valuable cohort provides great opportunity as well as pose challenge to the luxury marketers as this generation is significantly different from their older counterparts. Therefore, it becomes imperative for the luxury marketers to understand this lucrative consumer segment and the values associated with them.

Growth of luxury in emerging cities: As a result of increasing opulence, consumer spending in emerging cities are rising by around 14% per annum whereas expenditures in top tier cities is growing by nearly 12% a year (BCG Report, 2017). For more than a decade, luxury brands have put all their efforts in enticing wealthy consumers in metro cities only. However, sales records clearly depicts that tier 2 and 3 buyers are outpacing their counterparts with respect to their luxury appetite. Emerging cities like Ludhiana and Surat are now among the top 10 markets for luxury cars. E-commerce is providing a further spurt in this phenomenon. Recently, Montblanc’s offering through digital platform Tata CLIQ Luxury attracted first sales from Kanpur, followed by Bilaspur, Raipur, Coimbatore and other tier II cities. For luxury brands to tap this big opportunity, it is important to understand the tier 2 and 3 consumers’ mind-set and accordingly devise suitable marketing strategies.

Offer beyond Product: Today, it is really crucial for luxury brands to offer unique services and exceptional products. There is need for trained store associates who aren’t there, just to ‘hard sell’ but to understand, engage, interact and build long-term sustainable relationship with the consumers. Sales associates should be experts in their domain and encourage customers to ask questions or seek advice. 
‘Wow’ shopping experience should be offered to make the clients feel ‘special’ before, during and after making the purchase. In order to achieve this, luxury companies have to invest in latest technologies and ‘out of the box’ ideas. Burberry offers entertaining and engaging experience to its clients by having large screens and live-streaming hubs throughout its Regent Street flagship store in London. Sephora provides beauty lessons to provide unique experience to its clients. To attract the increasingly demanding young Indian consumers, luxury stores will have to offer more than just shopping. They can enhance shopping experience by having their own cafes, art galleries or even spas in their outlets.

Marrying Physical and Digital: Luxury retailers should offer a seamless, bespoke experience across online and offline channels through omnichannel marketing approach. Burberry offers collect-in-store service, where consumers can browse and select items on digital platform and then go to brick and mortar store to collect those items. Luxury marketers should harness the power of social media for storytelling and engaging the target group.

E-influencers making a mark: Social media influencers are now-a-days proving to be very effective. Today’s consumers trust word of mouth over companies’ advertisement. More than 70% consumers in India are more likely to make their purchase based on social media reference. Furthermore, around 70% of teenage YouTube subscribers trust influencer opinions over traditional celebrities. Therefore, luxury marketers need to invest more on influencer marketing.

Pre-owned luxury goods gaining traction: Second hand luxury goods market is rapidly growing in India as making luxury affordable makes it attractive proposition for value-conscious Indian buyers. Start-ups like Luxepolis, Confidential Couture and Envoged are working in this untapped market and see tremendous growth potential in this segment in the times to come.

Going green: Lately, brands like Gucci, Burberry and Stella Mc Cartney have pledged to be fur free. Indian consumers, particularly millennials are increasingly becoming environment conscious. A recent study by Mastercard revealed that about 70% of buyers in India give importance to ‘green’ and ‘ethical’ while making their purchase. Therefore, luxury brands need to innovate to entice Gen Y who yearn for sustainable produce.

(This article has also been published in ET Retail on December 3, 2018).

Sustainability key in transition from conspicuous to considered consumption

The word ‘sustainability’ is permeating every industry in the world. Rising concerns about environmental degradation and climate change has forced individuals as well as corporations to embed sustainability as an integral element in their day to day lives. In context of luxury, sustainability is all about conserving the art, culture, traditions and ‘savoir faire’; taking care of people and planet. Although, luxury and sustainability have been long considered as antithetical to each other. The unique characteristics of luxury like rarity, timelessness, heritage, restricted supply, hand-crafted, superior quality, localize production and high prices, links it closely to sustainability.

Lately, there has been increased pressure on luxury companies to adhere to sustainability from not only government, media, NGO’s but also from the growing number of ethical luxury buyers. Today, global luxury consumers, especially millennials expect companies to act responsibly. As per 2010 Havas Media sustainable consumption research conducted with 20,000 consumers in ten countries, 86% of buyers examined sustainability aspects while making purchase decisions. It was also found that 80% of consumers under the age of 35 wanted to go for sustainable option.

In past few years, sustainability value has derived importance in buyers’ purchase decision.  Luxury buyers want the brands they use to reflect their concerns and aspirations for a better world. There has been a transformation from ‘conspicuous’ to ‘considered’ consumption, from ‘what you wear’ to ‘who you are’, within conscious luxury consumers, leading to rising consumer demands for product traceability, supply chain standards, product authenticity and quality. They want luxury brands to focus on moral issues related to luxury products and have convincing answers to questions of environmental and social responsibility.

Sustainable consumption act as stimuli among luxury buyerswhowant to feel good and not guilty, when they are purchasing a certain luxury brand. Luxury warrants a psychological cost categorized as ‘guilty pleasures’ which might lead to negative emotions after the purchase. Therefore, growing number of consumers are buying sustainable luxury products to experience ‘guilt-free’ enjoyment. Millennial aspire to rationalize their luxury buying by contributing to social ‘well-being’.

Luxury, for decades has been used to depict social-self. Traditionally, the desire of ‘buying to impress others’ was considered as the key motivation behind the purchase of luxury brands. Today, sustainable consumption has evolved as a new form of ‘conspicuous consumption’. Consumers are now spending money on ‘green to be seen’.  Their lifestyle and purchases include everything from organic food to bio-dynamic wine to eco-friendly apparel and zero-emission electric vehicles. They are willing to pay premium for sustainable luxury products to display their success and economic accomplishment to the society. With sustainability becoming a new norm, ‘social’ individuals feel secure while buying luxury products labeled as: ‘organic’, ‘sustainable’ and ‘ethical’.

It is a known fact that luxury industry is lagging behind other industries in creating and fostering sustainability. However, few luxury brands like Tiffany, Gucci and Stella McCartney have set examples for others. Tiffany is among the first few companies to restrict the use of coral in jewelry. From sourcing to production, it makes sincere efforts to act ‘responsibly’.  It has created fair wage practices for workers and has custom-built, LEED- certified factory. It has also set its target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050. Similarly, Gucci, in its effort towards sustainable development, has recently launched Gucci Equilibrium, an online platform designed to connect people, planet and purpose. In October 2017, it made announcement that no fur will be used in any of its collections. It is also working towards creation of new natural materials. Another example is Stella McCartney who is known for eschewing leather, fur and feathers in her collection. She has created an alternative to leather made from mycelium- the root structure of mushroom. Most of her collections are made up of sustainable materials.

As we look forward, it is evident that there is a considerable risk to luxury brands that are resistant to invest in people and planet. Therefore, luxury companies should work on redefining their business models to make it more ethical. Embracing sustainability will provide them with opportunity to enhance their brand image and reputation and possibly create additional value and gain competitive advantage over the other brands.

(This article has also been published in Luxury Daily on September 27, 2018).

Millennials Redefining the Norms of Luxury Industry

Baby boomers have traditionally been the major spenders on the luxury goods across the globe. However, 85 percent of luxury growth is propelled by Gen Y and Z (Bain & Company Report) today. New age buyers are taking truncheon from boomers and disrupting the rules of the luxury industry. With the democratization of luxury and shifts in power and consumer preferences, the meaning of luxury is being redefined. This major shift is driving luxury companies to restructure their strategies to suit the peculiar preferences of new generation buyers. Brands need to understand ‘millennial state of mind’ and develop innovative approach to entice millennial shoppers. As these new luxury buyers are young, more progressive, more discerning, less wealthy and less loyal, it may provide huge challenge as well as great opportunity for the luxury companies. Therefore, let’s take a closer look at these new norms of the luxury industry and its implications for luxury brand marketers.

  1. Shift from Offline to Online: We all know that consumers’shopping journey has seen radical transformation in the last few years. The rise of internet has led to ‘ROPO’ effect which means ‘research online, purchase offline’ or vice versa. According to recent McKinsey report, one fifth of luxury sales globally will take place online by 2025. Therefore, E-commerce should be taken as an opportunity rather than a threat. A holistic, omni-channel approach should be implemented to provide consistent, bespoke purchase experience to the customers across all touch points, be it be offline or online, events, social media, advertising and PR.  The engagement and interaction with customers across these multiple channels should be seamless and in alignment with each other.

As around 80% of the sales would still be coming from physical stores, it is noteworthy that stores wouldn’t lose their purpose. This poses a bigger challenge for retailers to provide immersive in-store shopping experience to consumers as they would only be willing to visit stores if some differentiated experience is provided to them. Therefore, it is critical for retailers to adapt new technologies to create a convergence between online and offline platforms to empower shoppers’ journey.

  • Shift from Possessions to Experiences: A recent research reveals that at least three in four millennials prefer to pay money for an experience rather than a product. They would rather love to splurge on a lavish holiday or buy front row tickets for a concert than spend on purchasing a car or home. Therefore, marketers need to create seamless consumer journey that permits them to buy tickets, attend the show and share the experience across social channels. They should find ways of how more value can be added to consumers’ experience.
  • Shift from Ownership to Shared Economy: Does a $3000 dress still a luxury product when you are renting it for a negligible price? Such questions certainly make the definition of luxury blur today. But, the new luxury buyers are changing the rules of the game. There is a growing trend of pre-owned luxury goods. Why buy a designer dress when you can rent it? Millennials with spending power are reluctant to spend on big ticket items. They rather prefer to live the moment than to own a product. They believe in the concept of ‘shared economy’. This makes it critical for the luxury companies to remodel their conventional businesses to remain relevant for the new age buyers.
  • Shift from Self- Orientation to Sustainable Orientation: There is a visible shift from ‘conspicuous buyers’ to ‘considered buyers’. Today, consumers want to use the brands that care for environment. This makes it imperative for the luxury brands to shift from linear economic model to closed- loop circular model. Companies need to think of not just profits but also be considerate about people and planet. Realizing the importance of this concept, many luxury firms are redefining their supply chain processes and striving to reduce social and ecological problems through the use of sustainable technologies.
  • Shift from Sales Assistant to Virtual Assistant: Technologies likeartificial intelligence, voice controlled shopping and augmented reality are set to act as ‘second sales assistant’. Interactive chatbots, virtual trial rooms and personalized recommendations through apps are emerging as must have tools to lure new-age buyers.

All these shifts are certainly going to reshape luxury landscape, thereby making it crucial for luxury companies to rethink their brand strategies in order to remain relevant in this disruptive business environment. Today, luxury buyers want the brands they use to reflect their concerns and aspirations for a better world. Through the use of technology and innovation, wider range of sustainable options could be created for the new-age luxury consumers.

(This article has also been published in Luxury Daily on July 20, 2018).