The Luxury Law Summit took time to consider the big picture commercial and business model questions which will affect legal decision making for many years to come. You might think that the question of how will the internet affect fashion has long been answered but luxury is an area that is less affected by the winds of technological change and indeed part of its USP is the so-called "aura of luxury" which can quickly dissipate in an online environment.
Broadly speaking, there have been three major changes in the last six months:
Style - in the short term there has been an uptick in sales of more comfortable clothing (coupled with higher rates of returns) due to the large numbers of people working from home. However, trends can quickly change in fashion and formal wear and suits are getting a new lease of life as people prepare for the return to the office.
E-commerce - there was no consensus on which e-commerce solution is best for luxury (i.e. build your own, white label or complete reliance on third party sites like Net-A-Porter.
Data - this is less a change and more an area that requires constant vigilance in order to stay ahead of the competition.
Post Covid-19, office attire has evolved and even the most sartorially elegant companies are dressing down for meetings. Will this continue? The big winners are likely to be companies like DAI which combine the comfort of athleisure with the appearance of suits. But fashion is always hard to predict so what truly takes hold in the public consciousness remains to be seen.
Aside from this, travel restrictions combined with local lockdowns and generally a more wary populace have predictably led to decreased footfall and the increasing need for physical stores to go online.
E-commerce and luxury
Whether starting a business online from scratch or moving wholly or partly online there are a lot of questions to be considered from customer acquisition and the customer journey throughout the site through to stock fulfilment and the management of the returns process.
There are two main options: (i) create your own ecommerce platform or (ii) partner with an external provider who may handle some or all of the various functions for you. The final option is to simply rely on the online wholesale model via Net-A-Porter or similar sites. However, the momentum at the moment is definitely in the direction of direct to consumer.
Although running your own e-commerce platform may sound daunting (and requires a lot of input from operations, marketing and legal) it gives you control over your customers’ journey, enables a nimbler response and may save you money in the long run from a business and reputation perspective. Clearly for luxury, it is important that every part of the customer experience is a joyful and stress-free experience. Having a greater degree of control over the process makes this easier to control and to customise.
However, partnering with an external provider offers the benefit of leveraging their knowledge and expertise. These partnerships can work extremely well but they require a lot of work and continuous goodwill between people at all levels of both businesses in order to be truly successful. At times of stress, for either or both businesses, this relationship can be sorely tested and the contract may get more scrutiny than the preferred amount (i.e. no scrutiny at all!). There can also be question marks over ownership of key customer data and analytics which are so important for growth.
It's no secret that data is the key to success. It can tell you: who tends to buy at full price, who waits for a discount, your customers age, location, gender etc. This enables more efficient customer targeting both for marketing new product launches and sales as well as events (whether virtual or live) and social media content that is likely to lead to a high level of engagement.
Social media remains the key to Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and together with data it can help you determine audience engagement and (ideally) enable viral content to be created. However, with luxury it is particularly important that this is managed carefully so that the aura of luxury is maintained and there is no risk of a social media campaign being hijacked in a way that could damage the brand's reputation.