The 4 New Rules of Luxury Fashion E-Commerce: Amazon and Beyond
In the not-so-distant past, high-end beauty and fashion brands had little reason to invest in their online presences, much less sell their product on Amazon.com. The unknowns of e-commerce, coupled with the commonplace perception of selling on Amazon, were feared to cheapen the very appeal that brought them to renown. That was then.
Amazon’s growing retail orbit has included fashion and beauty since 2006, one of the newer and ever-expanding segments of the online retailer's selection. And in the last three years, Amazon has turned a keen eye and set of resources to invite their loyal customers to shop fashion on the marketplace. This was tackled in multiple ways — initially by hosting the first New York Fashion Week Men’s in 2015 — to build credibility within the industry. More recently, Amazon turned its attention to the wider public in a 2016 ad campaign, in which models hand-deliver lifestyle products to customers, signaling the beginning of a new era. One study projects that in 2021, Amazon’s share of all U.S. e-commerce revenue will swell to 50 percent.
Amazon’s growing share of the e-commerce pie, combined with the decline of brick-and-mortar, has positioned the company from being an optional retail channel to a necessary one for most product categories — and fashion is no exception. Because of this, more luxury brand holdouts may soon be making the leap to Amazon, a development few could have foreseen a few short years ago. For those brands considering an initial foray into the world’s largest online marketplace, or those otherwise looking to boost existing e-commerce efforts, here are four principles to follow:
1. Become approachable, if you aren’t already.
Luxury has, in many ways, been redefined. Projecting an air of exclusivity and aloofness — even making it difficult for customers to purchase your product by limiting supply and the places it's sold — is no longer the strategy for wide appeal. Transparency, social good and artistic vision should take precedence. Everlane is the poster child for this philosophy, illustrating that it’s no longer enough to arbitrarily assign a premium price to luxury goods. Premium quality, and the story behind it, is the new luxury. How are your products sourced? How are they made? How do they reach consumers’ doorsteps?
2. Translate your brand’s message.
If your brand prides itself on artistic vision, make sure it's still accessible to your customers. When Alessandro Michele assumed the role of creative director at Gucci, the resulting collections differed vastly from what had come before. Michele’s ability to tell his story by tying his artistic and iconic quirks to his first collections led to wide adulation and excitement, resulting in an increase in historical sales and reversing the decline of brand equity.
However, one wouldn't say the same for the debut of the Louis Vuitton x Jeff Koons handbag collaboration. The handbags were introduced at the Louvre Museum in an attempt to pay “heartfelt homages to great art.” And though Koons’ goal to “eradicate elitism” from art impressed many, the message appeared hypocritical to many consumers. After all, how accessible is a $5,000 handbag sold in a limited number of brick-and-mortar stores worldwide, excluded from online?
3. Recreate the in-store brand experience online.
So much of the luxury shopping experience is based on the attention and service designer boutiques give their patrons. A woman buying her first Saint Laurent handbag wants the experience of trying on different styles, with her purchase later boxed up like a present. Yet second-time customers might prioritize the convenience and time savings of ordering online over the champagne and in-person service.
To cater to this customer demographic, it’s important to extend a brand’s luxury appeal to the online space, which will inform everything from the style and tone of social media content to the experience of perusing the online store. Allow your customers to easily change sizes, colors and quantities. Accommodate multiple payment options. Make it easy to change billing and shipping addresses. Creating a new account should be pain free. Incorporate live stylist chat (not a bot) to answer questions and provide recommendations on-site.
4. Cover all your bases.
Create a presence on online-only marketplaces such as Amazon and Google Shopping. Consumers will undoubtedly want to compare reviews on several trusted worldwide platforms before they splurge on a designer handbag or decide on sizing for a pair of shoes. For instance, having several “Verified Purchase” customer reviews or a two-day shipping option offered on Amazon could be the incentive that makes all the difference for one of your customer segments.
Additionally, launching on online marketplaces covers your bases by taking ownership of your brand on these platforms. By doing this you're protecting your brand, or in some cases reclaiming it from encroachment in the gray market and from discounted pricing, both of which are sure to affect the customer experience. Take the reins of your brand, or someone else might.
Embrace New Consumer Values
The luxury brands that fully embrace new consumer values, regardless of the marketplace or social media platform, will be the ones that stand the test of time.
Established, high-end brands don’t need to become the new Everlane, but they cannot expect customers to care about their brand if they don’t try to speak the customer’s language. The loyalties of today’s customers are no longer assured. Some may fear that becoming more approachable, more accessible and translating one’s artistic message is counterproductive to being a successful luxury brand. After all, the Chairman and CEO of LVMH Michael Burke himself once stated that, “Art is the domain of the minister of culture, not commerce.”
However, the truth is that the culture of consumption has in and of itself shifted. It has evolved its desire to understand the art and function it's purchasing. Communicating a brand’s message can enhance the consumer’s understanding of its luxury, which can ultimately corroborate and increase its status as a brand — not to mention its sales.
Elaine Kwon is the founder of Kwontified, a Seattle-based e-commerce management and SaaS firm.