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Home Headlines Welcome to a new era of luxury: How luxury brands can provide a first-class fulfilment experience

Welcome to a new era of luxury: How luxury brands can provide a first-class fulfilment experience

by Jessica Weisman-Pitts
iStock 1197155423

By: Kamran Iqbal, Commerce Strategist, PFS

Luxury retailers traditionally experience high footfall within their stores, with customers seeking a greater experience when purchasing high-end items. The retail market, however, has altered drastically over the past couple of years, with many retailers forced out of their physical locations to engage with their customers online.

Today, online sales have been the saving grace of the retail industry since the beginning of the pandemic, and luckily the luxury sector has felt the same lift. Whilst high-end brands of this kind have previously shown reluctance to embrace eCommerce, it seems the disruption COVID-19 caused has created an opportunity for them to re-evaluate the status quo and take stock of their younger, more digitally savvy, more sustainability-focused clientele.

The introduction of channel hybridisation 

Luxury brands have learnt from this reset that customers aren’t turned off by buying high-end items online. At the same time, however, brick-and-mortar luxury boutiques aren’t going away any time soon and are in fact a critical part of the social discovery allowing brands to establish a connection through a physical and emotive experience, helping to build trust and personalised attention that define the luxury experience. It has become apparent over the past few years, that the divide between online and in-store is disappearing. Today, both channels can complement one another in the effort to grow the relationship between brand and customer.

This shift to channel hybridisation was brought to the fore during the height of the pandemic. For many luxury brands, leveraging channel blending was what enabled them to stay afloat amid lockdowns. For example, UK luxury leather goods brand Mulberry turned its closed shops into “dark stores,” or mini-warehouses for fulfilling online orders, which allowed the brand to boost online sales despite the devastating blow of months-long lockdowns — with some shops even able to achieve their normal pre-pandemic sales levels.

This success story was only possible because Mulberry was committed to embracing channel hybridisation and had a single view of inventory across their digital and physical stores. The brand also found that this unified view allowed them to create more relevant marketing campaigns through hyper-personalised product recommendations.

 The new future of commerce

“Reinvention” could be the keyword for the current luxury environment. In addition to blending channels for a unified experience, luxury brands are increasingly driving growth and creating value by introducing their logos and products on the apps, social platforms and virtual worlds frequented by the Gen Y and Gen Z generations – the very age group on track to make up 70% of the luxury market by 2025.

Luxury brands the likes of Prada, Gucci, Burberry, and Louis Vuitton are pioneering new ways of reaching customers that stretch the boundaries of the term “eCommerce” and reimagine how customers engage with their products – from virtual try-ons and mobile apps that guide in-store shopping to virtual worlds and branded non-fungible token (NFT) accessories that players can buy and sell within metaverse worlds. These novel marketing and engagement platforms have become so popular that the British Fashion Council have added a new category to their annual fashion awards: “metaverse design.”

Meanwhile, as luxury brands experiment and reinvent themselves, the customer relationship remains front and center. With brands only a tap away on a smartphone, they now can embed themselves in their customers’ lives like never before, developing a richer conversation that blurs the lines between entertainment, social connection, and commerce. The potential for understanding customers and gaining new audiences has skyrocketed. The question now becomes: How do luxury brands stay relevant and attract the next generation of customers – without alienating the traditional luxury shopper or compromising the legitimacy of their brand?

While there is no single answer, it’s clear that the future belongs to those luxury brands that are willing and able to meld the expectations of a younger, more digitally engaged clientele with the traditional trappings of the luxury experience that remain as vital as ever — seamless ordering, product personalisation, high-end packaging, and premium customer service. At the most direct touchpoint and moment of truth – the moment when a customer unboxes their purchase – luxury brands must ensure that everything about that experience upholds their brand promise.

End-to-End Luxury

Consistency in luxury is more important than in any other retail sector. This includes ensuring the brand identity remains intact across every touchpoint, in order to avoid reputational damage. If a customer has a mediocre shipping or unboxing experience, after receiving all the glitz and glamour online there is a disconnect, creating a dent in the trust established between brand and customer that will be very difficult to recoup without extensive leg work.

Fulfilment, therefore, shouldn’t be an afterthought– it should be at the forefront of retailers’ brains as it will leave a lasting impression on the customer. Each package should represent the brand and its promise to the consumer implicitly made during the shopping journey. The customer should never be left to question “Does this brand value me? Do they understand my aspirations and share my values?”, the fulfilment operation should deliver a resounding “Yes”.

As we head towards a more technologically advanced future, brands operating in the luxury sector need to remember that exemplary fulfilment operations are a critical part of the follow through on brand promises and securing the loyalty of the next generation of luxury shoppers. In the current era of innovation and reinvention, the most successful luxury brands will be those that offer an end-to-end operation every bit as customer-oriented as the other facets of their business.