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The Changing Face of Online Luxury and Lifestyle Goods

Written By Unknown on Wednesday, January 25, 2012 | 1:33 PM

The luxury industry has struggled to gain a foothold in the online space. This is especially evident in e-commerce, where many classic brands have been reluctant to fully jump in, mostly taking a reserved, wait-and-see approach.

Because of this, new luxury e-commerce platforms have found it difficult to secure top-tier fashion and lifestyle brands, which typically exert tight controls over all aspects of their communications with their customer.

What these companies need to learn is that narrative is no longer wholly owned by the brands: it's about forming meaningful relationships with the customer. Product advertising has permanently shifted from seller to storyteller. It's no longer enough to simply sell a purse because it has been designated an "it bag"-customers want to know why it costs $1400.

What is luxury?

Brands spend big bucks to promote a luxury lifestyle. Visit a boutique of one of the big French brands and you'll find well-dressed salespeople, art installations, "one-of-a-kind" merchandising (to communicate limited stock), luxe furniture-and you may even be offered a glass of Champagne while you shop. No sense is left untouched as brands even spray expensive fragrances around its stores to maintain the image of fine living. These experiential pleasures of the good life are lost when you move online.

When you buy a designer dress, some of the cost goes to material matters like construction details, fabric and country of origin, but you're also paying a high price for marketing such as fashion shows, parties, sponsorships, billboards, magazine ads and product placements. This is the cost of branding, and may actually be more important than the former when it comes to customer acquisition; after all, it is expected that luxury brands spend about a quarter of their revenues on marketing. The question then becomes: if branding is completely virtual, existing as purely the emotional response that a buyer has to a product, why has it been so hard for luxury brands to create an equally virtual, emotional response to products that are sold online?

How do you communicate luxury online?

The codes for communicating luxury in the physical world are well established-after all, luxury is an inherently physical, tactile experience. In fashion, luxury is in the feel of the fabric, the quality of the craftsmanship and the rarity of the materials. Communicating luxury online has been more nebulous, but a few conventions have emerged-most of them carryovers from the luxury magazine print world: copious white space, elevated tone, high-quality photography and exacting attention to detail.

But perhaps the most important means to communicate luxury online is through narrative. It is essential that e-commerce sites tell the story of the wellness, fashion and design brands that it sells, as well as what makes each product worth buying. This education helps to strengthen the relationship between the brand and its prospective customer.

Can a brand be exclusive and online at the same time?

The web is an egalitarian enterprise where everyone has access to everything all of the time. Luxury, on the other hand, is predicated on exclusivity: items for a select few that are available for a limited amount of time in an extremely limited quantity. However, this reality does not put luxury and online shopping at odds. The key to maintaining the idea of luxury and exclusivity on the web is in engagement, and again, in communication. The most successful luxury and designer brands are ubiquitous yet hard to find and limited in stock. To achieve this balance, brands must be extremely selective as to what outlets sell its goods

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