The Global Luxury Market: The New Exclusive

Businesses and marketers who want to conquer the luxury consumer market need to learn the new rules of communication, localization and design if they want to be successful. From established luxury brands like Louis Vuitton, to new brands like Sugarfina, selling exclusivity online has become a requirement for high class companies that want to stick around. But their tactics aren’t only for those offering supple handbags or delicious designer treats – the language of luxury is one that every brand should learn to speak.

The move to ecommerce has been slow for some luxury brands, but the tide is gradually turning – McKinsey even indicates that the industry has hit its tipping point, and will only accelerate its move online in the future.

luxury-ecommerce-3The key element to luxury sales is that it’s not just about the product, it’s about what the product means about people who buy it. It’s the feeling of being part of an exclusive club, and sharing a lifestyle that sets you apart from the crowd. Brands used to rely on their in-store experience to make customers feel special, but now that their stores are moving online, they have to adapt and use new strategies to deliver the same feeling.

The Global, Local Experience

luxury-ecommerce-2Luxury goods have always been something that people will travel to buy – after all, that’s what the Silk Road was all about. Up until a few decades ago, if you wanted to get the very best leather, you would go to certain cities in Italy; the very best fashion would come from 5th Avenue in New York; and so on.

Ecommerce turns that all on its head, as anyone can order anything from anywhere. This caused a stagnation in the industry for a few years, but we’re slowly seeing growth and recovery, though a bit unevenly around the world. According to Bain & Co’s recent findings, the Americas and most of Europe are continuing to underperform, with the exception of a few bright spots in Spain and the UK. PWC has pinpointed China as the new leader of growth in the market, with Japan close behind.  

This shift in where luxury products are made reflects the growing change in where luxury buyers live – to put it simply, anyone and anywhere. To accommodate for this, luxury brands are increasingly localizing their international content in order to offer the same experience online that they used to rely on to make in-store sales.

Learning The New Language Of Luxury

Each generation has particular adjectives they use to describe items that are worth investing in, and Millennials and Gen Z are no different.

Where former generations wanted to be noticed for their spending by showing off oversized logos, shiny gems and unique patterns, younger buyers are much less conspicuous – but just as interested in the “finer things” in life.

As Quartz reported, the new wealthy class wants their luxury spending to show off how environmentally friendly, health conscious, and educated they are. They aren’t looking for sky-high heels to show that they won’t do manual labor – instead, they want brands that are mission-driven (or at least appear to be), free range and grass fed animal products, and the occasional limited-release, vintage, organic wines and spirits.

The new language of luxury uses words like “inclusive,” “earth friendly,” “organic,” and “socially conscious.” It exudes awareness of common issues and controversies, respects various cultures while creating something new, and emphasizes brand transparency – while still producing high quality goods.

If you’re looking for an amazing example of a brand that’s rolled with the changes and come out on top, look no further than Gucci. The brand brought on their current dream team, CEO Marco Bizzarri, and Creative Director, Alessandro Michele, who have changed the brand considerably to align with Millennials taste – and have seen rousing success. They reimagined corporate values to be more grounded in social awareness campaigns, empowerment of minorities and inclusivity, and then backed that up with action. My favorite example? The pair invited graffiti artist Trevor Andrew – aka GucciGhost – to collaborate with them on their fall collection. It’s a safe bet that the designers the brand had thirty years back did not foresee a joint project between Gucci and a street artist (who they could have justifiably sued for copyright infringement, no less) to be one of their most successful ventures yet, resulting in a 43.9% increase in wholesale revenue, as reported by parent company, Kering.

Web Design That Tells A Story

Selling a luxury brand is all about selling a lifestyle; increasingly, we live our lives online or through online platforms. Given the changing language of luxury, it’s clear that in order for premium brands to thrive, their store should reflect a life that shares the values of their clients. The most popular values: inclusivity, diversity, the importance of travel and worldliness, charity, and eco-friendly practices. Ensure that your new brand initiatives, mission and story are displayed prominently through your online presence.

In order to tell your story, you’ll need a few tools and trends – some tried and true, and a few that are new:

Big Images That Aren’t All Product

Luxury-ecommerce-4Look at any luxury website and you’ll see that they have one thing in common: big, bold hero images that include their products, but also make a statement. These images should tell a story about your brand, from what your product is to the type of person your customer could be if they bought it (yes, we already gave them kudos earlier, but I have to call out Gucci’s home page for this example).

Art Direction Informed By Pop Culture

luxury-ecommerce-marketing-6

Luxury brands have, for time immemorial, brought new styles and trends to the masses, either through celebrity fashions or via traditional runway shows. However, that trend is being flipped on its head, as we’ve seen a massive increase in new luxury brands that inform their own art direction based on the hottest new styles that their very youngest target audience members are displaying.

Look to new luxury marketplace ecommerce site, FARFETCH, to see what we mean. While the marketplace offers brands from Valentino and Balenciaga all the way to Yeezy, their art is decidedly global pop – and it works extremely well for them. Like Gucci, their models are inclusive and engaging, and their overall web design mixes 80s nostalgia with pop art touches, all while maintaining minimalism where it counts (like the product listings).

Flat Design For Mobile UX

Mulberry-luxury-ecommerceWhile it’s tempting to have lots of moving parts on your website – and I’m sure they look fantastic on your desktop site – if you want to offer a great omnichannel experience, go for a flat design. This means, simply put, to keep it simple. Reduce the drop-down menus. Organize your page so that it can expand and contract without images overlapping or buttons disappearing.

Planning for your customers to switch from browsing on their phone on their commute home, to their tablet while they’re watching television, to their desktop when they’re really digging into your product page (and your competitor’s pages too) will mean that your user experience is consistently phenomenal. Mulberry is our favorite example of this. They don’t sacrifice a shred of their heritage feel or gorgeous, colorful imagery to keep their design flat, either.

Keep The Experience Going

The final piece of the luxurious, exclusive puzzle is the most important: customer service. You’re selling an experience as much as a product, and you must never lose sight of that. What this really boils down to: focus on the right marketing tools and strategies for success.

    • Personalization. There are no two ways around it, offering a personalized marketing experience (Klaviyo is, obviously, our favorite option!) is an absolute requirement for luxury brands. If you don’t even remember their name, why should they fork over for your products, instead of search your competitor’s?
    • Exclusive Offers. Scarcity and rarity are key to creating a luxury brand – and the best way to do that through ecommerce is to require the customer to do something before they can view some of your products. This can manifest as a VIP user group or email that gives members the chance to shop new products early, get special pricing, and special treatment (such as expedited shipping or free returns).
  • Stay True To Your Mission. The most important thing you can do for your marketing is to stay consistent to the mission that you set out (you do have one, right?), whether it’s eco-friendliness, transparency, inclusivity, fair trade, or otherwise. Make sure that your mission is present in every aspect of your brand’s experience. Critically, actually follow through on it: you’ll make the world a better place, and avoid public embarrassment and the wrath of your customers if its found out that you fudged the data.

Your marketing tells the story of your brand, the story of your customers, and explains why they should be loyal to your products above others that are similar. Remember, luxury is about selling exclusivity to anyone who wants it, and then actually providing a unique, valuable experience to them in exchange for their patronage.

Ross Beyeler
Ross is the Founder and CEO of Growth Spark, one of the leading agencies for custom Shopify design, strategy and development services. He is also the founder of Managing an Agency Business, and is a frequent speaker at design and development events around New England.
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