In our recent piece “Don’t Touch!”, we looked at how over-accessibility via the Internet is affecting luxury brand identities. However, clearly the problem doesn’t stop here…
At the heart of the in-store luxury shopping experience is customer service. Of course, not all stores are able to offer a glass of champagne on arrival, but it seems that many stores in China are falling short on basic competence and hospitality. Brands must keep in mind that their in-store sales people are the best advocates, not KOLs or celebrity endorsers. They are the ones who talk to people on a day-to-day basis and often create the first impression of a brand. They know the products by look, by touch, by value and can instantaneously tailor their approach to each individual customer. Whilst eCommerce sites like Myer have gone some way in creating personalized online experiences, this will never quite be the same as dealing with a human being, particularly one who is willing to go the extra mile.
Consider the Saks Fifth Avenue regular who gets her home decorated by the store’s visual team during the holidays; the lady who visits Chanel with a baby and is given a babysitter so that she can give her full attention to the collection (just imagine the trust required for this!); the Rosewood Mansion concierge, who contacts Barney’s in the middle of the night to send over an emergency selection of trousers to replace his executive guest’s torn ones. These true examples may seem extreme, but luxury exists in the extremes alongside incomparable opportunities for securing loyalty. Even if these situations don’t arise, are luxury brands providing their staff with the tools to become a VIP’s friend? Are they being taught the kind of subtlety that can delicately comment on a dress that doesn’t fit? Above all, are they totally in line with kind of identity that the brand hopes to exert?
In the ‘2014 China Luxury Forecast’, it was revealed that 92% of respondents of Chinese consumers participating in the survey were dissatisfied by in-store luxury services. 36% said that they would actually prefer to shop for products online (Source: Ruder Finn and Ipsos 2013). At the same time, affluent Chinese consumers are travelling more and more. Leisure trips increased from 1.8 to 2.2million in the last year, with multiple-trips-per-year rising 4.4% (Ipsos PAX 2013). Already, two thirds of Chinese luxury spending is made in HK and rest of the world, rather than at home (Source: Bain). With Thailand’s plan to scrap the 30% tax on luxury watches, clothes and cosmetics, shopping locally is threatened even further.
Brands are rightly giving a lot of focus to digital experience and interaction, optimizing CRM, SRM, EDM, SEO and pretty much everything else that can be put in three-letter acronyms! However, digital clearly cannot provide the complete answer. Brands must learn to balance the Instagram filter and ‘trending’ content alongside their physical in-store heritage. They must remind themselves – what brings REAL PEOPLE to REAL PLACES?
When products are the same throughout, experience will be the differentiating factor. This begins with people. As Clement Kwok, Chief Executive of Hong Kong and Shanghai Hotels, stated only last week, “Luxury is a people business. A big part of this comes down to how we train our people to offer the sort of knowledgeable and discreet personal service” (Source: SCMP ‘Redefining HK’).