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Luxury Consumers Respond to Exclusive Access, Not Promotion



Tony King
Founder
King & Partners

Through his agency King & Partners, long-time luxury marketing consultant Tony King has been working in the digital sector for clients including Kenzo, Zegna, 3.1 Phillip Lim and W Hotels after having been at Gucci Group for the start of its ecommerce effort. King spoke with eMarketer’s Christine Bittar about luxury branding and the general lack of omnichannel savvy in that market.

eMarketer: There are only a few examples of retailers that stand out for omnichannel expertise. As an expert in the luxury segment, how do you think those marketers fare in omnichannel efforts?

Tony King: Luxury is a couple of steps behind, as usual. These marketers are especially concerned about branding and ensuring everything is consistent across channels.

There are a lot of brands with a good mobile site or a good desktop site, an app, or that have good in-store technology, but few actually connect it all together so that the experience is consistent.

eMarketer: What makes this such a challenge?

King: Brands are behind, and consumers are ahead. For example, there are generally a number of devices involved in the path to purchase. People will research something on a desktop, then maybe they’ll look at a tablet, and quite often mobile as well.

“People will check something seven or eight times online before they actually buy—that’s a big thing with luxury, so the experience has to be consistent across devices.”

People will check something seven or eight times online before they actually buy—that’s a big thing with luxury, so the experience has to be consistent across devices. It’s not as if every customer goes to a site and just buys. That’s quite rare for items with a high price point.

eMarketer: I wouldn’t imagine that showrooming, at least as we think of it in the mainstream, is much of an issue in the luxury market.

King: Luxury consumers respond to access rather than promotion. They want to know they have something other people can’t get yet, so that means exclusive products. That’s what’s valuable.

eMarketer: So what does that mean for luxury brand retailers?

King: I think it’s up to the brand to know what its customers are looking for based on what they’ve previously purchased or looked at online. If that’s known, customers can be offered something exactly suited to them—before the general public has access to it.

A good salesperson at a luxury store will call to tell you an item you’re going to like will be available. That’s what ecommerce is lacking, and that has to improve.

Websites should be digital tools that allow real people to get early information to each other. It’s a way of setting up that exclusive club. Most websites have all of that data, but they’re just not using it to the best degree possible. In this case, digital should be similar to what happens on the human level.

eMarketer: Why aren’t your clients trying to do this?

King: I’m not sure, but there’s a lot of snobbery and elitism in the luxury business. I think a lot of brands want consumers to come to them, and they don’t want to be seen as trying too hard.

“Websites should be digital tools that allow real people to get early information to each other. It’s a way of setting up that exclusive club.”

I launched Gucci.com about 10 or 12 years ago, and there was a real classism there because the web just wasn’t looked at as useful or as cool or [on par] with the real store. Digital has always been an afterthought, but obviously we’ve seen things change in the past decade, and ecommerce is often the first stop for a brand.

eMarketer: You gave an example not too long ago that exemplifies the discrepancy between luxury designers and marketing. Can you give us that example?

King: Yes, it was Alexander McQueen, which to me is quite shocking. It’s a theatrical, dramatic, incredible brand. The clientele loves those aspects of the brand and wants to be overwhelmed that way in the store, but on the website, the branding is completely lacking. If I put my hand over the logo, the website could be almost any other brand, and that’s disappointing.

I think luxury is a place where the rules can be broken.

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