COVID-19 has been an unprecedented challenge to luxury retail around the world, as brick-and-mortar mainstays had to close for extended periods of time. Even Harrods of London, famed for staying open during World War II, had to close its Knightsbridge store in March 2020 for 2 months.

Consumers have flocked online while stuck at home, leading to a quick shift in marketing dollars online for brands that already have an e-commerce presence. This has helped to tide over retailers that depend on tourist dollars; for example, Chinese consumers that have made up more than 33% of global spending on luxury goods 2019 are now going online.

But what about those retailers that don’t have a stable online presence?

Many have had to make unheard-of decisions. For example, luxury watch brand, Patek Philippe, had to announce that its watches were, for the first time in its 181-year old history, available to purchase online through select distributors.

This has undoubtedly been a hard decision, as the brand prides itself on its exclusivity, and has said that it will go back to in-store only sales once the pandemic is over.

Early trends show long-lasting effects of e-Commerce during COVID-19

For brands that are trying to wait through this pandemic, data shows that consumer behaviour might have permanently changed.

As the pandemic has lasted an extended period of time, some consumers that were forced to buy food and groceries online short-term are now used to getting everything they need through e-commerce.

Older consumers (in this case 31 years and above), for example, made up of only 49% of online consumers in a January 2020 Yotpo report, but then jumped to 60% by the end of February.

This increase in demand for online shopping and engagement has gone beyond product type, price, and location. “Knight Frank , an estate agency, says online views of luxury homes valued at £10 million (11.4 million euro) or more were up 22 percent in the week ending March 28th, compared to the same period last year”, according to Luxury Society.

A permanent shift to online shopping may happen. Coupled with the decreasing brand loyalty, with consumers willing to switch to available competitors, luxury retailers that aren’t online will be handicapped.

The question now remains: how can luxury retailers take control of their presence online, and move forward while maintaining their brand identity?

3 Ways For Luxury Retailers To Build A Presence Online

1. Use third-party marketplaces and distributor relationships to sell online

For luxury brands that have established distributor relationships worldwide, relying on distributors to sell online can help to mitigate some of the more complicated logistical issues with e-commerce.

Many luxury retailers fear that online marketplaces can dilute their brand; however, there are actually many online marketplaces that provide the same level of exclusivity as brick-and-mortar boutiques. By partnering with established distributors and third-party marketplaces that match your brand exclusivity, you can provide customers with access to your products without sacrificing brand identity.

An example is 24 Sèvres, LVMH’s eCommerce portal that was launched in 2017. The online store, featuring the stunning visual merchandising that the brand is known for, consists of multiple brands under the LVMH label as well as other luxury fashion and beauty products outside the group.

Other marketplaces such as Net-a-Porter and FarFetch are also established places where luxury retailers can show their wares.

The other benefit of collaborating with marketplaces and distributors is the fact that these online stories have existing client lists and marketing channels that can be immediately used to reach potential customers.

2. Invest in a self-hosted e-commerce store that can deliver globally

However, some luxury retailers are so exclusive that collaborations are far and few between. Alternatively, brand guidelines may prohibit online selling along known competitors. In this case, it makes sense to invest in your own e-commerce portal, as all details can be tailored to your brand.

During this period of time, luxury retailers can shift focus from boutiques to upgrading their existing website. There are a few things that are crucial to creating a stellar e-commerce store:

  • Back-end logistical ability: global delivery through trusted partners or on-site salespersons
  • Ability to create personalised, exclusive profiles for clients: salespersons can then follow-up with online consultations, etc.
  • Global coverage: your website and marketing campaigns need to appeal to customers worldwide, with precise translations of products, brand identity, etc.

3. Engage potential customers with content marketing or stellar customer experience

For brands that find selling online unsuitable, they can consider working on their communications with existing customers instead.

Most brands update customers about new launches with emails, for example. Work on content marketing initiatives that provide value to your customers to encourage brand loyalty. This can be in the form of allowing customers to call and reserve potential items seen in promotional emails, or even just sharing helpful information.

One of our clients, a Japanese luxury skincare brand has been focusing its efforts on educating their customers on how to best use their products. To that end, using the numerous Japanese blog posts they’ve produced over time, we’ve translated them into English, Mandarin (for China), and other languages.

These localised blogs will be then be posted on their various social media channels in those countries. This way, they are engaging with their customers by sharing the benefits of their products, along with sharing more information on skin care problems. This in turn keeps them at the front of their customers’ minds.

For some luxury retailers, face-to-face personalised service is required. Instead of selling products, focus on keeping your current clientele informed and engaged through the offering of customer service during this period of time, like offering maintenance and repair options, with personalised delivery back and forth.

A similar example to follow is Net-a-Porter’s “Try before you buy” option, where a personalised shopper will deliver your online order, and then wait while you try it on, then bring back those to be returned.

Luxury Retailers Need to Have An Online Presence Post-COVID19

Data has shown that the travellers most willing to spend on luxury goods post-COVID19 are from India, China, and South Africa. With travel expected to be suspended until the pandemic is over, it is estimated that the effect on luxury retailers will be up to a 30% loss in sales.

Luxury retail has traditionally been slow to embrace eCommerce, but there are some methods we’ve discussed to allow brands to expand as much as they can into online spaces.

As customers lose brand loyalty quickly post-COVID19, brands will need to stay front-of-mind while ensuring that their brand guidelines are followed.

Working with established luxury marketplaces, investing in their own e-Commerce store, or simply using content marketing to increase customer engagement, are some of the methods that brands can use while maintaining brand identity with their global audiences, and be multi-market ready.

But in doing so, brands have to ensure that their content resonates and excites their customers in the languages of that market.