How Digitalisation Has Made Luxury Brands More Accessible
High-end products are no longer exclusively sold in stores, as the world’s most coveted brands, products, and services are now accessible to all who search.
To say the least, 2020 was a turbulent year. Plagued by an unprecedented health crisis and a global economic shock, last year brought about some much needed change in the way human beings and industries operate. Moving quickly to address the urgent public health needs through renewed social etiquette policies, closing stores, manufacturing much-needed items such as face masks and hand sanitiser, and making donations to healthcare and community organisations, many governments and organisations worldwide scrabbled to grapple with COVID-19’s severe business ramifications.
Though none could foresee the full intensity of this crisis, some fashion companies are finding that they are better equipped than others—largely because of their digital know-how. Amidst innumerable lockdowns and re-lockdowns, perhaps in 2021, it is now safe to perceive in-store consumerism as a distant dream of ‘what once was’ perhaps for the time being.
According to 99 Firms Ecommerce Statistics, – the agency predicted an increase of up to $4.13 trillion in global retail e-commerce sales ahead of 2020 and by 2040, around 95% of all purchases are expected to be via e-commerce, boosting digital shares across all sectors to an estimated 72.9% by 2021. Many brands, both big and small, like the cult favourite Swedish fashion label, Acne Studios, are betting on e-commerce platforms to garner more revenues moving forward.
While buying cheaper and increasingly mundane items online may seem habitual at this point, brand-enthusiasts specifically have Covid-19 to thank for the luxury fashion industry’s rapid digitalisation. After years of dragging their feet under the guise that ‘high-end products were exclusively meant to be sold in stores’, and the assumption that wealthy consumers would not be disposed to paying premium rates for high-end products over the internet – the world’s most coveted brands, products, and services are now accessible to all who search.
Take American fashion company, Ralph Lauren for example. Focused on pivoting their approach to suit the needs of a highly digitalised landscape, the brand has since launched a first-to-market Snapchat logo scan feature for all its latest apparel. Upon scanning the iconic Ralph Lauren Polo Pony logo from the embroidery and fabric, wherever it appears and in any medium, users will be redirected to a series of unique augmented reality programmes across all touchpoints. This holistic, digital-first approach, thus aims to engage consumers in new and innovative ways from the Holiday Season and beyond.
For the first time ever, the intimate Ralph Lauren in-store experience will also be offered to a global audience through the unique hybrid of a brick-and-mortar and online shopping experience. Dubbed the ‘RL Virtual Store Experience’, the brand invites all consumers to virtually step into the elegant world of Ralph Lauren’s most iconic retail spaces around the world, whilst enabling live transactions to take place online. Already proven successful in increasing footfall through virtual visits by over 10x, with thousands of customers visiting every day, the virtual boutiques featured include flagships in New York, Beverly Hills, Moscow, Paris and Hong Kong. In a bid to win over a new generation of tech-savvy consumers, the brand has also incorporated an alternative execution, accessible via a bespoke Snapchat lens.
In addition to an all-new virtual shopping experience, Ralph Lauren was quick to introduce a Holiday-themed virtual gaming experience, with customisable merchandising for on-demand products. Deemed a shoppable game, the digital extension, ‘Holiday Run’, showcases the brand’s iconic Polo Bear racing through a multitude of Ralph Lauren storefronts around the world to collect gifts and discover new products.
Making similar efforts to engage proactively with their audience, French fashion house Chanel, unveiled a new podcast earlier this month. Featuring a stellar line-up of artists and friends of the house. The podcast titled ‘Chanel Connects’, will serve as a platform to discuss what’s next for their respective industries after a turbulent year following the Covid-19 pandemic. Focusing predominantly on “what matters most and what happens next”, the series is expected to bring together a bright constellation of creative minds for eight intimate conversations on subjects such as portraiture, heroines, risky choices, and untold fashion stories. Gathering participants from music, art, dance, architecture, film, and fashion fields, ‘Chanel Connects’ is regarded as a compelling and comprehensive documentation of the obstacles and promises we face today.
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Where most brands tackled the limited supply of in-person runway shows through live-streaming and short films, designers like Marc Jacobs, Sandy Liang and Valentino took greater creative risks in carving a new path of artistic exhibition. Showcasing their latest collections in Nintendo’s village-building game, the designers capitalised off one of the electronics company’s best franchises – ‘Animal Crossing: New Horizons’. The game which took the world by storm, contributing to the sale of at least 5.7 million Switch units in the first quarter of 2020 alone. Each designer’s unique download codes were incorporated to allow for in-game wardrobe customisation. Exclusive in-game pop-up stores were even showcased, which had users queuing up to two hours to gain access to these virtual threads.
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Unlike other means of digitalisation, the designs featured on Animal Crossing were free and this provided the opportunity for each brand to create a viral outfit that inspires users to contemplate the existence of haute couture in their everyday lives; whilst fuelling the rise of digital-only fashion, and testing the appetite for luxury amongst gamers.
While certainly not the first, Balenciaga was indeed one of the most notable brands in 2020 to elevate the luxury gaming phenomenon to the next level. Releasing ‘Afterworld: The Age of Tomorrow’, a bespoke video game created by Unreal Engine, to serve as a showcase for its fall 2021 collection. The label’s creative director, Demna Gvasalia envisioned a mythological, space-age adventure, set in the year 2031 that has players exploring five levels, from the brand’s virtual store to a dark forest and a picturesque mountain top at sunset. Dressed in a neo-medieval style reminiscent of Raised by Wolves and the trailer for the upcoming Dune film, Afterworld: The Age of Tomorrow, is a virtual representation of a world plagued by political unrest and climate change.
However rugged the intended aesthetic, all the looks featured in Afterworld: The Age of Tomorrow, originate from the Balenciaga Fall 2021 collection – making each garment appear weathered and slightly destroyed, yet functional and highly fashionable.
As prominent as e-commerce platforms, online shopping, and luxury gaming have become in the 21st century, it is unclear if these trends of digitalisation will continue in the long-run. Regarded a critical source of growth and a powerful way to increase brand equity, digitalisation has allowed companies to reimagine key enterprise processes, both at the front end and back of the house. With more than 80% of luxury sales spurred by “digital influence”, McKinsey observes how “today’s average luxury shopper engages with brands through multiple touchpoints—up to 15, in the case of Chinese luxury consumers—along a fragmented, highly personalised journey, [where] half or more of these touchpoints are digital.”
Today, personal luxury goods including, accessories, clothes, beauty products and leather goods, account for at least 8% of the €254 billion global luxury market. Marking a €20 billion increase from 2009, market researchers remain confident in the ability of luxury e-commerce to reach a value of at least €74 billion in 2025.