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The luxury industry tends to breed control freaks. That can lead them to be “skeptical, shy or passive” in the face of an increasingly digital world, according to Federico Barbieri, senior vice president of e-business at Kering, parent of brands including Gucci, Balenciaga, Puma and Boucheron.
Yet it’s essential to embrace a realm that currently impacts about 30 percent of offline sales, via a bouquet of digital devices, and a growing 5 percent of online volume.
“You don’t control, but you can influence,” Barbieri said. “You can start segmenting your different audiences, give a different role to different platforms and create assets on purpose. And that creates a positive effect on your activities. Others just play in a very defensive way.”
The executive acknowledged the remote origins of luxury and digital: the former rooted in the 18th-century French monarchy; the latter in a garage some three-plus decades ago.
Contrasting, too, are the values: the former devoted to control, scarcity and exclusivity; the latter to openness, quantity and democracy. Yet “consumers still want high-quality content” on the Web, just as they are accustomed to in print, Barbieri said.
The executive said he found Wikipedia’s definition of digital luxury an inspiring one: “An experience that provides extra pleasure by flattering all the senses at once.”
“Digital is a powerful storyteller,” he said, noting that the online experience must be easy to use, pleasantly surprising, fast, and with the option to engage “a real human presence.”
For e-commerce fulfillment, he stressed that back-end functions need to be as creative as what’s visible.
Given that “digital is not part of the luxury DNA,” Barbieri cited the need to hire from other industries, and to train extensively. To wit: Kering instituted an in-house “digital academy” to educate 400 executives and managers via learning expeditions, training sessions and workshops.
“You need to make sure these two expertise meld, they understand each other, they talk to each other in an open way. It’s like the architect and the engineer,” he said.
Asked by an attendee if online multibrand retailers were friends or foes, Barbieri called them “fundamental friends,” noting that since they started earlier, brands can glean many best practices. Also, “consumers can get bored in a monobrand world.”
Asked why Kering, then PPR, forged a venture with Italian online retailer Yoox to run online boutiques for six of its brands, he said, “E-commerce is a bloody expensive business,” comparable to airlines vis-à-vis the capital intensity and the complexity of processes, planning and research and development.
Meanwhile, the human resources devoted to digital marketing and e-commerce is limited at many of Kering’s brands, he said, representing a single person in charge of digital marketing and e-commerce at Sergio Rossi, for example, compared with a staff of about 10 at Bottega Veneta.
Separately on Tuesday, Kering said online stores for Alexander McQueen, Balenciaga, Bottega Veneta, Saint Laurent, Sergio Rossi and Stella McCartney were launched before June 30, within the planned time frame.