PARIS — Shaping the luxury industry of the future in a climate of disruption was the theme of the second French-American Luxury Symposium, held at the Hôtel Potocki here Friday.
Hosted by the Paris Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the French-American Chamber of Commerce, the event, titled “Volatility, Disruption, Shaping the New Future,” gathered luxury executives, academics and other stakeholders to a series of roundtable discussions on retail, new technologies, human resources and consumers, including a keynote speech by Kering chief sustainability officer and head of international institutional affairs Marie-Claire Daveu.
“The new luxury is being defined now, disruptors are emerging,” said Elsa Berry, president of the French-American Chamber of Commerce, in her opening remarks.
“Nontechnological innovation is more and more of a determining factor,” said Deveu. “The digital revolution has turned the traditional relationship between brands and their customers, or with their supply chain, upside down.”
She continued, “We need to innovate within our innovation models. We need to break down the myth that everything is invented within the company and its laboratories.
“Innovation works by capillary action,” she said, explaining it is important for companies like Kering to work with small and medium-sized companies, start-ups and universities to innovate going forward.
The key takeaway from the morning’s conferences was perhaps how luxury players are working, with greater or lesser success, to move away from a brand-centric world and into one that is resolutely centered on the consumer experience.
“It’s all about shifting the power from the brand to the consumer. They want to be taken into account,” said Simon Nyeck, director of ESSEC Business School’s M.B.A. program in international luxury brand management. “Tech is just a tool, what is important is what it allows you to do. We don’t buy tech, we buy what tech allows.”
A panel, moderated by WWD Paris bureau chief Joelle Diderich, focused on using technology to address new challenges, including creating better and more personalized services, how to work with data to allow that, using digital printing to offer more personalized products and reducing the need for excess stock, and working to transform influencer content into sales.
“What brands are struggling with right now is service,” commented L’Oréal global director of digital services and innovation Esohe Omoruyi. “People are championing things as luxury experiences that aren’t, and consumers are quick to point that out.
“Tech cannot replace the human connection,” she continued. “Consumers want a human connection, a human experience, and that is what we are working on.”
“Technology allows us more than ever to address micro-niches[…]thanks to data,” said brand-tech firm You & Mr Jones associate partner Julie Hardy. “Historically, the point-of-sale is a profit-maker, and lots of brands still conceive things that way. But today, the point-of-sale is above all else somewhere to meet and capture data.”
Other innovations highlighted included using tech in stores to offer personalized products that are sold at full price and less likely to be returned, and deploying it online to offer better visual representation of products to encourage purchase.
One session focused on how technology and changing consumers are impacting workplace organization and forcing companies to review their management policies more vertically and recruit differently in the face of Millennial workers.
“They like to be disruptive, they want to make a difference,” explained executive search expert Antoinette Lemens. “The companies have to sell themselves, which was not something we used to see in luxury.”
“They’re shrewd, sharp and have no qualms about moving from one [company] to the next,” said Sterling International president Michael Boroian. “Retaining talent is increasingly challenging.”
“In the luxury industry, what will attract them is the fact of making beautiful products,” said Lemens.
Jonathan Siboni, chief executive officer of research firm Luxurynsight, reminded attendees of the importance of Paris and New York as luxury capitals.
“Of the 50 top world tourist destinations, 25 percent of them are in these two cities,” he said.
“Paris represents more luxury sales than the Middle East and Russia combined. New York represents more than China. These two cities combined represent 16 percent of the global luxury market,” he said.
Luxury retail in the two capitals was addressed in a session moderated by Exane BNP Paribas head of luxury goods Luca Solca.
“There are 50 million visitors per year to New York,” said Michael Hirschfeld, executive managing director of national retail tenant services group at real estate firm JLL. “They are looking for luxury products, but they’re also looking for experiences. It can’t just be that same store that those same people see [in another city].”
“It is a bit of a paradox that in such a creative industry, you have such a uniform retail scene globally. We are just starting to see signs emerging,” said Solca.
He highlighted Fendi’s flagship in Rome, where artisans can be seen crafting the brand’s products, as an example of how certain luxury players are beginning to make moves in this direction.
Online and technology players as well as private-equity-based luxury brands and boutiques like Story in New York were highlighted as offering more innovative, experience-based retail.
Stores are also getting smaller, observed Véronique Nocquet, commercial real estate director France at JLL, and offering a more differentiated experience and allowing brands to get closer to consumers along with it — Chanel, for example, is offering smaller stores for different consumer targets along Rue Cambon, she said.