NEW YORK — Burberry does it again.
The U.K.-based brand has nabbed the top ranking for the second consecutive time in New York University think tank Luxury Lab’s, or L2’s, fourth-annual Digital IQ Index, ranking fashion brands according to their online competence. It’s also the leader of the seven brands that comprise the “genius” category — joined by runners-up in the study Ralph Lauren, Kate Spade and Tory Burch (tied for the third place), Gucci, Coach and Louis Vuitton.
Brands are still clamoring for the most Facebook “likes” and followers on Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest, but the “quiet battle” companies are fighting this year is for e-commerce market share, the study found.
“What’s old is new again. E-commerce is now the new must-have accessory for fashion brands,” said Scott Galloway, NYU professor and cofounder of L2, adding that the growth rates of e-commerce for Burberry, Ralph Lauren and Tory Burch — which grew 30, 23 and 90 percent, respectively, year-over-year from 2010 to 2011 — are indications that this channel is becoming very meaningful for business.
“We got it totally wrong on Facebook commerce,” Galloway admitted, calling the social network’s commerce platform the “ultimate head fake for this industry.” But moving forward, e-commerce reigns as the key function for fashion brands to focus on, followed by best representation on the “very small screens” (tablets and smartphones).
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Smart phones are becoming a force to be reckoned with for the industry, Galloway said, citing that a quarter of searches relating to fashion brands come from a mobile device.
“We just wouldn’t have predicted that [number] a year ago. If it keeps growing this way, in 24 to 36 months, the majority of fashion searches will come from mobile,” he said. “The little screen is becoming the primary looking glass through which people interact with brands.”
While the top two, Burberry and Ralph Lauren, are established legacy brands — it was newer (and relatively smaller) Kate Spade’s and Tory Burch’s rapid rises to shared third-place status that impressed Galloway and L2 director of research and advisory Maureen Mullen.
“If you buy our thesis that digital IQ is an indicator of success, they’re the icons in the making of fashion. Tory Burch is rocking it through this ranking every year,” Galloway said.
“Tory Burch and Kate Spade have effectively built their businesses with robust e-commerce sites that are a big growth channel for them — if not the most significant channel for their business,” Mullen added, noting that each have leveraged social media to build lifestyle brands.
Coach, number six in the study, is another brand that Galloway and Mullen praise for implementing e-commerce and digital into the overall business from an organizational perspective.
Mullen believes Coach does a better job at coach.com of connecting users with its physical stores than anyone else in the study. The company has integrated back-end retailing and the user experience between brick-and-mortar and online.
“If you go online, you can see inventory in the store, actually purchase a product on coach.com and pick it up at the store two hours later. That sounds obvious and simple, but it’s very operationally complex,” Galloway said, pointing out two additional ways Coach stands out in digital: it was one of the first to enlist a senior-level executive to head e-commerce operations and its innovations with respect to the blogger community.
As for the biggest winners this year, Balenciaga’s new flash-free Web site and increased social media activity caused its ranking to skyrocket by 37 percent. Other major gainers this year included Cole Haan, Giorgio Armani, Oscar de la Renta and Prada (which finally launched a Facebook page in January and is one of seven brands that customizes product on its site). In fact, of the eight brands (out of 64 total) that relaunched their digital flagships in 2012, seven increased their Digital IQ scores (Alexander McQueen was the only site that saw a relaunch and decreased its ranking by 11 percent this year).
On the flip side, Paul Smith went from gifted to average status, falling 26 percent in the study. Other brands declining in the ranking included Fendi, Stuart Weitzman, Jimmy Choo, Dolce & Gabbana, Marc Jacobs (which has the highest Pinterest score, yet no mobile site or apps) and Theory.
But for Galloway, the biggest digital disappoints in fashion are Hermès and Prada.
“It’s shocking how poorly they’re doing,” Galloway said. On a tactical level, he believes the two fashion houses just haven’t embraced innovation around social or mobile with the same eagerness as their peers.
“On a more macro level, their offline businesses are so strong that they don’t feel the need to invest in digital. And time will tell whether that will bite them or haunt them,” Galloway said.
Mullen credits hotel companies like Marriott, Starwood and Hyatt as areas where fashion can learn a lot. For example, Marriott — which owns Ritz-Carlton, JW Marriott and Marriott hotels — has been able to increase the digital presence of the Ritz-Carlton through a universal set of platforms and technologies employed across its brands.