LONDON — Characterizing e-commerce as a service enhancement for its upscale and tech-savvy clientele, Chanel is to begin selling eyewear online in the U.S. starting today, with eventual plans to layer on more accessories categories and expand online selling to more regions.
“We want to be able to offer them this multichannel approach,” said Bruno Pavlovsky, president of Chanel Fashion, disclosing the development exclusively to WWD and characterizing it as tightening the “relationship between the brand, the boutique and the customer.”
None of Chanel’s 23 freestanding stores in the U.S. is able to stock its full eyewear assortment, spanning some 500 stockkeeping units, including the cruise 2016 fashion season, and in standard and alternative fits. Customers will now be able to access the complete collection online and on tablets in store, flicking through styles and comparing up to six pairs on a virtual black velvet tray alongside actual sunglasses stocked in the boutique.
Online and tablet orders in store can be fulfilled from a centralized distribution hub, which carries the whole assortment, he noted.
Pavlovsky said the goal of e-commerce “is not really volume. It’s enhancing service for our clients.”
The move marks the French firm’s first e-commerce venture for its vast fashion division, fueled since 1983 by couturier Karl Lagerfeld, who recently shot the company’s spring 2016 eyewear campaign with model Cara Delevingne.
Pavlovsky, interviewed in London alongside John Galantic, president and chief operating officer of Chanel Inc., the French firm’s U.S. arm, declined to give sales projections.
Chanel quietly reduced by about 20 percent the number of third-party distributors of its eyewear in the U.S., mainly specialty optical retailers, in 2013 and 2014, Galantic said. The executives declined to say how many wholesale doors remain for eyewear.
But they hinted that the online channel could become an important one, given its track record with beauty products. Chanel has been selling fragrances, makeup and skin care online for 10 years in the U.S. “It’s become a significant part of the business, and the fastest-growing channel,” Galantic said.
Pavlovsky said Chanel would likely expand its online eyewear foray to Europe next, and probably Asia after that. He also hinted that additional accessories categories could be layered on in the future, describing a “step-by-step” approach to “multichannel” selling based on its success with the U.S. venture.
But Chanel remains cautious about diving too deeply into e-commerce with all its products. “For fashion, it’s not that obvious,” Pavlovsky said.
Chanel also has sold its perfumes and beauty products online in France since 2014 and Brazil since 2012, and plans to add the U.K. next year.
The company has been dipping its toes into e-commerce in recent years — and always with strong results. In 2008, it sold online a selection of handbags, costume jewelry and textile accessories from its cruise collection staged at the Raleigh hotel in Miami. Earlier this year, Chanel sold a capsule collection of fine jewelry called Coco Crush via a shop-in-shop that operated for three weeks on Net-a-porter.com.
“Everything was sold out in a very short period of time,” said Pavlovsky, who characterized the jewelry project more as a “test” in creating online buzz.
By contrast, its digital orientation is skewed toward “e-service” and guided partly by technological developments that may be category-specific.
The executives emphasized the luxurious nature of its eyewear site, which is loaded with editorial features, starting with a focus on Lily-Rose Depp, the face of Chanel’s latest eyewear campaign, which also was shot by Lagerfeld. The 16-year-old daughter of actor Johnny Depp and singer Vanessa Paradis is depicted in behind-the-scenes imagery, in addition to modeling key styles, including round shades edged in tiny pearls. Additional editorial features include the craftsmanship behind the Pearl collection, and a tour of founder Gabrielle Chanel’s Rue Cambon apartment, where Depp was photographed.
Chanel plans to post new editorial content monthly. The e-commerce site is accessible from the homepage of its U.S. site, Chanel.com, and also via its recently redesigned fashion app.
Ramping up its digital expertise, Chanel also developed an app for the “Mademoiselle Prive” exhibit that recently wound up its three-week run at the Saatchi Gallery in London.
The company is gradually harmonizing prices of all fashion products — including ready-to-wear, leather goods, accessories and eyewear — starting with the cruise collections, delivered this month. While reducing the parallel market in a context of volatile currency fluctuations and vast pricing gaps was the main purpose behind the price harmonization, it also facilitates online selling. The goal is to have full alignment by the end of this year, with the exception of Brazil, which is constrained by high export duties.
Separately, Chanel is expanding e-commerce for some of the specialty ateliers it owns through its Paraffection subsidiary. Glove maker Causse already launched online selling, with milliner Maison Michel due to start before the end of the year, and Scottish cashmere brand Barrie plotting its foray in 2016. Also next year, swimwear and lingerie firm Eres, which is controlled by Chanel, is to relaunch its e-commerce in Europe, Pavlovsky noted.
Luxottica Group SpA has been Chanel’s licensing partner for eyewear since it launched the category in 2000, with the current agreement for the development, manufacture and worldwide distribution of prescription frames and sunglasses running through the end of 2018, and renewable to 2020.