PARIS — With the long-awaited launch today of its e-commerce site, Céline is joining the ranks of luxury brands who are bracing against the onward march of Internet behemoths such as Alibaba and Amazon by shoring up their own online businesses.
The French fashion house, owned by luxury conglomerate LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, is kicking off its omnichannel push with a new version of celine.com in France, marking the first time the long-reticent label is offering all product categories for purchase online, WWD has learned exclusively.
The launch will be marked by a digital advertising campaign in France from mid-December. The rollout will reach Europe and the U.S. in 2018, with Japan to follow in 2019.
The minimal design of the new web site matches Céline’s sober brand image under creative director Phoebe Philo. The exclusive online destination for Céline ready-to-wear, leather goods, accessories, jewelry and shoes, it will also provide a full set of related services.
These include buy online and collect in store, return in store, request online an appointment in store or organize a pick-up at your home. It will also be accessible worldwide, showing a larger product selection.
“E-commerce is launching as planned with ambitious business objectives, but also as a key tool to increase visibility, recruit new clients and provide a full service to our clients who are looking for a global experience, mixing digital and physical touchpoints,” a spokesperson for the brand told WWD.
Céline has been taking tentative steps into the digital sphere this year with the launch in February of its Instagram account, which now has 639,000 followers. In November, it launched a WeChat account to service clients on the Chinese platform.
Analysts at HSBC forecast the online proportion of luxury sales will grow from 7 percent in 2015 to around 12 percent in 2020, accounting for as much as 40 percent of the industry’s growth overall.
In the luxury sphere, better quality online presentation and increased use of mobile devices has made consumers more comfortable buying luxury online, they said.
Céline’s move into e-commerce came a day after rival group Kering named seasoned tech executive Grégory Boutté to spearhead its online sales, client relationship management and data management efforts.
“Brands realize that digital has become an integral part of the business,” said Zuzanna Pusz, an analyst with Berenberg. She noted the appointment of Boutté signaled “a confirmation of a trend,” with rival group Compagnie Financière Richemont adding a similar position in September.
“There’s been a big acceleration in the past couple of months in the luxury sphere, especially with the growing importance of e-commerce in China and younger consumers,” she added, referring to the push online.
Kering has been considered an early player it comes to e-commerce for luxury goods, forging an alliance with Yoox in 2012 and launching online boutiques for six of its brands through the venture the following year.
“Kering has been quite digitally advanced compared to peers,” said Pusz, citing the Yoox partnership as well as the current performance at its cash cow brand Gucci, where online sales posted triple-digit growth in the third quarter.
“It shows that they’ve decided to perhaps make it more structured, and probably shows that they’re pretty much ahead of the game in terms of digital and realize that more can be done in moving the business forward,” Pusz added.
At Gucci, online business accounted for 3.5 percent of overall sales last year, according to HSBC, which estimates the figure for the luxury division overall at Kering was 2.7 percent. The proportion at LVMH’s star brand, Louis Vuitton, likely falls in the low-single digits, it added.
Boutté, a former eBay executive, will report to the group’s managing director Jean-François Palus and join the group’s executive committee.
The 45-year-old managed eBay in France and later took charge of operations for more of Europe. Boutté moved on to eBay’s motors and electronic division in Silicon Valley before joining Sidecar, a pioneer in short-distance ride-sharing purchased by General Motors last year.
Boutté in 2015 joined Udemy, an online education start-up. He worked in brand management at Procter & Gamble before moving into the tech sector.
Richemont in September said it created the position of chief technology officer, bringing in Jean-Jacques van Oosten for the role. He will join the luxury company’s senior executive committee in January.
Van Oosten, a former executive from the German retail and tourism group Rewe, has a doctorate in molecular genetics and previously worked at grocer Tesco, home improvement company Kingfisher and consumer goods group Unilever.