KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. — Luxury retailers need to be high-tech wizards, event planners, concierge service providers and personal troubleshooters to serve the world’s wealthiest and demanding consumers.

“The bar is raised, and customer expectations are higher than ever,” Michael Crotty, Bergdorf Goodman’s senior vice president, marketing, said during the fourth annual American Express Publishing Luxury Summit last week at the Sanctuary resort here. “They’re savvy and well-traveled. They want the experience, environment, events, parties, book signings. It’s a convergence of shopping and entertainment inspired by the success of Las Vegas.”

Crotty spoke as part of a high-end retail panel. Other panelists included Jeffrey Kalinsky, owner of Jeffrey; Massimo Ferragamo, chairman, Ferragamo USA, and Tracey Ross, president of Tracey Ross in Los Angeles. Crotty spoke Monday.

Special events such as an in-store concert by the band Pink Martini and art exhibitions and parties tied in with Armani trunk shows have become the norm for creating excitement, boosting traffic and sales, Crotty said in an interview.

In addition, more selling is done outside of the store through technology, conventional mail or plain legwork.

“My best customer lives in Atlanta, but hasn’t been in the store since the Super Bowl 2000,” Kalinsky said. “We mail her a package every week, she picks out what she wants, and sends the rest back. These days, we go to them.”

Customers expect perks, said Ross, who regularly scores tickets to “American Idol” or movie premieres for them, along with placing customized gift baskets in their hotel rooms.

Ferragamo said shoppers expect a level of attention that was inconceivable 10 years ago.

“A customer packed a suitcase of goods from our store, and a bottle of something broke and spilled over everything,” he said. “He had to be at a wedding at noon, called our sales assistant at 8 a.m., who then woke up our tailor, and opened up the store especially for him to have everything ready for a 12 o’clock Mass.”

Consumer demands can mean extra training for staff, said Ferragamo, especially with 220 stores, and an Asian expansion. “The challenge is to keep service in stores consistent,” he said.

This story first appeared in the May 2, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Despite the importance of service, retailers agreed that product is what gets customers in the door.

“We have to have the best of the best,’’ Kalinsky said. “Our customer doesn’t want what celebrities have, she’s the leader of the pack, the one that has to be first.”

Crotty said shoes and bags, driven by creative designers, have outperformed ready-to-wear, with no resistance from consumers to prices as high as $3,000.

In an opening address, Jacques-Franck Dossin, Goldman Sachs’ executive director of equity research, luxury goods and cosmetics, said Asian markets will show the fastest growth in the next few years.

Japanese consumers account for 41 percent of luxury sales, with the rest of Asia at 18 percent. The U.S. accounts for 17 percent, with Europe at 16 percent and the rest of the world at 8 percent. China accounts for 12 percent, and will grow 25 percent compounded annually over the next four years, Dossin said.

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