MILAN “We serve 160 countries in the world; if we imagine a future without off-line, that would be a dark future,” said Swarovski’s omnichannel and commercial operations executive vice president Michele Molon on Tuesday, ahead of the lighting ceremony of the Christmas tree the company has gifted to the city of Milan.

“The truth is that brick-and-mortar retail will never disappear, it will just continue to evolve,” added the executive, who was appointed to the role in January 2017, after joining the company in 2010.

Under Molon’s tenure, Swarovski has increasingly enhanced the integration of physical retail and digital implementation, both debuting brick-and-mortar formats and establishing a center of excellence dedicated exclusively to its e-commerce business, “so [that] we have become very fast in understanding how the market works and find new solutions and ideas.”

The emblem of the company’s efforts is its first “forerunner” unit, recently unveiled in London. Swarovski revisited its Oxford Street store updating it with digital touch points to heighten the customer experience. These include a virtual jewelry station to try-on items and an interactive selfie wall with London-themed filters to share contents on social media, as well as wireless phone charging stations, a blue “Crystal Suite” offering an immersive experience and a “Sparkle Bar” to customize pieces.

Molon said that, although the store is already performing well, it doesn’t serve only the purpose of making sales but “it mainly help us to learn” about customers changing habits. “Even the cash desk is almost hidden, as it represents just a possible conclusion of an experience,” he explained.

Next week, the format will be replicated in a two-storied venue in Chengdu, China. The unit, which will also carry the brand’s fine jewelry collection, will be adapted to meet Chinese consumers’ demands in terms of digital tools and social media integration. “It’s going to be even more peculiar, as we have also worked with local designers to customize the store concept, respecting and celebrating the country where we will [open the unit],” Molon said.

The executive said there are other cities suitable to host a similar format but an eventual rollout will be planned after evaluating the performances of these first two “forerunner” units. At the same time, Swarovski is working on developing a new interior concept for its stores, which will make its debut in 2019.

In the meanwhile, in sync with Molon’s goal to “keep the retail dynamic,” a pop-up shop will be launched with the same approach at the Dubai Mall for the holiday season. “We call it the 50-50 pop-up, as it’s both physical and digital,” said Molon, adding that it will be available for two months.

The opening is part of a series of activities the company is implementing this month for the holiday season. After redesigning the Rockefeller Center’s star tree topper and establishing a pop-up shop there, for the fifth year Swarovski gifted the city of Milan with a branded Christmas tree. Located inside the iconic Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II shopping arcade, the 40-foot tall tree is embellished with more than 10,000 decorations — including 1,000 Swarovski Christmas stars — and 36,000 lights.

Swarovski's Christmas tree in Milan.

Swarovski’s Christmas tree in Milan.  Courtesy Photo

Themed after the magic of childhood and playfulness, the tree combines tradition and innovation as it features both retro-inspired carousel elements and interactive stations enhancing the engagement with visitors.

Under the Swarovski Christmas tree, the Milanese and tourists can find two Try-On stations to virtually wear jewelry and watches of Swarovski’s current collections, creating and sharing their Christmas wish list, and two Fun Wall screens, enabling users to customize and share their own holiday selfie with festivities-themed filters.

In addition, an exhibition showcasing exclusive items inspired by the theme of childhood and playfulness and belonging to Swarovski’s private archives is set up at the base of the tree. Pieces include different interpretations of the house’s signature Kris crystal teddy bear — first introduced 25 years ago — as well as Swarovski versions of Mickey Mouse to celebrate the cartoon character’s 90th anniversary.