MONTE CARLO — Are luxury and technology fine bedfellows, or strangers in the night?
That was a key question posed at the Financial Times Business of Luxury Summit here, where designers, fashion executives and retailers discussed the digital juggernaut and its transformation of the industry.
That technology must be employed as a strategic tool, and not be allowed to run amok, was a frequent contention.
London-based designer Mary Katrantzou, known for her digital prints, told a panel discussion that textile innovation “drives a huge percentage of how fashion moves forward.”
That said, “there’s a constant process for designers to innovate while trying to be timeless, and create things of lasting value,” considerations that are less top-of-mind at pure tech firms, she said. “At the point of conception, there are different aims.”
In a session titled “Beyond the Store,” Alexander McQueen chief executive officer Jonathan Akeroyd noted the digital mirrors installed at its McQ store on Dover Street in London, which allowed virtual fittings, were a hit with the press, but have since been removed.
Ross Bailey, founder and ceo of Appear Here, an online marketplace for shop space, couldn’t agree more. “How many people go into a store and say, ‘I really want to look at that screen.’ You want to touch the merchandise and interact with the sales people,” he said.
Bailey’s company is a boon to brands seeking pop-ups, noting that the average length of leases when he was born in 1992 was 20 years, versus an average of five today, suggesting landlords, too, must treat property like media, and keep the audience engaged.
“The store of the future is not about gimmicks. It’s about technology that you don’t see,” agreed José Neves, founder and ceo of Farfetch, which recently acquired London fashion retailer Browns as a venue to test, showcase and demonstrate new services that are compatible with luxury retailing.
“If we want to continue to push the boundaries and innovate in terms of omnichannel, we needed one store at least where we could innovate and test at the speed of the Internet,” he said. “We think there’s so much technology out there that’s not yet integrated.”
Previewing research led by McKinsey & Co. with the Altagamma Foundation, Nathalie Remy, a partner at McKinsey, ranked a “city store” as the number-one “touch point” for luxury consumers with the highest impact on the likelihood of purchase. Trailing flagships are word of mouth, online search, sales associates and brand Web sites.
Regarding search, Remy noted: “There’s no natural footfall waiting in front of your Web site. You must drive traffic.”
Digital and mobile technology has shifted the power from brand to consumers, Remy stressed, pegging the ratio of brand versus user-generated content on social media at 1 to 10,000.
She noted the study found that 95 percent of U.S. luxury consumers are smartphone equipped, and that 80 percent are active users of social media, with 65 percent posting pictures and comments at least once a month.
The U.K. is the most advanced market for luxury sales, where the channel accounts for 11 percent of the total, versus 6 percent globally.
Martin Bartle, e-commerce director of Agent Provocateur, noted that the brand’s wealthiest, most global clients are most likely to shop omnichannel, but in general, a physical store presence is necessary to spark interest in the brand and generate online sales.