E-Commerce With an Accent on Luxury
Luxury brick-and-mortar retailers go to great lengths to welcome shoppers, give them close personal attention, and make each visit an experience rather than a mere transaction. Online retailers looking to offer the e-commerce version of luxury retail face certain physical limitations, but they also have unique opportunities in terms of site design and special services offered to visitors.
08/14/09 4:00 AM PT
There is nothing quite like the experience of shopping at a luxury retailer. The consumer is immediately immersed in the luxury experience: highly branded and emotive décor and product displays, personal and bespoke service, champagne ... and anything else the consumer may desire. It's undeniable that these factors contribute to a scenario that transcends a simple shopping transaction and creates a memorable, exclusive experience for the customer.
Online retailers looking to lure customers away from the competition can take cues from these approaches to engage their customers and create luxury shopping experiences that break the e-commerce mold and thrill the senses.
A Sensory Experience
The first step for retailers is realizing the online storefront is more than just a showcase of your product catalog; it's one of the most powerful touch points you have with your customers. As such, in the same way that luxury retailers woo customers with an explosion of the senses, each visit customers make to your site should be a true experience that builds excitement and deepens and strengthens your relationship with them further.
That luxury experience needs to start the second the customer enters the online storefront. The site should instantly construct the mood by dazzling their senses and evoking the brand image. This emotional connection can be accomplished with stunning imagery that reflects the brand's marketing, a captivating video that seamlessly streams the minute the site is launched and finally, a distinct user interface that reflects the brand aesthetic and encourages exploration. Of course, a fundamental aspect of each site is that it's functional, quick and seamless.
It's imperative that the branding carries through the entire shopping experience, from the initial entrance to the checkout process. Too often, retailers forget that those beautiful catalog shots quickly lose their allure when showcased on bland or difficult to navigate Web pages, or that their checkout is also an integral part of the customer's shopping experience. The result is a set of disjointed components that do nothing to entice the customer or to create a distinct experience that keeps them from clicking to your competition. If anything, it's these inconsistencies that drive customers to abandon their carts, be it out of boredom, confusion or frustration. Functionality should be effortlessly married with style; brand should be seamlessly integrated and balanced with commerce. Every action the customer takes on the site should bring their brand experience deeper -- from point of entry to a seamless checkout that drives cross-selling and conversion. It's these elements that will create a rich experience for the customer that transcends an average, forgettable shopping transaction. It's also these elements that will keep them coming back and promote word-of-mouth.
Personalized Shopping Experiences
Part of the allure of luxury retail is the personal attention and bespoke services that a customer typically receives when shopping in the store, and there are number of ways for online retailers to incorporate this personalization for their customers as well.
As a starting point, allowing visitors to create personal profiles on the site helps to create a deeper relationship with the brand and drives interaction to a whole new level. These profiles allow the retailer to segment product selection and tailor the products recommended in cross-sell and up-sell areas of the site -- the same way a personal shopper for a luxury retailer would for their preferred clientele. They also allow retailers to potentially develop services that go beyond the standard product offering. For the consumer, shopping with a personal profile means their online visit begins to take on a much richer shopping experience that goes beyond a standard e-commerce purchase.
Nothing is more luxurious than personal attention or custom services from a retailer, and by leveraging these components on your site, you are giving your customers a taste of that luxury. For example, when logging onto the site, a personal message from an online personal shopper greets the customer, featuring a carefully selected product offering that reflects more than just the choices they made during the last visit, but their tastes and preferences in general. Next, they go deeper into the site and discover an array of services, such as custom tailoring or product customization, or a limited line of products available only to select customers. All the while, shoppers are immersed in content -- look books, product videos or even interviews with brand insiders. More than just a shopping transaction, the visit very quickly becomes a luxury experience.
One of the most powerful tools for online marketers has been the rise of online communities, whose power to build brand awareness and loyalty can at times be astonishing. Though a natural antithesis to the exclusivity of luxury, these communities can help online retailers bring the luxury experience online by helping to build excitement and desire for their merchandise. Social shopping is all about giving consumers a voice and establishing a two-way dialogue between them and the brand; it's also about connecting consumers together around the brand. Social shopping allows consumers to create personal looks and share them with their peers and also, in turn, allows them to shop looks or products that their friends selected or created. Consumers are deeply influenced by other consumers' product choices, and as such, it's much more powerful for them to hear recommendations from other consumers.
By incorporating a shopping and lifestyle community within their sites, online retailers can create an extension of the personalized experience and give consumers an opportunity to interact with other brand enthusiasts. As a starting point, this can be an avenue for consumers to discuss their love of the brand, exchange ideas and get feedback on their favorite items. Taken to the next level, the community can quickly become a complete lifestyle destination for consumers and brand advocates that not only helps to drive sales, but reinforces the brand messaging.
While they can't offer their visitors a glass of Krug while they shop, online retailers can certainly embrace aspects of the luxury shopping experience to lure customers to their sites. Not only will they drive sales in the process, but they will build brand loyalty and generate desire for their products and their brand as a whole.
James Gardner is founder and CEO of CREATETHE GROUP.