Bringing Luxury Online

It’s no secret that online shopping is becoming an increasingly lucrative avenue for retailers. More shoppers are turning to websites as a way to connect with brands and make purchases, and companies are investing heavily in their online presence to ensure that they are delivering a top-notch experience.

While the majority of retailers recognize the power of e-commerce, there remains a specific subset of sellers that are hesitant to hop on the online bandwagon: luxury brands.

Historically, many designer labels opted for a solely in-store presence, shunning the online channel completely. This has begun to change in recent years with advancements in website technology — however, many high-end retailers are still e-commerce holdouts. So, what are the online obstacles for luxury brands, and how can they be overcome?

Outdated Perceptions

In the olden days of e-commerce, many websites left consumers wanting. Slow page-load times, a lack of engaging content, difficult navigation and check-out processes, among other issues, often frustrated shoppers and decreased their desire to interact or purchase online. Challenges like those are not synonymous with a high-level customer experience.

When a company’s brand image is built around luxury, it’s easy to understand the hesitation of moving online in light of these issues. Providing a high-level experience in a flagship store is largely down to atmosphere and employees — two factors that are relatively easy to control.

Ensuring that same quality experience online is more about technology and Internet connection, variables that are significantly more difficult to manage. Many high-end retailers fear that embracing e-commerce will have a negative impact on their brand perception, and that fear is enough to keep them strictly brick-and-mortar brands.

The New Online Experience

While those concerns once were justified, today they are largely unfounded. The truth is that the modern online shopping experience has evolved significantly from what it was just a few short years ago.

One of the biggest challenges of shopping online is that consumers don’t have the ability to interact with products in the same in-depth way that they do in-store, and this can degrade the overall shopping experience.

The rise of dynamic media technology — such as zoom, 3D imaging, and 360-degree product views — has done wonders to address this issue. These technologies enable a more intimate interaction with products, and allow consumers to get a better feel for the quality of the item at hand.

Luxury products often are characterized by the quality of their details, and pride in the finer elements of their products is part of what traditionally kept designer brands from going online. However, with technology that can showcase quality, down to stitching and fabric texture, this is no longer an issue, and retailers can rest assured that consumers are able to distinguish and appreciate the details of each and every product.

Video is another key element that has improved online shopping. Video content offers a vibrant alternative to the flat, static images of clothing that often appear on websites. It also allows shoppers to understand how fabric falls and moves.

This is particularly important for high-end designer clothing, as shoppers are less likely to invest in a luxury-priced item if they can’t visualize themselves wearing or using the product. Video delivers that added level of comfort that historically was achievable only in-store, helping to channel the brick-and-mortar experience directly to consumers no matter how they connect with the brand.

Making It Easy

Ease of purchase is another area where online shopping has improved in recent years. Consumers once were forced to navigate through numerous pages to purchase and check out. Today, retailers can give customers buying power at the point of inspiration, allowing them to buy directly from the product page and ensuring a simple and straightforward checkout process.

This not only reduces hassle and improves the customer experience, but also increases conversion rates by lessening the likelihood of losing buyers through complicated checkout procedures.

When considering the e-commerce experiences of years past, it’s not difficult to understand why luxury brands may be hesitant to make the jump to online. High-end designers are selling not only their products but also the luxury experience, and the idea that an online presence could have a negative impact on the brand image in this respect is understandably offputting.

However, e-commerce is not a passing phase. It will continue to grow and become a more prominent revenue channel for brands across the board. Ultimately, retailers of all types must learn to cater to the demands of the evolving customer or face losing significant market and revenue share.

The good news for luxury retailers is that today’s websites offer a whole new world of engagement, and the technology now exists to help them deliver an online experience that supports and complements their brands without the risk of brand degradation.

As we get closer to 2015, more luxury retailers likely will embrace the move to online as they realize that today’s website technology offers a huge revenue-boosting opportunity with none of the risk they once feared.

Rory Dennis is CMO of Amplience.

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