While luxury fashion brands might have been initially hesitant to embrace new technologies, it is safe to say that these days almost every luxury fashion label has realized that they need to interact in new ways with affluent customers in an attempt to seduce new clients and further engage brand’s greatest enthusiasts.
Designer labels have also recognized the opportunities given by the technology advancements on mobile and have stormed the App Store with their branded apps over the last few years. The tactic seems to be working: according to a study by the New York-based Luxury Institute, 93% of customers who have downloaded the apps say they have had a good experience: 71% feel also better connected to luxury brands. Customers also tend to view the brands that offer apps more favourably than those which do not.
Luxury fashion brands use their apps foremost for marketing purposes, with a particular focus on brand awareness. Nearly all of the branded apps showcase a catalogue with the new collections, videos and photos from fashion shows, behind-the-scenes footage from fashion weeks. One could say by now this has been established as the must-have set of features for a designer app or mobile website. Store locators and style inspiration tools are also very popular.
The French footwear label Christian Louboutin lets consumers view shoes and handbags from the current collection, create an in-app wishlist of their favourite styles, share images via social platforms and locate a nearest boutique. The label also distributes insider videos, sketches of its 20th Anniversary Capsule Collection and brand news.
A few luxury fashion brands have used this occasion to get creative with their apps. Gucci, the renowned Italian fashion brand, has teamed up with famous music producer Mark Ronson to pursue an interactive route. Gucci Beats users can mix their own music and share it on Facebook as well as listen to a playlist created by the fashion house’s creative director, Frida Giannini (over 600,000 downloads to date).
Prada has chosen to use its first mobile app to show its ‘artistic’ image. Launched last December, the iPad-only app is a result of collaboration with the illustrator Richard Haines and showcases a new collection in tandem with Haines’s artwork. The user explores the inside of il palazzo through a virtual tour – a treat more for die-hard Prada fans than average mortals, but innovative nonetheless.
Finally, there are apps that give fashion advice to affluent customers. DKNY’s Cozy app provides styling suggestions of DKNY Cozy garments “for the modern woman on the go”, along with step-by-step instructional videos. Interestingly, Donna Karan (the person behind the label) has her own separate app where she shares inspiration (and photos from Bali that stir jealousy among those of us sitting in an office). The designer describes the app as “the modern evolution of the time I spend with my customers in the dressing room”.
If the designers and heads of marketing wrack their brains on developing new interactive and creative features of their branded apps, the heads of commerce are a little behind. Some luxury brands are still reluctant to allow shopping through mobile devices. One explanation is that designer houses are afraid of losing their exclusive appeal. This makes sense for retailers who rely on the sense of inaccessibility and the special attention paid to their select core of customers.
As everything goes mobile though, mcommerce becomes unavoidable even for the most elite designers. According to Luxury Daily “trends emerged throughout 2012 to suggest that affluent consumers crave a mix of technology and tradition when interacting with luxury” – and while traditional brick and mortar (somehow “silver and gold” seems more appropriate) stores cater to those clients longing for special attention, the mobile solution is there for those who know what they want: and want it quickly.
Despite the hesitation, more and more luxury brands have been recognizing this trend by launching transactional apps or mobile websites. Mulberry boasts an excellent iPhone and iPad app with shopping functionality. Users can browse and shop the complete collection of bags, shoes and ready-to-wear as well as buy items directly from the look book. Tommy Hilfiger’s app is also transactional. “It’s just like shopping in our stores but without the crowds” says the designer.
The same goes for brands such as Gucci, Fendi, Diane von Furstenberg and Lacoste. All allow transactions over mobile, either through apps or mobile-optimized websites. “It’s a step in growing our business, because we want to give people the option to shop in whatever way they want,” as Diane von Furstenberg stated in an interview for W magazine. “We already do so many things from our phones, so shopping is a natural progression.” This strategy seems to be the right choice for fashion brands. According to UK-based online retail experts Verdict, mcommerce has grown by more than 500% over the last two years.
Statistics also point to Apple devices as the favourite of luxury brands: with most designer labels choosing to develop apps primarily for iOS, with Android following. This hardly comes as a surprise; the iPhone still reigns as the device of choice among celebrities and fashionistas – not to mention its double life as a chic accessory. Luxury brands are also more likely to offer branded iPhone and iPad cases.
Finally, an unprecedented opportunity presents itself to fashion retailers with the growing use of iPads and tablets among high-end clientele. Aphoristically, “with big screen comes big opportunity”. Reports show that more people buy from iPads than from iPhones, and they certainly make it easier to browse catalogues, access runway footage and view products in greater detail. In short, the iPad a device better suited to luxury shopping than its smaller sibling.
Mobile has been receiving more and more attention from the luxury fashion houses lately: becoming an increasingly important outreach channel to strengthen customer relationships. However, more brands need to include it directly into their commerce strategy and tap in on the emerging opportunity to increase sales through mobile devices. Reinterpreting digital commerce for the luxury customer may be tricky, but luxury brands are not immune to shifts in shopping behaviour. Keeping up with their customers’ new habits is essential for brands that wish to lead the market forward.