Consumers won’t desert luxury brands, but will demand the best digital experience

By Michael Valdsgaard, Executive Chairman and CEO, London Dynamics

Luxury retailers have set the bar high for customer experience. Flagship stores in some of the most sought-after real estate in major cities across the globe continue to drive innovation and push boundaries.

But the Covid-19 pandemic had a seismic impact on the high-end market. Customers were suddenly forced online and the subsequent lack of footfall and tourism presented luxury retailers with a huge opportunity to look at the digital experience they offer customers.

Indeed, the strength of their bricks-and-mortar stores has in many cases created something of a dilemma. How do you retain a sense of exclusivity for customers in the online free-for-all of the world wide web?

The answer is a simple one: It’s all about experience. Luxury retailers can no longer afford to rely on stock or static imagery and the strength of their brand name to convert sales when customers are being asked to spend vast sums of money on high-end watches or furniture, to name but two examples.

Fortunately, the tools available to the modern retailer have kept pace with consumer demand. Augmented Reality (AR), for example, is an area that has garnered huge interest due to its ability to give people the experience of a product in their own space, as if it were physically there. This offers a personal experience that, in many cases, even a trip to a flagship store couldn’t rival.

While the coronavirus has brought economic uncertainty, it also left certain sections of society with a pent-up demand, with usual outlets such as holidays and restaurants all but ruled out. Despite this, research shows that the online experience offered by luxury retailers can fail to convince them to make a purchase. One of the things shoppers crave most is quality visuals of products that show, to the finest detail, how the product will look. In an online environment, this can be the difference between convincing a customer to part with their cash or not.

In this regard, AR has met the challenge. By showing the reflection of metal, the grains of leather or the texture of wood, shoppers can be left in no doubt that they are experiencing something of high quality. And by viewing this in the comfort of their own home, it adds an air of exclusivity that is increasingly demanded. The retailers must rise to the challenge, and not fall back on the easy option of creating simplistic 3D models or other shortcuts. To serve the luxury market, protect the brand, and convert customers, solutions need to be cutting edge – and this will ultimately be recognised by customers.

Making the case for such leading-edge technology should be a simple one, but a stumbling block has often been integration. CRM systems that track customer movements across multiple channels are carefully crafted and fine-tuned, creating a fear that new functionality would break the system.

It is here that plug-and-play AR solutions set a real business case. They are seamlessly embedded into an existing website infrastructure. This ease of use extends to the customer, who can access products in their web browser, without the cumbersome need to download an application.

Retailers worldwide are cautiously optimistic for better trading conditions for 2021 but must not lose sight of the acceleration of digital solutions. An improved online experience powered by tech such as Augmented Reality is not about replacing bricks-and-mortar stores, but rather part of a comprehensive strategy for the post-Covid era that seamlessly blends physical and digital.

Other areas of eCommerce, such as order fulfilment and delivery have made huge strides in recent years – and should be rightly lauded. But in many cases, it is the experience that customers are being offered that is lacking. Fortunately, the opportunity to evolve the digital estate has been presented to retailers and make it a true enabler to multi-channel success.

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