In the land of luxury, experience is key. Whether a shopper is buying a Louis Vuitton bag or brand new Rolls-Royce, they want – and with the prices being paid, frankly deserve – to feel golden the moment they enter the room. This is the conundrum facing luxury brands looking to incorporate artificial intelligence (AI) in their business: how do you balance the everything-now demands of the modern smartphone scroller with the personalized, bespoke experience that can only come from a human ego-stroker?
“What we’re seeing now is that price, ease of purchase, consistency of service and on-demand support are the key drivers for loyalty and spend,” Chris Sykes, chief executive and head of AI and robotics at global customer experience company, Volume, told Raconteur. “You can have the coolest bricks-and-mortar store at the most popular shopping centre, but standing out doesn’t necessarily mean profitable trading.”
We’ve seen a number of luxury fashion brands go deep with AI; not least Burberry, who recognized early the importance at joining those all-important-dots between online and IRL. They ask customers to share data through a number of loyalty and reward programs and, using this mechanism, build up a permanently evolving brand history of the customer. How do they put this to practical use? When a recognised customer enters a store, assistants (human) will be able to make clothing recommendations based on this history. Want a new pair of slacks to go with that macbook you bought last month? Burberry’s AI gets you there quicker and without you having to take a pair from the rail. Customers clearly like it; in 2015 the company reported a 50% increase in repeat customers.
It’s the kind of human/AI hybrid explored online by Stitch-Fix and Thread. Stitch-Fix is a personalized clothes box, which customers receive after answering a questionnaire regarding their favoured fashion styles, size, and budget. The company’s algorithm generates a selection of item recommendations from their 700 partner brands which, for $20 later received as credit against their future order, is reviewed by one of Stitch-Fix’s 3,400 personal stylists. Five items are then sent to the consumer. It’s been enormously successful thus far; they went public last November and are valued at around $2 billion.
The UK-based Thread is broadly similar, though it currently only sells menswear and the human element comes at the beginning of the process rather than end. As well as getting some tailored recommendations, you get the benefit of the AI’s sartorial omniscience: “If you have a relationship with a stylist here for four years and you mentioned something four years ago that you liked or disliked, it’s likely the stylist would forget," Thread CTO Ben Phillips told Business Insider. "Whereas a computer never forgets.”
Elsewhere, chatbots are being utilized by more and more luxury brands with the likes of Burberry, Tommy Hilfiger, Levi’s and Dior joining the estimated 80% of companies that will use AI-powered chat programs to interact with customers by 2020. The problem for companies selling a luxury product, as ever, will be to keep the content as personalized as it is functional. Dior tries to circumvent this in the most 2018 way possible; using well-placed emojis and GIFs to create a convivial conversation not too different to the one you had on WhatsApp this morning.
It’s not just luxury clothing companies using the latest tech to woo its moneyed customers. Last year, the historic London auction house Sotheby’s commissioned designers to create a 360 degree experience, translating four surrealist paintings by Salvador Dali, René Magritte, André Masson and Paul Delvaux into immersive experiences though an Oculus Rift headset. Rolls-Royce developed a virtual reality-ready video that gave customers a taste of their forthcoming 103EX model; the ultimate luxury AI car of the future, that’s fully customisable
and knows you better than you do yourself. That car has been given a voice; Eleanor who, apparently, is the “vital spark lives within the very fabric of your vehicle: driving you, guiding you, discovering the world with you. Eleanor intuitively complements your personality, becoming a true companion”. She sounds likes a dream; a muse, a mum and a chauffeur all rolled into one. In the land where experience is key…who needs a human when you’ve got an Eleanor?