Industry insights: why experience is the new luxury
13 May 2017
There’s no doubt we’re living in the Experience Age. From the live moments we share on social media, to the importance we place on travel, today’s generation values doing and sharing, over buying and owning. As overused as the term is, ‘experience’ is paramount in today’s world of luxury brands. But what does that look like exactly? We won’t let you take our word for it – from fashion label owners, to a luxury digital marketer and Selfridge’s retail designer, we went to the experts to tell us what a “great experience” means to their brands.
Daniela Walker, Editor at LS:N Global, on transformational experiences.
“Simply put, buying stuff isn’t as cool as it used to be. After the recession hit, an increased consciousness toward displaying obvious wealth followed. We saw the demise of the high-end logo. Net-a-Porter adopted plain cardboard delivery boxes. People began focusing more on intangible things and making memories.
With consumers less interested in ‘stuff’, and more conscious about the impact of their consumption patterns on the planet, the experience factor has become unmissable to luxury. Unlike the ‘it’ Chanel bag of the season, this means offering something unique that lets each person live the values behind the brand.
Louis Vuitton is excellent at showcasing their values in such a way. With their Series exhibitions, for example, they allowed people to peer behind the scenes of a catwalk collection. Mini also excels at this, most memorably through their Mini Breathe installation during Milan Salone design week, where they showcased futuristic architectural structures that re-imaged challenges of urban planning. The installation embodied the brand’s principles of ‘using space creatively’ and ‘minimal footprint’.
As luxury brands continue to use ‘experience’ beyond their products, those who create transformational experiences will be particularly interesting.”
Lou Mcleod, CEO at William & Son, on tailoring in-store experiences.
“Experience, for us, is all about the in-store service. When you're making a significant purchase, you want to speak to an expert face-to-face and learn everything you can about the product. Because of this, we choose not to sell all of our collections and invite people into the store to discover them in person. This is something our customers really value about our brand.
Having great in-store experiences will be just as important for future luxury brands. If your sales team is knowledgeable about the product and can share their passion with your customers in person, you will make their experience much richer.”
Karolina Wierzbicka, Design Planning Manager at Selfridges, on creating meaningful experiences that enable human connection.
“With online shopping, social media and technology, everything is literally at our fingertips. Being able to create meaningful offline experiences has become more important than ever before. These offline moments have become heavily focused on human connection and interaction. It’s all about creating memories and impressions.
Building these kinds of offline experiences as a luxury brand starts with understanding your customer and tapping into what they like, need, want and are missing. As a purveyor of ‘luxury’, you must be able to identify what’s most important to your customer and ensure that you can deliver it in a way that is truly unique. A luxury experience must express the brand’s personality and passion, or else you risk losing authenticity.”
For Tom Horne, Co-founder of L'Estrange, on getting to the core of your customer.
“The core of our focus at L’Estrange is getting to know our customer and understanding what they value the most. We have a strong group of active individuals who place a lot of emphasis on how they spend their time, and how they use this time to improve their minds and enhance their lives. Social media has amplified this idea through allowing us to share and document our experiences, and therefore create a tangible showcase of our lifestyle. Experiences have essentially become the new status symbol.
Whilst clothing is the core of what we do, it certainly doesn’t stop there. Creating a fantastic end-to-end experience is integral to our brand. On one side, we achieve this through making the boring bits of the process extremely seamless– whether through an instant chat on our website or same day delivery in London. On the other side, we look to create special personalised moments for our customers through services like studio appointments or dinner parties. It’s a win-win.”
Allan Baudoin, Founder of Baudoin & Lange, on why bespoke matters.
“The customer has become much more knowledgeable about the craftsmanship behind a brand. Especially in markets such as Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan, there is a real thirst for this knowledge and the stories of the makers. Mainstream luxury brands are losing more and more edge to smaller, more specialised brands that understand their customer better. Ready-to-wear is being replaced in high spheres by made-to-order or bespoke. Ultra net worth individuals are fuelling the industry by themselves through financing new brands and opening up stores for their own pleasure.
At Baudoin & Lange, we create made-to-order and bespoke loafers that honour age-old craftsmanship, which we reflect in our tailored customer service. We do this through advising customers on style and allowing them to create their own custom design details. As the founders, we make sure to always personally be in touch with the customers and will go above and beyond to accommodate, much like a concierge service.”
Kerem Atasoy, Digital Marketing Consultant and former Head of Digital at Harvey Nichols, on creating in-store activations.
“The retail economy has seen a structural shift, particularly amongst the Millennial generation, from spending on 'stuff' to spending on experiences. There's been a revolt against the excess and conspicuousness that characterised the consumer of the late 1990s and early 2000s to a more considered and restrained model of consumption. Experiences and a balanced lifestyle mean much more to this new generation of consumers than the latest it handbag does. Brands such as Selfridges, Saks and Harrods are now trying to attract consumers into the store with experiential activations such as Body Studio, The Wellery and The Wellness Clinic.
At Harvey Nichols, we launched a Rewards programme which focused on indulgent and fabulous experiences, given this broader shift to experiential spend in the retail and luxury market. In additional to traditional cash vouchers, we also offered customers a range of experiences such as facials, manicures or cocktails at one of our destinations. We wanted to make sure that our customers felt better when they left our stores.”
India Blue van Spall, Head of Communications at Modern Society, on building an in-store community experience.
“At our concept store on Redchurch Street, we wanted to create a space that is much more than a shopping experience. The space caters to people dropping in to buy a coffee for £2.50 or a coat for £2.5K. We want to achieve ‘attainable luxury’ through creating a space that invites you to pick up and interact with everything on display, from stationery to luxury outerwear.
Beyond that, the luxury brands that we sell in the store love the fact that we use the space to host events and experiences. Building this community around our store has become an essential part of Modern Society. It’s a way of elevating the luxury shopping experience beyond the products. We also try to keep the space fresh, changing things around fortnightly, so that even the regulars from the neighbourhood who drop by have a slightly new experience when they walk in.”
Paul Munford, Editor-in-Chief of Lean Luxe, on ensuring the overall package is right, not just the product.
“Modern luxury is all about excellence of the entire package, rather than the standalone product. In a head-to-head with Hermes or Louis Vuitton, a brand such as Cuyana or Away may not win in terms of best-in-class product quality– but that’s not necessarily what matters in today’s luxury market. The market is consumer-centric, rather than brand-centric, meaning that the value of the entire experience is what counts. The quality of the product is important, but so is its practicality, messaging, aesthetic as well as the online and retail experience that surround the purchase.
The majority of modern luxury sales happen online, so the online digital experience is just as important (if not more) than the offline retail experience. However, the modern luxury brands who have managed to do both, with great pop-up retail experiences, are truly leading the way– just look at brands like Everlane, MM.LaFleur and Argent.
Everlane has been especially razor sharp through creating quick hit, themed pop-ups in key cities. Aesop, which has been around for 30 years, is a brand that truly understands how to stay relevant through offering unique in-store experiences rather than one-size-fits-all. While tailored to the local environment, these experiences still reflect the brand in every way.”
Words by Lisa Roolant