Creating high-end luxury shopping experiences online

Ed Bussey

CSO, Content

The luxury goods market arrived fashionably late to the eCommerce party – but made up for this initial tardiness with some seriously impressive growth. In 2010, when the pioneering, London-based Net-a-Porter ruled the online roost, digital sales of luxury goods amounted to €4.3 billion (about $4.7 billion) annually. By 2019, this had soared to €33.3 billion (about $37 billion).

However, having hit its stride, the sector now faces a period of pronounced uncertainty, as brands and multi-brand retailers alike grapple for their share of a pandemic-squeezed market. In a sector long associated with opulent in-store experiences, the online market once served as a mere adjutant to in-store sales. Now, the tables have turned, and it is the physical stores that find themselves relegated to a supporting role.

Clearly, some brands are better prepared than others for this digital-first future. Last year, our assessment of the eCommerce content of 20 world-leading luxury brands exposed some stunning omissions and oversights – suggesting that the luxury vertical lags well behind other players in the eCommerce pack. In the current economic climate, tackling these deficiencies has become more urgent than ever.

The location

The success of many luxury brands has been built on the strength of aspirational, ‘high-touch’ shopping experiences, with outlets occupying glossy spaces on some of the world’s costliest retail real estate. As shoppers now turn online, luxury brands must be ready to roll out the virtual carpet and welcome them digitally instead. Yet the best-known luxury brands only have an e-commerce presence in 62 per cent of the sector’s 15 key markets, squandering 38% of their potential online revenue. Even among those that do have an online presence, many lack the content or SEO to maximise their traffic and conversions.

In the face of an increasingly competitive market, in which digital-savvy consumers readily price-match between luxury brands and multi-brand retailers, the former can no longer rely on their prestige or heritage alone to generate sales and maintain a direct relationship with their customers. Strategic SEO, backed by high-quality content, is critical to generating traffic and coaxing in customers.  In fact, optimised category descriptions for SEO could be described as the online equivalent of a luxury outlet’s carefully curated storefront, showcasing desirable goods and encouraging shoppers to take a closer look, especially at the initial consideration and evaluation stages of the purchase journey. With the top five SERP listings commanding around 67% of all the clicks for online search queries, ranking well for valuable short and long-tail category terms is critical to success.

According to our assessment, Hugo Boss sets the standard here with best-in-class category content:  informative, detailed and useful, as well as being optimised with semantic vocabulary and metadata for search, while including relevant links to appropriate products.

The fitting room or showroom

Luxury retail outlets are legendary for showing off their goods to their best advantage in-store, presenting eye-catching displays and an opportunity for customers to interact with and inspect items from all angles. It’s a trickier task online, but stunning 360-degree visuals can be combined with carefully crafted product descriptions to serve a similar function, making up for the inability to see, touch or feel the products in person, let alone try them on for size. For the retailer, getting these product visuals and descriptions right is essential for boosting conversions and basket sizes, as well as reducing returns.

Ralph Lauren recreates the fitting room experience with detailed and high-quality product descriptions, augmented with a selection of images and 360-degree video in which the garment is modelled from all angles. In the below listing for its Bullion Double-Breasted blazer, the brand takes pains to provide scrupulously accurate sizing information: “Size 12 has a 64.8 cm body length and an 84.4 cm sleeve length. Body length is taken from the high point of the shoulder. Sleeve length is taken from the centre back of the neck and changes 0.6 cm between sizes.” It also supplies a small-large fit gauge based on customer reviews and feedback.

Dior recently showcased its upcoming Fall 2020 collection with a stunning pop up store in Capri, set in a cave overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. This collection features a wistful ‘Toile de Jouy’ motif in the style of the local artisan. Admittedly, a clifftop showroom on the Med is a challenging prospect to match online, but Dior’s digital offering showcases the same collection with simplicity and finesse. The benefits of individual products, such as an Italian-made silk scarf from the series, are highlighted in a subtly persuasive way: ‘the ideal finishing touch, whether wrapped around the neck, tied around the wrist or used to adorn a bag.

The sales assistant

Luxury outlets are synonymous with discrete and personalised service. Customers expect well-trained and knowledgeable staff to be on hand to provide advice where needed and respond to their needs. But even in the online sphere, it is possible to personalise your service and treat your customer like a VIP – by pursuing deeper and more meaningful engagement.

Increasingly, AI technologies can facilitate the personalisation process, for example, by leveraging behavioural and transactional data that can help you to understand your customers better. This can mean anticipating the sorts of products, offers and experiences that may interest them, rather than waiting for the consumer to search themselves.

More fundamentally, a carefully curated selection of written and visual guides can function like adept sales assistants, pre-empting consumer questions, providing styling tips or inspiration for consumers who may not already have a specific product in mind, or delving into specific products or collections to help consumers make a choice. Offering guide content on topics such as ways to wear a spring raincoat or advice on styling the season’s trainers could also significantly boost a brand’s traffic by generating ‘featured snippets’ and other high-ranking SEO results.

Surprisingly, guide content is one area which many luxury retailers continue to neglect. For example, searches for ‘How to style a Chanel jacket’ or ‘How to wear a Burberry scarf’ each return many millions of results on Google, without

Chanel or Burberry’s own websites appearing anywhere on the first page of results. In the case of Burberry, the brand boasts some strong social content, and its YouTube videos generate traffic, but regrettably not at the point of sale. These brands aren’t alone: the vast majority of luxury sites typically feature only a token paragraph, or even sentence, to accompany new collections and provide no meaningful guide content at all. However, according to our assessment, Paul Smith was a rare example of a luxury brand investing in important guide content and setting the standard with best-in-class editorial pieces.

The visual merchandising

Across a luxury site, compelling visual content, from detailed product imagery to digital storytelling and unboxing videos, are key to generating consumer interest and heightening engagement. Visual merchandising has been described as ‘silent selling’, because its ultimate aim is to maximise the volume of sales. Although luxury retailers frequently provide catwalk footage and glossy campaign videos on their sites, web experiences for those seeking information about specific product lines are often underwhelming.

For customers spending several hundred, or even thousands, of pounds on a handbag or accessory, a closer pre-purchase look is critical. Net-a-Porter provides a clear selection of product images, enabling customers to focus on the details, such as the clasp on this Chloe bag, so that every stitch can be seen, but the overall effect is bland – the addition of video content or 360-degree product visuals could make this listing much more enticing.

In contrast, adopting an approach targeted at spontaneous, mobile shoppers, Gucci’s highly visual style app functions like an avant-garde ‘shoppable magazine’. Shopping is just part of the lifestyle here, with glossy fashion spreads, styling tips, a 24-hour music channel, hotel and restaurant tips, as well as playlists by music producer Mark Ronson and links to Gucci’s social feeds. Users can also create product wish lists. Gucci is capitalising on the great benefit of online shopping – its convenience and flexibility. Users can scroll on their phones while idling beside a pool, see something that inspires them and buy it, instantly.

Staying on top in new world order

The luxury market is undergoing a swift – and permanent – online evolution. As Claudia D’Arpizio of Bain & Company, has put it: “The luxury customer is present and increasingly active, dramatically rewriting the rulebook of the industry. Brands will need to pivot to a new model to respond to customers’ needs when it comes to buying, consuming and communicating.”

Whilst a website can never completely replicate that personalised, VIP service of a high-end luxury store, there are some respects in which online has an edge, particularly in terms of immediacy and convenience. After all, one clear benefit of the digital age, is that it has allowed shoppers to engage with their favourite brands at their leisure – whenever and wherever they want.

By creating high-quality, carefully crafted content and personalising their offering, luxury retailers can retain the loyalty of their traditional customer base, while attracting a new generation of consumers. The opportunities are all there: luxury retailers simply need to grasp them. And despite the current climate of uncertainty, forward-looking luxury brands with a positive mindset may discover boundless opportunities as the balance of power tilts toward digital.

How does your store measure up?

Ecommmerce Content assets – such as product and category descriptions, buying and how-to guides – although frequently overlooked, are a critical driver of revenue, reputation and ROI for online retailers, helping to:

  • Increase conversion rates & AOVs
  • Increase search rankings & traffic
  • Reduce product return rates
  • Maintain brand integrity & a positive customer experience

Is your eCommerce website’s Ecommerce Content up to scratch? To find out, request a complementary Ecommerce Content Score audit of your site.