With closures on the high street and the exponential growth of online shopping, the viability of physical retail in 2018 has never come under so much scrutiny.
However, the shift from product-heavy showrooms to spaces, dedicated as much to experience and culture as they are to selling clothes, is nothing new in the luxury sector.
The direction of luxury retail is all about a philosophy of ‘less, but better’ explains Ana Andjelic, chief brand officer at premium US fashion brand Rebecca Minkoff.
“It’s about more flagship stores that tell the brand story and less random mall stores that are cookie cutter, so all stores have to fit into the locale seamlessly,” she explains.
“There are luxury stores that sell luggage, but they also sell travel itineraries and travel ideas. It’s all about productising the experience of the trip. You also see more stores that are not selling you anything. You can have a coffee or a community meet up, or there’s an event or an art exhibition, or whatever is related to the brand and communicates the role of the brand in culture.”
Products are just one part of that overall storytelling experience, whether you have five selected products, a capsule collection or a limited drop encouraging consumers to visit the store as a means of discovery. Andjelic believes physical stores give brands the opportunity to play with the “visceral language” of sight, sound and smell.
She describes luxury experiences as ones that are convenient, fast and efficient, offering a superior form of service reflective of the Japanese principle of Omotenashi. The ultimate in high-end hospitality, this principle relies on the belief that service needs to be flexible, adaptable, effortless and anticipatory in order to recognise the customer’s needs before they even know what they are.
Offering intimate and one-on-one “delightful interactions” with a brand is the best way to drive loyalty in the luxury space, says Andjelic, who recognises the need to maintain a high degree of consistency across the various touchpoints.
For this reason, focusing on the back-end systems around customer relationship management is increasingly important at Rebecca Minkoff, as the brand aims to recognise the consumer across every touchpoint in the style of a “butler, not a stalker”.
“Loyalty is created by piggy-backing on the identity of the audience and knowing their tastes, cultural affinities, aesthetics and specific identity, so you are talking to them in the language they are already using and on the topics they are already interested in,” says Andjelic, speaking to Marketing Week during the Cannes Lions Festival.
“The internet has created a landscape of networks and people enjoy talking about themselves much more than they enjoy talking about brands, so instead of crowbarring yourself into the conversation, you become part of the conversation by being useful, inspiring and giving people content.”
Promoting modern femininity
In the luxury sector consumers have moved past categories such as high fashion, low fashion or streetwear, says Andjelic, who believes this is the reason it is so difficult to define who the luxury consumer is today.
However, there is a trend among wealthy people towards investing in their own wellness and mindfulness, making self-actualisation the “ultimate luxury”.
“You have this generation of tech ultra-rich people who go completely beyond luxury. They are investing more in their own privacy. They are focusing on the quality of life: on time, on privacy, things that are scarce in their lives,” says Andjelic.
“We are at the intersection of more paired down, unique experiences, versus conspicuous consumption and spending a lot of money on material possessions.”
The Rebecca Minkoff brand itself is shifting away from its eponymous founder and closer to the evolving nature of female identity, taking with it the parts of Minkoff herself that resonated most with customers.
Andjelic describes Rebecca Minkoff’s customers as socially active women who want brands to be present in the world and give them the confidence that they do not have to be a “lone superhero”.
“We still have the Wonder Woman character in Marvel, the lone woman against the world, versus the collective narrative of success that shows behind every successful woman, there is a another successful woman and we don’t recognise that enough,” she states.
“If you think there is only one seat at the table then we [women] need to compete with each other and that’s a very old-school way of thinking. All of us play lots of different roles, we have multiple identities. Even if we’re not confident in our looks, in our smarts, we are confident that there are many of us and so all of us together we can create a difference.”
Andjelic sees the Rebecca Minkoff brand as ultimately providing a collective platform for modern femininity to flourish and offering a compelling narrative of female success through its RM Superwomen blog, which celebrates motherhood, collaboration and the new wave of feminism.