Luxury Institute News

October 27, 2015

Relationship building critical to luxury retail: Luxury Institute CEO

Luxury Daily
October 27, 2015
By: Sarah Jones

LONDON – The human element is going to be the top differentiator among luxury brands going forward, according to the CEO of Luxury Institute at Luxury Interactive Europe 2015 on Oct. 26.

As consumers increasingly experience the world through screens, they will come to crave the now-rare human connection. Here is where luxury brands can help themselves stand apart by outperforming their peers at relationship building and delivering a worthwhile personal touch.

“As consumers are more sophisticated, and as products become more commoditized, it’s the delivery of an optimized experience across channels that is critical and that high performance client relationships are our differentiators,” said Milton Pedraza, CEO of Luxury Institute, New York.

Brand image
Brands are struggling to define themselves, especially as they bleed into more affordable price points. For instance, a representative from an Italian jeweler told Mr. Pedraza that his brand does not know its own identity anymore, after a move down market left it straddling premium and exclusive.

Luxury Institute client Nordstrom now makes half of its sales via outlet stores. Recognizing that the customer retains a level of mystery, Nordstrom similarly remains ambiguous. Despite this non-specific label, the retailer still scores first in customer service in surveys conducted by the consultancy.

Nordstrom Anniversary Sale
Nordstrom heavily promotes its anniversary sale on social media

Consumers are becoming more sophisticated, and brands need to optimize their user experience for their requirements.

Across channels, brands in the luxury space are struggling to connect the dots between policy, procedure and system to deliver a rewarding customer experience.

While 37 percent of men and 49 percent of women find browsing without help from a store associate to be most effective, this does not remove a brand’s place in the process. For brands to guide consumers’ exploration, they should include signage in an on-brand way or have store associates communicate with the shopper to help them find what they are looking for.

Valentino Rome store women
Valentino store in Rome

Even in the digital space, which tends to be thought of as a do-it-yourself shopping channel, the human element cannot be entirely removed. Walmart might be able to automate and take out that the personal interaction from the buying experience, but for luxury brands, the relationship is everything. It is especially important to invest in this personal approach for top tier clients.

Therefore, sales associates should be taught interpersonal skills, such as trustworthiness. While often thought of as innate, these can be learned. Ensuring that all associates are pulling their weight will also help to retain top frontline employees over time.

For best practices, Mr. Pedraza suggests looking outside of the luxury industry rather than studying peers. Those that excel at relationship building are within the military, medicine and airline industries. For instance, brands can look to the military, which has developed successful methods of empowering soldiers, to gain insights on store associate education and guidance.

Making a connection
Mr. Pedraza asked each of the tables to discuss what changes they would make to their organizational structure, front line associates and compensation to help foster strong client relationships.

Ideas from around the room included rotating employees within roles to develop empathy, looking at the company from the consumer’s perspective and empowering sales associates with access to technology and a CRM system. Other suggestions included new roles, such as a customer information officer, which would span sales and marketing.

After hearing from the room, Mr. Pedraza shared his suggestions. These include empowering employees by shifting the organizational structure from a top-down management style to one where individuals are self-managed.

Milton Lux Int Europe
Milton Pedraza

On the same note, employees should be educated rather than trained, with the focus on ideas for creative relationship building rather than delving out a strict formula to follow.

Associates should be compensated for their actions, such as messages sent and appointments booked, rather than their sales results.

Brands should also make sure that each and every member of their team fits the culture. For many companies, this would mean eliminating employees who do not want to talk to anyone.

In addition, brands should ensure that the technology they are providing their staff with is up-to-date. Ineffective systems are often a dealbreaker for associates, particularly younger employees, and they will take their talent elsewhere.

While technology can help to deliver a high-touch experience to consumers, data and automation cannot replicate the level of engagement that a salesperson can create with shoppers, according to an executive from Moda Operandi at Luxury Interactive 2015 on Oct. 13.

Moda Operandi employs stylists, who work with its most valued consumers to provide personalized recommendations and one-to-one communications, but the process being used to deliver this service was tedious. Keeping the same human touch business model, Moda Operandi built a new platform to help its stylists deliver more relevant, visually appealing messages to the most important customers (see story).

“The key is that we’ve created these great channels, but we haven’t connected the dots,” Mr. Pedraza said. “And that I think is the critical issue.

“It’s not that we’re not innovating in each of those channels. It’s that we have not connected the dots to the point where, for example, a sales associate is empowered and inspired and maybe incentivized to send the client online,” he said. “Or that when the client buys online, the sales associate reaches out with a thank you card and a follow-up.

“We haven’t figured out those little basics that really create realtionships. Today we are very digital, very technical, we’ve disempowered the people in the stores, is one of my premises. We haven’t connected the dots, as simple as they are to connect, whether it’s technologically or humanistically, we haven’t figured out the policies, the procedures, the systems yet.”


October 16, 2015

Authenticity, engagement make for stronger social media presence

Luxury Daily
October 15, 2015
By: Forrest Cardamenis

NEW YORK – Any brand can create a social media account, but using these platforms to create a natural extension of the label and leverage social clout to generate sales and loyalty is another matter, according to a speaker at Luxury Interactive 2015 on Oct. 13.

Social media has shrunk the distance between brands and consumers, but bringing these parties closer together has also destroyed traditional business/customer relationships. To be successful on social media, consumers need to be treated like equals and people, otherwise social presence could, counterproductively, push consumers to competition.

“A lot of brands think ‘We have to do this, we have to create content, we have to get out there,’” said Aliza Licht, also known as “DKNY PR Girl,” former public relations executive for DKNY. “A lot of times the need or the urgency to create content is overshadowing the importance of staying true to your brand’s DNA.”

Social engagement
Establishing your brand’s DNA is crucial to creating an authentic and admired social media presence. Brands must identify their core values and ideas and set up boundaries on what topics they will and will not get involved in online.

Tweeting and posting only about promotions and new products creates an inhuman distance from the consumer’s standpoint, but getting involved in serious sociopolitical discussions could alienate those with differing viewpoints.

DKNY Scandal tweet
DKNY PR Girl often tweeted about social happenings to build authenticity

Any active user on social media will inevitably find themselves in some sort of a crisis, but that only makes it more important to engage with consumers as equals. When communication is this direct, the traditional positioning of the brand being above the consumer no longer works, and it won’t create a network of loyal consumers and defenders when that crisis comes along.

“When you’re friends with a customer you create respect and create a situation where, when you make a mistake – and we all do – you are more easily forgiven,” Ms. Licht said.

In addition, when trying to reach international consumers, the same tricks that work in one country might not work elsewhere, so international partners are crucial in helping brands find effective ways to engage. That said, there are common denominators. People all around the world want to be heard.

dknyprgirl twitter
DKNY PR Girl twitter

In one case, Ms. Licht tweeted about the 100 percent humidity in New York on a summer day. “Of course it’s a hair-wash day,” she added. By doing so, she found a natural and enticing way for followers all over the world to share their thoughts with the weather, and retweeting replies from different countries showed that DKNY listened to global consumers.

Search functions also make it easy to “listen” on social media. Users talking negatively about a brand may not be tagging that brand in their posts, but they can easily be searched, and the findings can be used to make changes that will satisfy doubters before competitors steal them away.

As it is in everything else, self-reflection and self-criticism is crucial to creating a strong social presence. A brand should examine its output to ensure it is putting forth the best version possible of itself in terms of message and attitude.

Youth movement
With millennials growing into affluence and becoming a key market, social media presence will only grow in importance.

Social media has created a unique environment that allows for personal engagement between consumers and brands, according to the creative director of Loewe at the Condé Nast International Luxury Conference April 23.

Social media allows consumers to be involved with brands on an instant basis. The stories that can be told and the people that can be reached through modern mediums change the face of the luxury industry (see story).

The genuine and personal connection that social media lends itself to is more attractive to consumers who want more from businesses than constantly being sold to.

Consumers are split on their willingness to download luxury brand applications, but when dispersed into generations, 72 percent of millennials are inclined to download a branded app, according to a report from The Luxury Institute.

Digitization of the luxury world is slowly evolving as younger generations grow into being affluent consumers. Luxury clients differ across more than just generations, but understanding the prime and upcoming consumer can prepare marketing teams for the future (see story).

“A lot of brands still maintain that position of ‘We’re up here, you’re down here, we’ll push content to you when we feel like you need to know something, we’re not going to respond to you, but we’ll let you know what is important,’” Ms. Licht said. “I don’t agree with that approach. I think being likable and being an engaging platform makes a huge difference in growing a community.

“The anti-elitist mentality is a winning mentality,” she said.


September 17, 2015

What The Apple Watch Hermès Tells Us About the Future of Tech and Luxury

By: Eustacia Huen
September 17, 2015

Last week, Apple unveiled Apple Watch Hermès, a new collection of Apple watches that links the tech giant with French fashion house Hermès for a striking opening act to fashion month. The new watches in stainless steel feature an etching of Hermès signature and a customizable face with three exclusive dial designs inspired by Clipper, Cape Cod and Espace Hermès watches.

Joined by the brands’ mutual focus on design, the Apple Watch Hermès is a result of what Pierre-Alexis Dumas, artistic director of Hermès called “an alliance in excellence; like horse and carriage, a perfect team.” Beyond the obvious strategic move of two companies at the top of their games, the partnership holds implications about the future of tech and luxury.

First of all, there is the obvious progression of tech products becoming more luxury-oriented, and luxury products becoming more tech-oriented. The Apple Watch is unique for having no visible Apple logo when the product is being worn. Giving Hermès the limelight, Apple is able to reach out to an affluent yet fashion-centric audience that was not previously reachable. Coupled with the fact that Apple shelled out for plenty of advertising pages in Vogue and delivered devices to models, the brand sends a clear signal that it’s trying to sell the Apple watch to the fashion world. As for Hermès, a 178-year-old brand famous for its iconic handbags and leather goods, entering any partnership like this is a rare yet strong statement that it wants to be viewed as contemporary.

With Apple wanting a luxurious edge, and Hermès hoping to branch out from their ‘wealthy grandmother and mother’ clientele, the Apple-Hermès partnership also informs us about the millennial demographic targeted by both companies, according to Milton Pedraza, CEO of the Luxury Institute.

Perhaps the best way to understand the demographic, as the luxury expert noticed, is the pricing of the watches. Ranging from $1,100 for the 38mm stainless steel case with the Single Tour (single band) to $1,500 for the 42mm stainless steel case with the cuff, the Apple Watch Hermès is not the most expensive watch for either brands.

While I think the Apple Watch Hermès could benefit from more refined elements from Hermès and more technological features from Apple, it’s a decent first attempt nonetheless. According to Pedraza, the collaboration is significant as it marks the transitional period before millennials become fully capable as primary consumers. And during this “period of positive disruption and innovation,” there are a few things he said we should expect: “Even fewer people will visit actual stores, and future products—whether they are in the tech or luxury market—will become more experiential.”


August 10, 2015

The Death of the Swiss Fine Timepiece Has Been Greatly Exaggerated

The Lilian Raji Agency
By: Lilian Raji
August 10, 2015

Late last month, Edward Faber, co-owner of Aaron Faber Gallery and author of  American Wristwatches: Five Decades of Style and Design,  Gary Girdvainis, editor of WristWatch magazine and AboutTime magazineand Jeffrey Hess, CEO of Ball Watch USAMilton Pedraza, CEO and Founder of The Luxury Institute, and Jason Alan Snyder, Chief Technology Officer of Momentum Worldwide reconvened Aaron Faber Gallery’s annual Watch Collectors’ Roundtable to debate the question, “Will Smartwatches Disrupt the Swiss Watch Industry?” The Roundtable was moderated by Eleven James CEO, Randy Brandoff.

With the recent  release of a report by market research firm Slice Intelligence announcing that Apple watch sales have declined 90% since their initial launch, the unanimous predictions of the Roundtable panelists has been proven accurate:  no, smartwatches will not disrupt the Swiss watch industry.

What the panelists couldn’t agree on, however, was if smartwatches would impact the industry in any way.

  • Jeff Hess, who also owns Hess Fine Art, noted his customers have been coming in wearing a smartwatch on one wrist and a fine Swiss timepiece on the other.  In this, there seems to be the possibility of harmony between the two types of watches.
  • Edward Faber asserted that a smartwatch will never seem as prestigious as walking into a boardroom wearing a Rolex Presidential or other high status watch.  Smartwatches will only be a gadget.
  • Milton Pedraza agrees on the novelty factor of watches, but didn’t dismiss that smartwatches could ultimately be more a fashion statement than a power statement.
  • Gary Girdvainis predicted that smartwatches would ultimately become gateways for the millennials who gave up watches for their smartphones to now begin entertaining the idea of wearing a watch.  When these same millennials reach their 30s, after spending the last few years wearing a smartwatch, graduating to a Swiss timepiece will be their next step.
  • For tech industry expert, Jason Alan Snyder, smartwatches are about functionality and features.  They are about advancing technology to make our lives easier. The debate shouldn’t be about smartwatches vs timepieces, they should be about smartwatches and all the major advancements going on in technology.

As Randy Brandoff moderated the panel, addressing such issues as the future of the watch industry for collectors, what future technological functions make sense for wristwear and Swiss watch manufacturers pursuing their own smartwatches, panelists made predictions and gave insights that will make many watch, technology and luxury industry people “wait and see” over the next few months as smartwatches set the stage for the evolution of how people tell time.

Click the link to watch the video of the roundtable for quotes by Milton Pedraza, CEO of Luxury Institute: The Watch Collectors’ Roundtable – Will Smart Watches Disrupt the Swiss Watch Industry?

To learn more about the Roundtable at or contact The Lilian Raji Agency at or (646) 789-4427.

September 25, 2014

Social network aims for country club status

September 25, 2014
By Katie Humphrey

It could be a story from “The Onion”: Join an online country club for the elite, memberships starting at $9,000.

Except it’s true. Last week, a Minneapolis man launched Netropolitan.Club, a social network for the rich and exclusive. Forget the commoners on Twitter and Facebook. Netropolitan founder James Touchi-Peters bills his site as “a place to talk about fine wine, fancy cars and lucrative business decisions without judgment.”

Its Sept. 16 launch got so much buzz — mostly of the snarky variety — that Jimmy Fallon mentioned it on “The Tonight Show,” imagining posts about firing the gardener and the caviar bucket challenge.

The site’s landing page got so many hits it was slow to load. Then the hackers descended. On Sunday evening, Touchi-Peters, who used to conduct the Minnesota Philharmonic Orchestra, pulled the site down for security upgrades.

“We were aware that people would try to hack the Netropolitan Club, but we were not prepared for the overwhelming amount of attacks,” he said in a statement posted on the Netropolitan Club’s Facebook page. (Because, apparently, even elite social networks need Facebook.)
He said it would be back up by the end of the week.

But will it catch on? We may never know. Touchi-Peters won’t say how many members have joined the site, or give any hint of their backgrounds. He also won’t give anyone a peek at the advertising-free network — unless they pony up the whopping membership payment.

“The attraction is that it’s private,” he said. “So far it’s exceeded our wildest expectations.”
Still, it could be a tough sell.

Privacy is valuable to the wealthy, but so is value, said Milton Pedraza, CEO of the Luxury Institute, a New York City research firm specializing in data and insights of high-net-worth consumers.

“I’m a bit of a skeptic,” Pedraza said of Netropolitan. “What are the benefits?”

Previous attempts to create elite-only networks have mostly fizzled, Pedraza said. One that is still active, ASmallWorld, is focused on jet-setting young adults, offering travel perks and hosting parties around the world. Membership, by invitation only, is $105 a year.

Touchi-Peters, a musician who travels frequently, said Netropolitan is aimed at like-minded people who may not have time to socialize in person, a group he calls the “working wealthy.” Or, he said, it could also appeal to rich people who live in rural areas and don’t have access to traditional social clubs. Users create profiles and can post on message boards organized by interest.

“Most people are going to join to meet other people,” Touchi-Peters said.

More specifically, people who can afford $9,000 upfront and the subsequent $3,000 annual fee.
So much for the idea of an open, egalitarian Internet.

That was a myth, anyway, said Seth Lewis, assistant professor of digital media and journalism at the University of Minnesota. Even Facebook started as the digital playground of Ivy League college students.

“It’s almost like [Netropolitan is] trying to put the genie back in the bottle,” Lewis said, referring to the site’s exclusivity. “The proposition is interesting. It’s hard to see how it succeeds.”As for the name Netropolitan, Touchi-Peters said, it’s a play on the words “metropolitan” and “Internet.” He wanted something that spoke to a cosmopolitan crowd, but the title “Cosmopolitan” was already taken.

“Netropolitan does not stand for ‘net worth,’ ” Touchi-Peters said.

But you’d better be worth a lot if you’re going to get past the virtual gate.

February 27, 2014

Handset Makers Go Big on Smartphones

By Brian X. Chen
New York Times
February 26, 2014

BARCELONA, Spain — Smartphones are going against one of the long-held rules in portable electronics, that smaller is better.

Year by year, computers, storage devices and music players have shed size and weight. And for decades, it has been happening with cellphones, too.

But now cellphones, and smartphones in particular, are going the way of the television: They just keep getting bigger and bigger. And people keep buying them.

The trend became even more apparent this week, as handset makers introduced a number of big-screen smartphones — from five diagonal inches to more than seven inches — at the Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona, Spain.

Click the link to read the entire article which includes a quote from Milton Pedraza, CEO of Luxury Institute:

February 5, 2014

Wealthy Shoppers Tell Brands How They Want Technology Integrated Into The Shopping Experience

(NEW YORK) February 5, 2014 – The New York-based Luxury Institute asked consumers 21 years of age and older from U.S. households with minimum annual income of $250,000 about their views on incorporating technology in the shopping experience.

Nearly half (47%) of wealthy consumers say that a sales professional providing live chat or video assistance online would help them understand more product details, and 58% appreciate the convenience of instant answers.  Only 15% of shoppers say that they have tried chat or video and refuse to do it again.

Wealthy shoppers do not mind companies collecting personal data and using it for customized marketing, but they do show strong distaste for clandestine data gathering via mobile phones, facial recognition software and GPS tracking; 69% say information collected in this manner is a privacy violation.  Just 24% approve of retailers using facial recognition software to identify them and observe shopping habits.

Using technology in-stores to accelerate checkout is popular, but many affluent shoppers shy away from self-checkout.  Almost three-fourths (73%) say that they appreciate the time savings of checking out via mobile devices instead of standing in line at cash registers.  Although 45% say that self-checkout is more efficient, 44% prefer transactions with help from staff.

Technology has little to do with what wealthy shoppers desire most: free shipping and returns, cited by 92% of respondents.

“Habits of today’s wealthy consumer have increased the desire to browse, reserve and purchase using a mix of channels,” says Luxury Institute CEO Milton Pedraza. “Technology allows brands to leverage customer data and shopping habits, however salespeople still play a vital role into creating unique and engaging experiences.”

September 23, 2013

Small Business Learns To Build Customer Loyalty Like Luxury Brands

Luxury Institute founder applies lessons learned in high-end retail to small and medium sized businesses.

(NEW YORK) September 23, 2013 – There are more than 27 million small businesses in the United States, according to the Small Business Administration, but 50% of them will fail within five years. While lack of capital is a major factor, also significant is the lack of a customer-centric culture.

“Many entrepreneurs launch businesses with a great product or service idea, and then proceed to focus on daily transactions rather than building long-term customer relationships,” says Milton Pedraza, CEO of the Customer Culture Institute. “Focusing on transactions over relationships does not breed customer loyalty.”

Successful smaller companies, says Pedraza, are organized at an early stage to deliver extraordinary experiences to every customer on a daily basis. The problem for most small businesses is a lack of expertise and a proven process.

To provide these companies with access to state-of-the-art methodologies and metrics to measure and boost customer satisfaction and loyalty, the Customer Culture Institute is launching a do-it-yourself, online software platform to help small businesses to create their own customer culture. Pedraza, who is also CEO of the highly-respected New York-based Luxury Institute, says the Customer Culture Navigator software enables business owners to communicate with and provide needed support and training for their employees in real-time.

Small business teams will use their creativity to custom design a cultural foundation with clear definitions of relationship values and standards. The software helps to train, measure and reinforce the culture daily, a process that has a track record of dramatically improved customer loyalty at large luxury and premium brands that Pedraza has previously coached.

“We help move companies away from a soulless transaction mentality to profitable long-term customer relationship building,” says Pedraza. “In essence, we teach them that outbehaving the competition leads to outperformance.”

One innovative approach Pedraza and his team have taken, is to use crowdfunding site Indiegogo to raise funds from investors in the project. The campaign can be viewed at

“Online crowdfunding is an elegant win-win-win opportunity,” says Pedraza. “We have an opportunity to provide valuable resources to our funding contributors, while building a project that can transform small business culture and dramatically increase the success rate of small business.”

September 11, 2013

Apple Unveils Faster iPhone, and a Cheaper One, Too

By Brian X. Chen
The New York Times
September 10, 2013

That is why Apple is releasing two new iPhones this month instead of just one, including a cheaper model aimed at less wealthy countries where new Apple phones have been desired but are out of reach because of their price.

The lower-cost model, the iPhone 5C (the C for color) comes in a plastic case and has the same features as the now-discontinued iPhone 5. The fancier model, the iPhone 5S, comes in aluminum and includes a faster processor and a fingerprint sensor for security, among other features. The iPhone 5S costs $200 with a contract, and the iPhone 5C costs $100 with a contract.

But at full price without a contract, which is how many overseas carriers allow people to pay for phones, the iPhone 5C costs $550 — only $100 less than the iPhone 5S. That is far higher than the range of $300 to $400 that many analysts believed could help Apple against lower-cost competition.

Click the link to read the entire article which includes a quote from Milton Pedraza, CEO of Luxury Institute:

September 10, 2013

Luxury Brands Face Hazards When Testing Lower Costs

By Brian X. Chen
September 9, 2013
The New York Times

For upscale brands, there is a fine line between “cheaper” and “cheap.” And for Apple, the premium electronics maker, the key is to avoid crossing it.

Apple on Tuesday will introduce two iPhones, including a new lower-cost model targeted at overseas countries where expensive smartphones are out of reach for many consumers.

The addition of a cheaper iPhone could help Apple sell tens of millions more phones. But it could also diminish its reputation as a premium brand.

Many luxury companies have faced this challenge before, with wildly different results. Luxury carmakers have introduced less expensive models, but many efforts have tripped up. Tiffany & Company found so much success with its cheaper “Return to Tiffany” jewelry, that it attracted too many teenagers. And Target has paired up with a variety of high-end fashion designers, often with considerable success.

Click the link to read the entire article which includes a quote from Milton Pedraza, CEO of Luxury Institute:

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