NEW YORK, NY–(Marketwired – Nov 11, 2014) – The following is a White paper by Milton Pedraza, CEO of Luxury Institute, LLC:
All around the globe, the luxury industry has navigated against strong headwinds in 2014. Growth in China has slowed due to government crackdowns and macroeconomic forces, Russian clients are buying far less for obvious reasons, and key European countries dependent on streams of wealthy tourists and aspirational buyers have also stalled. The situation is comparatively better in the United States and in Japan but both nations are growing far below their long-term economic potential. To these cyclical challenges, add in the secular change of online buying cannibalizing store and it has been a tough year for most luxury goods and services providers.
There are exceptions to the rule of sluggish sales. Despite the challenges, pure-play luxury brands like Saint Laurent, Bottega Veneta, and Hermès continue to innovate and make necessary investments to retain their status as luxury brands. No one is immune to market forces. Luxury will always be cyclical, but the real danger for brands that we see comes from self-inflicted wounds caused by the inability to accept new realities and failure to execute. Doing either of these far too slowly is also dangerous.
Looking ahead, the future has the potential to be very bright for luxury. Providing high-end goods and services to wealthy customers will remain a growth industry in volume, and value, for decades to come. What’s crucial now is rapid adaptation to evolving market realities. Powerful forces are affecting the luxury industry right now and remind us that we have to get comfortable being uncomfortable. The time to implement change is now.
We work with dozens of top-tier global luxury brands each year and live in the headquarters and stores of our clients. Based on recent experiences and dialogues, here are seven trends and issues that enlightened luxury brands need to address in 2015:
1. There Are Too Many Luxury Brands For A Slow-Growth Environment
There are too many luxury and premium brands in the world. Our industry has too many hotel chains, too many handbags and apparel producers, too many automotive providers, too many wealth managers, too many watch and jewelry makers and too many private jet charter companies. Name an industry and you’ll likely find a staggering number of brands purporting to be premium. Many have global ambitions.
There are too many “luxury” brands, but not enough great ones. Most are pure copycats. This does not even take into account all the fearless start-ups trying to disrupt the industry.
In 2015, look for many more large, medium and start-up brands to stall, or fail, at a faster rate than over the last few years. Affluent consumers, chased to exhaustion, are swamped by too many me-too options in every category. It will be time for true luxury brands to stop benchmarking the mundane players, understand their own brand identity, values, and standards, and get back to delivering differentiated, fully-priced value in 2015.
2. Comparable Store And E-commerce Sales Are The Critical Metrics
One recurring theme we hear in luxury boardrooms is that any run-of-the mill luxury brand can open stores, including outlets, globally to increase sales. In the current environment, it takes true leadership competence to drive significant comparable store sales. Foot traffic into stores is down 20% to 30% year-over-year for many luxury brands. E-commerce has scarcely made up the difference.
Look for luxury brands in 2015 to stop opening stores completely, even close some, and focus surgically on pinpointing true opportunities to open profitable new stores. The three mantras of luxury economics in 2015 will be: driving new valuable clients to online and offline channels, dramatic increases in conversion, and profitable retention of all high potential clients, not just the VIPs.
3. Not Only Best Practices, Best Execution
Dr. Atul Gawande, a Harvard surgeon and author who has studied how the highest performers in many fields achieve results, has written that the biggest differentiator in medicine and business today is not learning new best practices but executing on a core set of known best practices. For example, hospital infections proliferate today in most hospitals even though medical personnel are fully aware how they can be prevented. Failure to execute best practices consistently is the single biggest impediment of increasing sales and profits in the luxury industry.
Luxury today is full of highly experienced marketing, sales, e-commerce, operations and human resources executives who know exactly how to execute best practices. Unfortunately, many of these leaders show up at the office daily and fail to inspire, empower, measure and reinforce these best practices. In 2015, look for boards of directors to require measurable results from their teams as the hyper-competitive environment requires going from experienced to expert, from delusion to execution.
4. Transforming Store Managers Into Entrepreneurs
Everyone who understands luxury retail agrees unequivocally that the store manager is the backbone of any operation. Despite this wide recognition, many store managers are disempowered into becoming little more than glorified administrators and bureaucrats. They stay in small offices all day counting inventory and pounding out reports that can be automated in a flash.
There is a crisis of management in luxury, but it is not primarily in the executive suite. It is among the store manager ranks. Luxury brands need to attract, retain, educate and empower store managers to become a new breed of entrepreneur within the luxury brand. In 2015, look for top-tier luxury brands to focus resources to dramatically increase the formal education, empowerment and incentives of store managers to generate business by using public relations, digital assets, events, social media, and other tools to drive traffic and sales to stores daily. These local entrepreneurs will unleash a new era of “freedom with boundaries” in the luxury world.
5. Brands Are Finally Getting Serious About Human Relationships
We believe that the concept of a luxury brand having a relationship with its customers without continuous human to human engagement is highly overrated, if not an outright mirage. Last year we told you the online personal shopper was a critical and urgent evolving concept in the luxury world. One of the few brands that executed this concept was mainstream retailer Zappos. Others like Net-A-Porter reserve this concept for VIP clients.
In the coming year, look for more brands to finally begin building deeper relationships with large percentages of online and multi-channel customers. Although resources are scarce, brands should build intimate relationships with, at a minimum, their top 20% to 40% of clients.
Also, and very importantly, look for luxury brands to empower store sales associates who have multi-channel clients to reach out and build human relationships after the client purchases in any channel. For this to happen, digital assets and insights must empower sales associates in real time, and compensation structures will need to reflect the nature of a multi-channel relationship. In 2015 we are extremely optimistic that the economic conditions will force brands to get moving on building better client relationships rooted in personal interaction rather than impersonal algorithms.
6. CEO Change Will Accelerate Again In The Luxury Industry
During the recessionary years of 2008 and 2009 CEO changes were widespread as desperate times called for desperate measures. This time the change lacks desperation, but it will be just as profound. Demographics will drive change in the executive suite as baby boomer CEOs gracefully step down at a rapid clip. We experienced several CEO changes toward the end of 2014, and we expect to see many more in 2015.
In times of change, luxury brands look for more skilled and effective leaders. Enlightened boards of directors at major conglomerates and private equity firms are looking for a new breed of highly collaborative and effective team builders. Inspiration is needed more than perspiration to lead associates to execute brilliantly across segments and channels. Companies expect measurable execution in 2015, and they will get it, one way or another. Given the demographics of luxury, expect more women and diversity candidate CEOs to thrive in 2015, all to the benefit of our industry.
7. Think Less Facebook, More Pinterest
Let’s face it, in its current format, Facebook is of marginal value for luxury brands. Gathering millions of likes and online fans has not been a formula for rapid sales growth in luxury. Success stories have been few and far between despite the lemming-like response from unenlightened digital executives and their agency partners. True luxury buyers are far more discerning. Engagement in luxury requires a one-to-one conversation, not a megaphone.
Social media can certainly serve a useful purpose. Sites and apps like Pinterest and Instagram that engage visually have a far better chance of success for the eye-candy offerings of many luxury brands. Look for localized and personalized efforts to thrive within these highly engaging media and look for the leading edge brands to empower all front-line associates to post their favorites in a brand-sanctioned way. In this way, a brand can engage clients and prospects in rich, honest dialogue that builds relationships and boosts sales.
The luxury industry is healthy, but those who anticipate change will have a decided advantage. Many luxury goods and services brands enter 2015 with false confidence and may only realize too late that the world has changed. Enlightened brands are jumping off of the cresting wave, and onto an emerging wave to drive sales and profits in 2015.
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