Posted by Ben Cheston via YCN

Illustration by Enrica Casentini

Shopping for luxury items is about more than just making a purchase — it’s an experience. From Louis Vuitton’s Series 3 tech-filled exhibition in London to Hermès’ MANifeste menswear site, luxury brands today are embracing digital, going all out to offer interactive and immersive experiences both digitally and in the real world.

A longer conversation

By giving brands a chance to interact with consumers before, during and after purchase, digital and mobile are stretching the engagement window beyond anything that has been available before — opening up a wealth of opportunities to influence potential shoppers to browse and buy. And, as luxury purchases often require higher levels of consideration, the experience at every stage of this engagement window has to be outstanding.

The influence of digital on luxury purchases is not to be underestimated. In a 2013 report, McKinsey revealed “45% of luxury purchases are influenced by what shoppers find in the digital universe… by the time many shoppers have reached a bricks-and-mortar luxury store, they’re likely to have a good understanding of all the products in the category, including features and prices.”

With consumers already clued up before they walk through the door, retailers need to use digital to continue and enhance the experience — seamlessly and subtly escorting shoppers from the screen to the store, and using digital and mobile to connect this back to the retailer’s online presence.

Innovating in-store

Burberry has supercharged the retail experience at its Regent Street flagship in London by literally weaving technology throughout the store. With disruptive digital takeovers that are synchronised across all in-store screens and speakers, and RFID tags that are woven into clothing and accessories to deliver emotive branded content, customers can clearly see the digital presence in-store. The biggest impact comes from connecting products to interactive mirrors so customers can explore information on the craft and detail in each garment. This seamless interactivity helps them to dive deeper into the experience, creating stronger connections with the brand and its products, and catalysing sales. As Burberry recently pointed out in online digital marketing magazine CMO, 22% of consumers spend more as a result of using digital.

Claire Higgins, Head of Digital Marketing at Selfridges, reinforced this point at the London Business School’s eCommerce Conference earlier this year when she voiced a view that many share: ”Digital should enhance the customer experience, not replace it.” The department store created the Selfridges Fragrance Lab in London last summer. Here, customers were invited to wander through a series of sensory chambers, answering questions on their tastes and habits along the way using an iPad app. The answers were used to identify their individual olfactive preferences and create a 50ml bottle of perfume designed specifically for them, which they could go on to buy. In-store activations such as these provide a glimpse into how immersive experiences will soon become a more common feature of real-world retail, facilitated by mobile and digital technologies.

More recently, Tommy Hilfiger launched a digital showroom at its Amsterdam headquarters, with the aim of transforming the traditional buying process. Through an interactive touchscreen table, which is linked up to a large screen wall, customers can discover, curate, examine, order and shortlist products from the brand’s full digital catalogue. The digital solution aims to make the discovery and shopping process more streamlined, convenient and cost-efficient for both the customer and the brand.

Meanwhile, high-end department store Neiman Marcus offers a digital mirror where customers can virtually compare looks. Recognising the potential of mobile to elevate and extend the experience, shoppers can then not only use the mirror to share outfits with friends, they can also revisit images on their personal devices. Mobile is being used to connect customers and staff too, via the retailer’s new app — here, sales associates are listed according to department, and customers can call, text, email or even FaceTime them directly from the app itself.

Next-level engagement

Google is driving a lot of thought leadership around how to service the customer at key ‘moments’ of the shopping journey, both in-store and online. One of their leading statistics states that 82% of smartphone users turn to their phone to influence a purchase decision while in a store. Consumers of luxury products expect enhanced service levels — and digital can be the tonic. The key is speed and convenience — ideally beyond the levels that a Google search can offer.

It’s easy to find a product online through search, but if there’s a more efficient, relevant or enjoyable way to do it, you’ve a much greater chance of impressing the customer and potentially influencing a purchase. Visual search engines are growing in popularity — The Net Set by Net-a-Porter, which comes with a style matching system, analyses a user’s photos to create a shoppable selection of other outfits they might like.

Customer experience needs to be truly immersive and relevant to have impact and drive purchase, loyalty and awareness, and there’s no shortage of ways digital and mobile can help create these interactions. This will stimulate customers into new purchase behaviours and brand ambassadorship. To create truly engaging experiences, we need to think of mobile not just as a device, but as a behaviour. We need to create experiences with the customer at the core.

Ben is Commercial Director at mobile specialists Hi Mum! Said Dad. Illustrations by Enrica Casentini.

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