As eCommerce boomed in the early 2000s, crowds of clothing brands rushed to take advantage of this unprecedented revenue stream. However, there was one clothing sector that showed much less excitement for online shopping – luxury clothing brands.
For years, many luxury clothing brands have been hesitant, or emphatically refused, to sell their products online. However, as eCommerce continues to increase its dominance, this is beginning to change.
Why are luxury clothing brands wary of selling online?
Inclusivity is the grounding principle of the internet. It is all about the mass, being available to everyone - and this is naturally transferred to eCommerce. (Almost) anyone can buy online.
However, this attitude is antithetical to luxury clothing. Luxury is based on its exclusivity. Its value lies in being available only to the few. The inclusivity of eCommerce therefore conflicts with, and damages, the principle of luxury. Because of this, many luxury clothing brands have understandably refused to enter the eCommerce world.
Many luxury clothing experts also believe that the online world isn’t able to provide the exclusive service they want to give their customers, and that their customers expect. As optimised as a site’s UX is, and as helpful as the customer service may be, this can rarely match an in-person relationship with an attentive sales person at the store.
Another issue for luxury brands selling online is price transparency. Many brands charge different prices for the same product in different countries, so if this strategy is transferred online, customers could easily comparison shop and find the cheapest offer.
So why are more luxury clothing brands embracing eCommerce?
In 2015, global digital sales for women’s luxury fashion made up only 3% of the total online clothing market. By 2018, this is expected to reach 17% with Western and particularly Chinese markets leading the way.
The likes of Hermes, Fendi, Prada, Chanel and Tom Ford all now sell online. So why the change of heart?
1. Over-reliance on brick-and-mortar
Long ago, consumers began to replace brick-and-mortar shopping with eCommerce, and this division continues to grow. In 2016, there were 15 shop closures every day across the UK in the first half of the year. Fashion shops suffered a net decline of 87 across the same period. By not selling online, luxury clothing brands are therefore having to rely on a dwindling customer base as consumers increasingly turn to the practicality of shopping online.
As a result, more and more of these luxury brands are choosing to forego an element of their exclusivity and instead, prioritise providing customers with their preferred shopping method.
2. Global reach
With the right structures in place, almost any e-retailer can sell their products across the world and in doing so, hugely expand their audience. Luxury clothing brands are increasingly understanding just how lucrative this international customer base could be, from countries they are yet to truly tap into China, whose women’s online luxury fashion sales are expected to grow by 70% between 2015 and 2018. Ecommerce is crucial to their desire for globalisation.
3. Fear of losing out to competitors
In 2015, two of the world’s biggest online fashion stores, Net-a-Porter (NAP) and Yoox, merged. This was a huge warning sign to luxury clothing brands around the world - go online or risk losing out to online competition.
Chanel, a luxury brand that has notoriously eschewed eCommerce, immediately responded to this news by announcing it would start selling online. It now has an online store that sells a huge range of its products. Creating a domino effect, as luxury brands take the plunge and go online, we expect more and more to follow suit in fear of losing custom to competitors.
It may still take several years for the luxury clothing industry to whole-heartedly embrace eCommerce. However, with the potential so great, it is only a matter of time till luxury brands cannot resist the world of eCommerce world and join the millions of other e-retailers who are reaping the benefits of online shopping.
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