Ten years ago, if you wanted to purchase a new Cartier watch (worth several thousand dollars), you would get in your car and drive to the nearest location without even considering searching online first. Today, you wouldn’t think it odd or abnormal to buy that same Cartier watch online from the comfort of your couch.
Most traditional luxury brands never thought it would be possible to convince a luxury shopper to purchase several thousand dollars worth of items online. That said, online luxury sales are expected to grow to 25% of total luxury sales by 2025. Heritage luxury brands, like Gucci and Hermès, and newcomers, like Yoox Net-a-Porter and FarFetch have been quick to adapt to the changing luxury consumer.
We’ve identified the top UX strategies for luxury brands and retailers to implement to meet the high bar luxury shoppers have set for their online experience.
1. Intelligent Merchandising
Intelligent merchandising benefits both the company and the consumer. For luxury brands and retailers, this allows them to know which products and how many to buy or produce and when to offer them for purchase. This reduces the number of products they need to sell at a discount, which typically tarnishes the company’s brand and status.
For the user, intelligent merchandising gives them complete transparency. As they are shopping online, they will be able to see which products only have a few units left and which sizes or colors are in stock.
Cross Selling and Upselling
Intelligent merchandising gives luxury companies the power to cross-sell and upsell their products. Cross-selling is when the company recommends a product that is related to or compliments the one the customer is currently looking at or similar to items in their shopping cart. For example, if a customer is looking at a bathing suit, you may recommend similar style bathing suits or a beach bag.
The best location to cross-sell a similar item is on the product display page (PDP). With shifting marketing strategies focusing on PPC ads and social media, more and more consumers are landing directly on the PDP. For this reason, “it’s important to display similar items on the PDP to give the customer a jumping point if the item that drew them in wasn’t exactly what they wanted,” says Nik Budisavljevic, Director of Digital Strategy, Analytics, and Optimization at Blue Acorn.
The best time to cross-sell a complimentary item is once the customer has committed to buying the original item (it’s in their shopping cart). Ideally, the complimentary items are displayed on the shopping cart or checkout pages.
Upselling is recommending a product that is a pricier version of the item the customer is currently viewing. For example, a client is considering a hotel suite with a street view, but the company suggests a hotel suite with an ocean view. To avoid scaring off customers, Budisavljevic suggests being conscious of the price increase of the upsell product. For example, if the shopper is viewing a $700 Gucci handbag, you wouldn’t want to try to upsell a $7000 handbag.
2. Segmentation and Personalization
Most luxury shoppers are accustomed to being personally greeted by sales associates and given suggestions based on their personal style, budget, and sizing. It was believed this type of personalized user experience could not be emulated online, but there are several ways to personalize a luxury shopper’s experience online. In fact, 45% of luxury customers are asking for more personalized products and services offline and online.
Advanced segmentation and personalization require large datasets in order for algorithms to operate effectively. That said, there are things you can do to personalize the experience based on their in-session actions, such as which product categories they are viewing or gender product type. Logging behavior that demonstrates intent will drive your email and digital marketing strategies.
An online wish list is a feature that allows customers to save items they are interested in or dying to have but not ready to buy to their account. Wish lists are a useful tool for companies to determine which product type a user prefers, demographics data like their gender and budget, and capture email addresses. Based on this information, they can create a personalized experience for each of the different types of personas: Whales, middle class, and window shoppers.
Brands and retailers can create multiple custom audiences and retarget them based on specific criteria. Each persona type will have their own messaging based on concrete actions, such as adding an item to their cart or wish list, visiting your site, or abandoning check out.
For example, middle class shoppers purchase very few luxury items each year. The ones they do purchase are typically items they saved to buy for a special occasion. Whales, on the other hand, buy whatever, whenever they want. If a whale shopper and a middle class shopper each put the same item in their cart but do not purchase, their retargeting campaigns may have two distinct messaging. For middle class shoppers, the messaging would revolve around a holiday or anniversary to trigger a purchase. For a whale, the messaging may focus on purchasing the item before it’s gone to create a sense of urgency.
3. Images, Videos, and Product Descriptions
The draw of luxury brick-and-mortars is their design, art, and high-end feel. If the site does not have the same aesthetic, customers will feel a disconnect with a brand. As a result, Budisavljevic says, “Luxury shoppers value imagery and web design over functionality or price point online.” He continues, “Because of the high price point of luxury goods, customers need to interact with or try it before purchasing. High-quality images and videos are needed online in lieu of the in-store experience.”
Images and videos are an effective way to tell your brand’s and product’s story and an opportunity to create an emotional connection with the consumer. Videos could include your latest runway show, how your products are made, or how to style or use your products. Images are a great way to showcase the details of your products, such as the seam on a jacket or the diamonds on a bracelet. For example, more luxury brands and retailers are displaying videos of a model walking in the shoes or clothing the customer is interested in on the PDP.
To ensure the site feels as luxurious and thoughtfully designed as the store, all of the images and videos need to be high-quality and large enough for the shopper to see the details. Compelling images and videos not only attract shoppers to the site, but also to your social media channels. Many luxury brands and retailers understand the impact of offering exceptional content through channels like Instagram. Instagram has become a powerful tool for businesses, changing the way users shop and style themselves. Many of the heritage luxury brands have several million followers – Louis Vuitton has over 11 million and Chanel has over 25 million followers.
What’s the point in investing in a social media content strategy if these brands only cater to a small percentage of shoppers? It’s all about perception, staying top of mind, and meeting the expectations of younger luxury shoppers. To cultivate a younger luxury consumer audience, brands need to meet them where they are and give them a reason to follow and like or comment on their posts.
Product descriptions are as important as your images and videos. On the PDP, the product description is your sales pitch. It’s your chance to get the shopper excited about buying this product. Beyond the typical description of item materials and hardware, the ideal description is brand dominant and answers questions like how it fits, where it was made, or why it was designed this way in the brand’s voice.
Here’s an example of a compelling product description of a Fendi bag on FarFetch.com:
“With over ninety years of design under the belt of the Roman maison, a Fendi handbag is a staple of any discerning lover of minimalism, punctuated with a blithe spirit. From rainbow crystal embellished baguettes to the softly scalloped Kan I totes, Fendi creates bags for every possible scenario. This beige calf leather By The Way bag from Fendi features a detachable shoulder strap, a top zip fastening, a hanging leather tag, palladium tone metal, a front centre logo stamp and two interior compartments divided by a zipped partition.
Fendi began life in 1925 as a fur and leather speciality store in Rome. Despite growing into one of the world’s most renowned luxury labels, the business has retained its family feel, with a focus on fine detail, Italian craftsmanship and the support of local artisans.”
The Fendi handbag product description tells the customer whom it was designed for, how it can be used, the benefits of its features, and provides a backstory of the brand.
4. Customer Service
Luxury brands and retailers champion customer service in their stores. Ecommerce gives them the opportunity to provide the same level of customer service through multiple avenues. In a perfect world, a luxury shopper can get their questions answered in whatever method they prefer, be it chat box, phone, email, or social media. Regardless of the avenue they choose, each should have a human element. 39% of consumers across all generations become frustrated when the cannot reach an actual human.
Meet your customers where they are:
- Chat boxes can act as a virtual shopping assistant, answering questions like where to buy the item in-store, how the item fits, or how many are in-stock.
- Social media is an easy way for luxury companies to immediately listen to its customers and respond to their questions and comments.
- Phone is still a preferred method of customer service when the matter is urgent or complex. 50% of shoppers will contact customer service via phone if they cannot find the information they need online.
Leveraging In-Store Associates Online
When a luxury shopper needs gift suggestions for their significant other, do you think they would rather trek to the nearest store location, or shop online with their favorite sales associate?
Giving sales associates an online presence will only strengthen the relationships they have with their clientele. With the use of Salesfloor, Saks Fifth Avenue sales associates can shop with their customers online and get credit for the purchase. Saks customers can also crowdsource suggestions from all of the sales associates.
According to a Salesfloor study, 84% of luxury shoppers prefer to communicate with the sales associate through email and text outside of the store. Additionally, shoppers are twice as likely to purchase an item after interacting with a sales associate.
5. Robust Search Tool
Budisavljevic states, “Luxury users have a very specific intent, so you need to make sure you have a tool to support it.” The customers who use the search tool, referred to as ‘searchers,’ are easier to convert than window shoppers – they load fewer pages and spend less time finding what they are looking for. Searchers will use the search tool to look for things like a product category, a particular product or even an SKU.
On both mobile and desktop, the search tool must be visible and located above the fold. Using auto-complete with error-correction will engage the shopper as they are typing their query. Behind the scenes, the search engine is predicting the search query as the customer is typing. When it works effectively and efficiently, it saves the user time, iterates their search queries, and finds relevant results faster. As the search tool auto-completes the search query, the page will start to populate with relevant products that are clickable and take the customer directly to the product page.
Intelligent merchandising plays a factor in search tool functionality. Using AI algorithms, companies can predict which products a shopper will select at a given moment for particular search queries. Companies can also choose which items populate first or are hidden in the search based on the item profitability, ongoing or ad hoc promotions, inventory, or even customer segments.
Budisavljevic adds, “Search usage depends on how robust the navigation is. If the navigation on allows the shopper to drill down to a specific brand then product category and subcategory, you likely won’t see as many customers using the search tool.”
6. Load Times
In the luxury ecommerce world, slow and steady does not win the race, at least not when page load time is involved. Budisavljevic comments, “Because many luxury brands and retailers use rich imagery, slow load time is a common issue.” Minimizing the page load time is extremely important to avoid customers going to your competitors to shop. The average time for retail is 9.8 seconds in the US, but the ideal time is under 3 seconds. A one second delay in web page time results in a 7% reduction in conversion, 11% fewer page views and a 16% reduction in customer satisfaction.
There are several ways you can decrease the load time on your page without significant investments. One way is reducing the file size of your images and videos, including your thumbnail images and homepage hero slides. Reducing the size will not compromise the quality of your images and videos. Switching off the plugins you do not need, using a content delivery network (CDN), or hosting our static files in the cloud will also aid in faster page load time.
Maintaining your brand aesthetic across all channels is how you form seamless relationships with luxury shoppers. Omnichannel marries the online customer experience with the in-store experience. Yes, most luxury sales are offline, but digital plays a crucial role in the customer journey. Often, consumers will use the website to discover and educate themselves on products and go in-store to see or try on – 70% to be exact. Implementing tools and strategies like high-quality imagery and design, wish lists, search tool, intelligent merchandising, and retargeting will drive sales both online and in-store.