Traditionally, luxury consumers have been alert to the things money can’t buy: ambience, atmosphere, attitude and personal service. Exclusivity is an attitude of mind, not just limited accessibility. Luxury is strongly connected to sensuality and beauty. It generates feelings of importance, uniqueness, intimacy, privacy and truth.
The digital world will always be a part of luxury after Covid — indeed it was before the pandemic — but experiences will still be sought out and scrutinised; genuine service, expertise and atmosphere that makes you special.
In the past year, the luxury consumer may have been able to access objects but the glamour of experience has been pent up. Many consumers will breathe a joyful sigh when they can freely experience that one-on-one specialness again.
So how can luxury retailers tap into these opportunities?
- Create theatre around selling. Even opening a box and laying out an item for inspection can become a ritual.
- Have salespeople who are ‘nerds’ for the product and able to reel off complex specifications like a waiter in an exclusive restaurant who can remember all the specials off by heart.
- Talk to product history in shop displays and through salespeople.
- Enhance the sensuality of a store for its own sake.
- Create artistic events and surprises like exhibitions.
History has shown us that after a time of darkness and loss of life like the world wars, people sought new design ideals. Often these were more practical ideals; streamlined and simple. Excess caused embarrassment and guilt post war.
For example, Art Deco was a response to the decoration and extravagances of pre-war Victorian architecture. Embellishments and decorative elements seemed inappropriate to people who felt grief and the need for quiet reflection. Likewise, after the Second World War, people sought simplicity and practicality in design. When people have suffered, conspicuous extravagance can seem insensitive. We may see design ideals emerge post-Covid that are simple and discreet.
We may also see behaviours around luxury items change, too, as people look for more subtle ways of displaying their wealth.
This could translate also into people searching for something with more ‘soul’, wanting to understand the origins and methods of manufacture. We have already seen the trend to localism strengthen during Covid as people become more aware of supply chains and origins of the things they purchase and this would be a natural extension of that.
Luxury items may not be approached as superficially as before. For example, luxury consumers may be more interested in sustainability, both environmentally and socially. Times of crisis are inevitably times of questioning.
The luxury consumer may have learnt to shop for luxury online, which means the ‘buzz’ and glamour of the travelling experience and the authenticity that a country of origin brought has disappeared. Without an authentic, glamorous experience surrounding the luxury item, how does the item generate the same level of excitement?
A new mindset may emerge that yearns for realness, origins and connected meaning, as luxury objects will have lived in a type of ‘vacuum’ and the cold light of day. Local expertise, heritage and craftsmanship may make a greater difference to the luxury equation in future to renew feelings of value.
Retailers can tap into this by:
- Being overt about a product’s country of origin and why it fits with quality;
- Having a story behind the products. Where do the precious stones come from and how are they mined? What are your ethics around animals if relevant, such as leather?
- Making the maker behind the product real. Who made it and how? Luxury has traditionally hidden the ‘warts and all’ production of products but seeing the factory floor is now considered a positive way to connect with customers. Check out the Waterford Crystal site and how it showcases the craftsmanship behind its products. The brand shows the machinery and reality of processes to great effect.
- Showcase individual designers to prove humanity, passion and vision in design. Lexus has done this with Japanese designers of car interiors. Some brands that are not usually classed as luxury are starting to become more aspirational through showcasing designers, such as Jil Sander for Uniqlo. Designers Guild, with its exclusive fabric and wallcoverings, has always understood the value of making the designer Tricia Guild an icon of creativity behind the brand.