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Analysis: Why Bvlgari’s online store in SG shouldn’t just be a replica of its boutique

Italian luxury brand Bvlgari recently launched its eCommerce platform in Singapore, as part of the digital expansion. The move comes amidst the COVID-19 pandemic that has impacted luxury boutiques worldwide. In March, McKinsey predicted global luxury sales to dip 25% to 30% during the first quarter of 2020. For the year as a whole, it modelled three scenarios for the likely performance of the market, involving contractions of 15% to 18%, 22% to 25%, and 30% to 35%.

Bvlgari’s new eCommerce platform has 3D product images and AR features which allow consumers to scale Bvlgari bags true-to-size in a real-world environment, CNA Lifestyle reported. It added that Bvlgari plans to incorporate the technology for watches, jewellery and other categories within its catalogue. The new eCommerce platform also has a dedicated e-concierge team to answer customer enquiries.

Quoting CEO Jean-Christophe Babin, CNA Lifestyle said eCommerce must be an engaging and exclusive 360-degree experience, offering the same service delivered in a Bvlgari boutique. Babin added that the content and information of the website has to compliment with the boutiques. According to Babin, its eCommerce platform has been its “number one store worldwide with growth exceeding 100%” amidst the pandemic. Following Singapore, UAE, Italy, France, South Korea, Mexico and Brazil are the next countries to welcome Bvlgari’s eCommerce store.

The trend of luxury brands creating virtual stores is not new, with Valentino launching a 3D virtual store on Tmall in 2018 that mirrors its physical pop-up in Beijing, for example. Meanwhile earlier this year, Burberry also launched an AR shopping tool through Google Search technology, allowing consumers to experience Burberry products embedded in the environment around them, enhancing their research and shopping experience online. When searching for Burberry items using Google Search on their phone, consumers can see an AR version of the product at scale against other real-life objects.

In the luxury world, experience and personalisation are one of the main draws for consumers. While it is easy to experience them at physical stores, it can be tough to replicate the experience of a luxury boutique online. That said, Rakuten Advertising’s director of strategic partnerships – Asia, Alexander Short, said the increasing use of advanced AI can allow luxury retailers to successfully provide a personalised experience.  Effective forms of AI that luxury brands can lean on include virtual fit tech, which allows consumers to use their webcam and AI technology to “try on” items prior to purchasing. One company that has already implemented this tech is eye-wear brand Ray-Ban, which allows buyers to try on sunglasses virtually before making an informed decision. Luxury brands can also incorporate this and improve discovery for their consumers with the visual search function that allows them to upload product images and be directed to the correct or similar item, Short explained.

Jeremy Webb, VP of customer engagement and commerce, Southeast Asia at Ogilvy said that data and technology can indeed reproduce aspects of the offline personalised service as part of a brand’s communications and on its app, website and other owned online platforms. This can help in creating positive experiences, such as the feeling of being valued, understood and recognised. However, all brands have to find the right balance and this is no less the case for luxury brands, which have their own unique set of opportunities and challenges.

“While I would say it is all about experience in the luxury world, I would not say it is necessarily ‘all about personalisation’. A customer service person remembering you, yes. Personalised recommendations, yes. And some slight customisation of product, yes. But different communications for different consumers? Hyper personalisation in all communications? I am doubtful,” Webb added.

According to him, while personalisation is en vogue, many brands are rushing into it without realising its pitfalls and the benefits of not personalising. 

Webb also explained that there is also a case for a single, non-personalised shared experience among customers – the knowledge of a customer in Vietnam that a customer in Milan is experience and buying an identical Bvlgari could be adding to the brand’s cachet. “This is why Bvlgari and other luxury brands will have worked especially hard to maintain the right balance in their communication and experience,” he said.

Different, yet complimentary 

Instead of making a clear separation between online and offline experiences, Webb said the experience should be one that involves both online and offline touchpoints. A luxury shopper, for the most part, will experience the brand through a combination of both, he said, explaining that often times, they begin research online but head to the store to complete the process. On other occasions, it is reversed, with the shopper discovering products offline and buying them later online.

“So, it would not make sense for online and offline channels to attempt to offer exactly the same experience. More important, therefore, is that the online and offline parts of the omni-channel experience, while being different, complement one another,” Webb added. That said, it can make sense to create online aspects of the offline experience. For example, if an online experience can recreate the feeling a shopper might have while offline of being recognised, valued and understood, then that can only improve the experience.

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