Luxury fashion designers find it challenging to adapt to the Digital Era

Luxury fashion designers are struggling to combine the best of yesterday with the new digital era, that is driving consumers today.

At a time, when most other sectors are showing good growth, aided by digital technologies, the same has not been witnessed in the luxury fashion industry, where growth has actually slowed down.

And the overall mood is sombre too. Most fashion executives, investors and industry observers believe that conditions for the fashion industry have become worse. While many knew that the year was bad, nobody knew its was so bad.

“The key message is that 2016 was a really bad year for the industry, probably the worst one since the financial crisis,” Achim Berg, a lead author of the McKinsey report and leader of the firm’s apparel, fashion and luxury practice.

“Luxury brands have come around to [digital] over the past few years. It’s no longer a question of should they, but how should they.”

The efforts of a few luxury fashion brands, who have adopted newer technologies in an effort to connect with an increasingly digital consumer, has also not yield the desired results. And the reason for that is probably best explained suggested by Pauline Brown.

Pauline Brown, senior lecturer at Harvard Business School, where she teaches a course titled “The Business of Aesthetics” says when you talk about luxury goods, you talk about heritage, about a traditional way of storytelling, and all of that is directly opposed to innovation, technology, efficiency.”

So while the recent digital marketing practices may have benefited other sectors, where the products are low priced, and the consumers don’t take a long time to decide, it doesn’t seem to be working yet for luxury products.

“Luxury is a particular industry – you need to have immediacy, you need to have an impulse.”

This is the reason that the “see now, buy now,” concept is gathering so much attention.

Here, a designer’s collection is presented on a fashion-show runway (to the usual audience – press and retailers), but also streamed live on the internet and social media.

The clothing on display is made available for sale the moment the show goes live (earlier, the designer would get roughly six months to hone his or her collection before it hit stores). More brands (Burberry, Tommy Hilfiger, Tom Ford and Ralph Lauren) are now recognizing the need to have their wares available immediately – for purchase online and, in some cases, in stores as well.

Here are more examples where fashion brands are taking the help of technology.

  • Amazon, the online retailer giant, has already started making a move into the fashion industry. Few top brands now sell directly on the Amazon website.
  • High-end fashion brands, who do not have much experience in creating lightning-speed supply chains, have started outsourcing these to Companies that offer software and logistics services, quick customer support, and more technologically savvy features.
  • Some fashion retailers are also selling virtual-reality headsets so that consumers can have a 360-degree view of their show.

Experts however are worried that digital technologies could dilute the luxury experience. Online medium is highly transactional, and luxury is still highly qualitative and experiential.

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So at least for the time being, the two, luxury and digital medium, are struggling to go together!

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