The shop windows of luxury brands offer a glimpse into a world of discernment, service and exquisite attention to detail. But what is the view like through the same luxury brands' window to the world - their websites?
In January of this year, the retail specialists at Conchango decided to find out by examining the global sites of major names including Dior, Paul Smith, Molton Brown, Gucci and Louis Vuitton.
Conchango's team assessed the sites on usability, brand experience and purchase & delivery (where offered). Within these criteria, Conchango looked at categories ranging from language and richness of imagery through to layout and ease of navigation.
And the winner is...
The results of the survey show that the majority of luxury retailers are struggling to take their brands online. Estee Lauder claimed pole position but the top mark of 109 was far from world-beating when set against a potential total of 190.
Perhaps the most notable finding of the report is the patchy performance of each brand online. While Gucci scored extremely well on readability, its site was undermined by offering poor help and support the equivalent of creating a beautiful store then staffing it with unhelpful assistants.
The Louis Vuitton site managed to undo a lot of its good work in terms of brand experience through poor performance - rather like launching a perfect showroom but only opening it for a few hours on a Sunday.
Even the second-placed brand site, Paul Smith, tripped up by using confusing graphics and photos that were off-brand. Its hard to imagine that this kind of oversight could happen within its real-world boutiques and seems symptomatic of a wider under-investment in the online channel.
In fact, the two areas where Conchango found consistency only served to identify consistently poor performance.
None of the brands surveyed provided an obvious and/or easy to use feedback option. Not only is this poor in terms of encouraging dialogue but also appears to be a missed opportunity to gather marketing intelligence from site visitors.
In addition, the brands Conchango assessed appear to place a very low value on visitor loyalty and engagement with an almost complete lack of incentives to log in and receive personalised content (although Estee Lauder did offer re-ordering options, making it easier for returning customers to find products they wanted).
Want to buy?
On sites where visitors were able to buy, brands seemed reluctant to sell. Our researchers came across a list of issues that included very limited functionality (Gucci), confirmation screens in German (Tommy Hilfiger) and cancelled orders due to availability problems (Mulberry). Whats more, when goods were ordered, their presentation or delivery through third party couriers further served to undermine the luxury promise that the brand offered.
Retail in need of therapy
Conchangos research highlights the need for luxury retailers to increase their focus and investment in the online channel. Some of the worlds most prestigious brands are failing to delight their customers online. The care with which brands chose their location, their design, their products and every stage of customers interaction is not currently mirrored online.
As Lynne Davidson, Conchangos Head of Retail Consulting, commented, We believe its vital for brands to deliver consistent end-to-end experiences across all customer touchpoints online and in the real world.
We recommend that brands investigate why people visit them online and what they expect to achieve. With fears of a global recession, its vital that retailers develop a greater understanding of the online channel and partner with experts who can help them devise and implement customer-focussed strategies in the future.