In September, Glion Institute of Higher Education hosted an inaugural Innovate Luxury Conference in Switzerland, and The Luxury Channel’s Christiane Muller was delighted to hear first-hand from top level speakers such as Christian Blanckaert (Former Directeur Général of Hermès International), Ronald Homsy (Co-Founder and CEO of Utopian Hotel Collection) and Bernadette Koltai (VP of Luxury Hotels Group), about the latest innovations in the hospitality and luxury sectors.
The keyword of the conference was undoubtedly innovation. There was a clear message that despite digitalisation trends, consumers still appreciate a human element within the shopping process. At the highest levels of luxury, a need for personal interaction prevails to provide the personalised, compassionate service that inspires consumer confidence.
According to wealthy consumers, luxury is defined by three elements – 73% believe superior quality is an important attribute, while 54% consider a brand’s design the most important quality. Meanwhile, 47% says it’s all about customer service. Increasingly, luxury consumers want a 360 degree experience – they are buying a whole experience; not just an item. With the rapid growth and volatility of global markets, luxury businesses need to keep reinventing themselves and create the types of products and services that continue to inspire new breeds of consumers, while staying true to their origins and heritage. Luxury consumers themselves are open to engagement – they have their mobile device with them all the time, and are both social and socially engaged. Therefore, brands need to move away from the traditional “monarchy mindset” in order to continue to innovate.
Over the last century, the luxury and hospitality industries have matured together. They have created the standards of elegance and refinement that continue to reign in the luxury industry. Today, the hospitality and luxury industries are merging with brands like Givenchy, Armani, Bulgari, Louis Vuitton and Roberto Cavalli venturing into hotels, spas and restaurants. Likewise, leading companies in the personal luxury goods segment, such as Rolex, Richemont and Hermes are seeking out hospitality business graduates to fill key positions.
The global luxury market is therefore showing steady growth and increasing diversity, but in the future, luxury brands will be challenged as travel, technology, fashion and generational trends continue to influence this highly specialized industry. First, brands must understand the concept of the “borderless consumer” (as most luxury spending is now done by travellers and tourists). Secondly, the industry needs to embrace new technology, digitalisation trends and multi-channel shopping. Finally, brands need to create exceptional experiences and consistency across all touch points – online, in-store and beyond.
A good example of this was given by Christian Blanckaert, the former Directeur Général of Hermès International, who believed in “the power of the window dresser” to excite customers and bring new innovation and technology into the window. “With online video creating shoppable store windows with robot mannequins that mimic shopper movements, there are endless possibilities,” he said.
With traditional models challenged by a shift in consumer behaviour, we learnt that brands need to build new solutions to engage their core consumer base and yet continue to attract new clients. Of course, this is all whilst standing out from the competition. At the heart of what the luxury hospitality sector offers to customers is an experience – and that, ultimately, is what the customer will want to buy into. As the luxury hospitality (and shopping) experience continues to be redefined, brands will need to know how to meet expectations, and understand how to embrace the trends adopted by their target demographics. They likewise cannot ignore the digital impact – as purchasing behaviours change, so too will the sales channels used by consumers, and brands need to adapt to meet this subsequent demand.
Technology and luxury have not always traditionally been the best of bedfellows, but technology is having a transformational effect in every industry, and every industry is looking to technology for innovation and growth. If luxury brands can introduce technology into their products and services, they can start to innovate and inspire going forwards into the digital age.