The Luxury Channel meets Julia Carrick OBE, founder of new app ISO Luxury, to talk current and future trends within the luxury industry, how shopping habits are changing both at home and abroad, and where to find your favourite luxuries for a little less….
What is the current state of the luxury industry generally, and the British luxury industry in particular?
The threat to the luxury industry is very real due to worldwide store closures and consumers holding back on their spending. It makes for a different environment to sell products and create strong relationships with customers. The British luxury industry is worth £48 billion to the UK economy, and research commissioned by the BCG estimates that the sales in the global luxury industry will fall by 30% this year, and the UK market is unlikely to be an exception.
On the whole, luxury CEOs are positive about the times ahead according to results taken from a poll conducted by Mckinsey, with 66% believing this will have a positive impact on their future sales capacity. However, concerns shouldn’t be ignored – 10% have stated that the pandemic has negatively impacted their business already, whereas 24% are uncertain of what the future holds.
Despite these predictions, if we look to China, on the first day of re-opening Hermes generated $2.7 million in sales. Examples such as this demonstrate that the international luxury market might recover quicker than Europe, as the threat of COVID-19 is minimal. In Asian markets, consumers have a passion for e-commerce across all industries.
In the shorter term, with a slow return to travel, many luxury brands are focusing on their domestic customers as they re-open stores. Brands are also firmly placing digital at the epicentre of their brand, as well as concentrating on delivering a familiar and trusted experience locally. The safety of their staff and customers are priorities and this will be challenging for brands with smaller spaces.
What would you say is the true essence of a luxury brand?
To me, luxury is a product or a human experience that is both beautiful and rare, where artistry and attention to detail meet – the “aura” that is created from a combination of uniqueness, craftsmanship, outstanding design and innovation.
The concept of luxury is changing because our society, cultural norms and expectations are evolving more quickly than in the past. It is a much wider concept and not easy to define. While luxury once meant the most expensive or most well-known product, today it is about creating an experience to remember, focused on quality, value and the theatre of shopping.
The reinvention of luxury doesn’t disregard the values of the past but builds on them. Today’s discerning shoppers want brands that tell a story, are rooted in heritage and are of such genuine quality that they can be passed down to the next generation.
New luxury taps into customer emotions, personal preferences and connections – that emotional connection with the consumer. People want to feel that they are getting something special that not everyone has. A product is luxurious when it’s handmade, tailored for a few and has a clear intrinsic value. The value comes not just from the brand name or logo, but what that product represents – whether that’s heritage, craftsmanship, exclusivity, or authenticity.
In what ways has the retail market changed in-store?
The digital and e-commerce world has had a significant impact on in-store retail, and for many it is a point of product research. The digital sphere gives the customer access to relevant information, such as product reviews and competitor collections at the click of a button, which in turn enables them to make a well-informed purchase decision.
ISO Luxury believes in the power of the in-store experience. Bricks-and-mortar luxury retailers have a secret weapon, a unique appeal that simply cannot be replicated online at the point of sale – the personal touch. Store presence remains vital for the health of our high streets and community. It’s where a brand can put its best foot forward and a customer can enjoy the experience – with service being the centre point. The interest in experience over the accumulation of goods means that luxury products must become part of the story-telling process and play a significant part in the creation of memories.
COVID-19 has shifted the focus even further away from the high streets and stores; therefore as an industry we must find a collective way to connect our stores with consumers, both in person and digitally. Experiential luxury is the latest development to transform consumer shopping experiences, since the outbreak first began. Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) have been used by major luxury brands in the form of offering virtual shopping tours, VR experiences, events and workshops. By doing this, we can make store visits attractive to a luxury consumer. This is where we are heading.
At ISO Luxury, we are becoming the digital connection point between stores and shoppers, with a lifestyle hub that has all the stores in one place with addresses, a store locator, opening hours, dedicated names at each store, showcasing exclusive and rare products, trending items, promotions and more. Ultimately, customers want to physically experience luxury goods with human interaction. Whilst challenging to replicate in an online world, experiential luxury is where the action will be.
In the coming months, I think we will see a shift in luxury consumer shopping habits, once again. Therefore, in these troubling times, it has never been more important to bring together brands and influential shoppers.
How did you come to set up ISO Luxury, and how does it work?
Carrick ISO Luxury is an exclusive lifestyle Members Club and Concierge for discerning acquirers and shoppers of the world’s finest brands.
Ultra-VIP customers wish to experience brands on a bespoke, private and exclusive basis. The right personable approach with a generous discount on the purchase or booking can go a long way. The rising trend towards online shopping and bookings, changing consumer preferences, irregular buying habits and lack of brand loyalties mean that consistent luxury buying and established long-term customer relationships cannot be relied upon. Our concept serves to reach this elusive audience and address these trends.
As a result of these emerging trends and the sharp decline in our high streets’ footfall with shops disappearing, I felt strongly that I needed to do something to help promote British luxury brands and the luxury industry to the consumer. Our mission and importance to the brands is to find new and innovate ways of targeting consumers to drive sales and increase footfall back to the bricks-and-mortar stores.
Our proposition at ISO Luxury is quite simply to match ultra-luxury brands with ultra-high net worth consumers, to increase sales and customer bases via benefit schemes with unparalleled privileges and rare access. To engage these uber purchasers, we developed the ISO Luxury app that is of perceived high value. Together with my co-founder, Andrea Koday-Vörös, we embarked on our mission to establish this incredible community of brands and luxury buyers with the trust and support of the brand CEOs within three months of conception.
Via the ISO Luxury app, our members have access to unique benefits and services, exclusive events, privileged discounts, exclusive promotions, rare and limited product ranges, first releases, unrivalled in-store bespoke offers. Online soon, Members will have access to VIP appointments and hard-to-find item sourcing, off-market opportunities and concierge services.
We cover everything – fashion, watches, jewellery, sports, motors, property, art, travel, beauty, wellbeing, interiors, hospitality and fine dining. Members can also revel in exhilarating cultural and sporting experiences.
How does an app-based platform replicate the in-store consumer experience?
Currently, the app allows members to browse privileged offers and promotions, receive invitations to special events, liaise with store members and make VIP appointments in the flagship stores of over 130 brands. The bespoke offers are extended to the in-store experience between the member and the brand.
Earlier this year, we held a number of successful member events at Dunhill, Jimmy Choo, Mulberry, Roland Mouret and Tiffany, and all invitations and details were communicated through the app technology. Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, in-store experiences have not been possible. We have therefore looked for alternative ways to create these luxury shopping experiences from a distance. The response and support from our brands has been overwhelming. Theo Fennell, Trevor Pickett, Kiki McDonough and David Morris have offered our clients one-to-one telephone and video appointments to showcase their product ranges to ISO Luxury members. Similarly, Savile Row’s suit tailors Henry Poole & Co have offered to have video consultations in the physical store to show clients the fabric, style ranges and processes.
The fantastic initiatives of our brands have not gone unnoticed, and we have ensured we share their messages with our members and on social media. Brands including Emma Willis, Turnbull & Asser and Henry Poole & Co have been producing PPE. Our luxury shoe brands, including Jimmy Choo and Emmy London, have launched shoe sketch designs on Instagram. Others have donated their profits to charitable causes, namely Mulberry and Really Wild.
What shopper trends have you noticed over the course of the last few years?
Experience, heritage, and human emotion have never been more important for the luxury consumer. Our members want the true personality of each brand.
We have also seen at ISO Luxury an increase in luxury spending in the millennial generation and therefore we are in the mist of adapting our communication approach across social media, member and brand communications to appeal to this target audience.
Trends vary across cultures, too. If we look to Asian markets, luxury purchasing is related to a high-level trust. Consumers want to know the story behind the brand, product, and design process, digging deep into the heritage and the story of the brand. Quality is highly valued, and the unique styles created by British luxury offer inspiration, and demonstrate integrity and a source of rich cultural diversity.
As for Western cultures, there is a strive towards sustainability, specifically in the younger generations. They desire transparency in the design and manufacturing process of products, and want to know what luxury brands and the industry are doing to incorporate sustainability into their enterprises. The demand for this information fits the luxury industry well, as it isn’t just about the logo or beloved brand name; rather, it is how the product is made, its history and heritage.
What are the principal advantages to a consumer shopping in-store over online?
The human connection and storytelling are the high street’s distinct advantage, which consumers cannot experience in a digital world. Customers are taken on a personalised journey through the heritage of the brand, developing a deeper connection with consumers.
If a customer visits the store, they will receive a personalised service, which lies at the heart of the luxury experience and offers privileges for luxury shoppers. Brands are able to tailor the product offered, personally handpick items adhering to customer requirements. The in-store shopping experience is inevitably unmatched. Although the presence of omni-channel is being introduced to some high street stores to combine the virtual and physical shopping experience, meaning consumers can benefit from both.
Are British brands selling abroad, and how are they faring at the moment?
Currently the luxury stores in London are closed, therefore many have taken the opportunity to look at their e-commerce operations and create an online journey close to an in-store experience. Those selling online are able to sell to overseas clients; however, cities worldwide are beginning to re-open their stores, such as Dubai and Paris.
There can be no doubt a luxury brand with both local and international clients will be more aligned with the global consumer and therefore fare much better in the marketplace. It is predicted that the luxury industry will recover quicker in Asian markets than their European counterparts, as the threat of the virus is minimal. As the stores re-opened, consumers visited the stores to make purchases. Although a lot less in volume, at least for now.
Currently, we only have launched the ISO Luxury app with our London stores. However, the re-opening of the Dubai stores is a great opportunity to connect our brands with retailers in the Middle East and encourage them to list their stores. We have an affluent client base in Dubai and the opportunity to include our brands in the development of a sustainable international consumer market has never been better. We are looking to expand our app internationally to the luxury shopping hubs throughout the world – such as Dubai, Paris and New York.
Why is British luxury such a big seller internationally?
The increase in demand for British brands abroad has greatly amplified in the last few years, with a surge in sales from international consumers. The manner in which British brands present luxury goods, providing a rich, authentic sense of heritage, alongside our great craftsmanship has led to a worldwide love for British-born products and for Britishness and all that it stands for – integrity, high ethical standards, outstanding service, invention, creativity and a rich cultural diversity.
The British luxury industry is great at keeping products exciting, relevant and all with individual characteristics which represent the personality of the brand, engaging audiences of different nationalities and generations in new, innovative ways on an ongoing basis. Creativity, innovation and craftsmanship have ultimately catapulted the British luxury industry onto a global stage.
Today’s Britain, and especially London, offers global shoppers so much, from world-class hotels, restaurants, theatres, art galleries and museums, to iconic streets and stores. There is so much amazing history and innovation from Lock & Co, who were making hats back in 1676, and Berry Bros & Rudd in St James’s, who opened their doors in 1698, to heritage brands of tomorrow such as Bremont in South Audeley Street, which is rapidly becoming the UK’s most successful watch maker.
Where is the luxury industry heading in the future?
The luxury industry has evolved over time; exclusivity, the customer journey, and experience are needed for future and present audiences. With an ever-changing world and uncertainties, brands will need to be reactive in their design-making processes and presence, be it online or physical.
Big brands have created virtual reality shopping platforms to show their ingenuity during this unprecedented time. However, I strongly believe that shoppers will revert back to the traditional in-store luxury experience.
Luxury will always maintain its high status, and its recognition will evermore remain exclusive. Nevertheless, we have to face that if any brand wants to survive in today’s world, they must adapt to current times. Whether it is an emerging trend, a new wave of consumers, or a challenge within the industry, people want to feel a certain experience and emotion. The luxury industry has always been the leader of creating this sensation and I believe that no other industry can do this better.
Is sustainability a consideration that high street retailers pay particular attention to, and is this a trend you see continuing?
Luxury consumers have become increasingly aware of environmental issues in the 21st century and the demand for transparency has never been greater. Customers want authenticity and appreciate when brands show initiatives around sustainability. I do believe that COVID-19 will exhilarate that aspect even further and fast fashion will be less “in fashion.”
Millennials, including the affluent audiences, are the leading forces striving for sustainability and brand transparency on their manufacturing process and product origins. As this generation will be the biggest luxury spenders, it is important to consider their view and their expectations.
Luxury shoppers actively seek “Made in Britain” as a sign of excellence. All consumers are becoming far more invested in brands that are rooted in heritage. Therefore, it is crucial to strike the right balance between sustainable action and consumer interaction.
Finally, the one question we ask everyone! What is your favourite luxury?
My favourite luxury right now during lockdown is finding the time for a walk through the British countryside around all my tight deadlines. I am lucky to be based within the Hambleden Valley and I have discovered so many wonderful walks. My next favourite luxury is my Catchpole & Rye bath. This is where I not only relax, but I do most of my big thinking.
For more information and to become a member, go to www.isoluxury.com.