Luxury industry still needs the human touch in 2018

The Luxury Institute LLC’s 2018 “State of the Luxury Industry” report reveals what international luxury consumers expect from their shopping experience, with customer service ranking highly and politeness topping the list of priorities for sales staff.
 

Exclusive customer service continues to play an important role in the luxury industry, as epitomized by the Cartier concierge figure featuring in the brand's recent campaigns - Instagram: @cartier

53% of the affluent consumers surveyed stated that customer service was an important part of a luxury brand, a response that was only second in popularity to superior quality, cited by 67% of respondents as essential in luxury products.
 
The most popular attributes of luxury sales professionals among those surveyed were a polite and courteous demeaner (57%), product expertise (55%) and trustworthiness (49%). Experience, professionalism, reliability and a welcoming manner also ranked highly, being cited as important qualities by just under half of respondents.

Sales professionals working in the jewellery and watches sector were the most frequently commended, receiving positive reviews from 42% of those surveyed. Professionals working with fashion apparel and designer shoes, however, fared less well with approval ratings of 27% and 18%, respectively.
 
In a release, Luxury Institute CEO Milton Pedraza commented, “Luxury firms today are trying all they can to drive top-line growth, including adapting elements of artificial intelligence into their sales process, but ironically it's the application of new technology that makes the front-line human element even more critical.”
 
He went on to emphasize the need for human contact in the shopping process and to outline the qualities of a perfect luxury sales professional. He describes these employees as “platinum collar workers”, because “like the precious metal [they] are catalytic, and help to create conditions for humanistic high performance within their companies, while remaining pure in ethics, and purpose."

Although focused on the luxury sector, the report echoes many of the shopping trends being experienced in the wider retail industry, where brands are increasingly focusing on customer experience in an attempt to gain the edge over their competitors.
 
Strategies discussed at the New York Times International Luxury Conference last November included engaging with consumers more fully, both online – through social media, for example – and in store, while still maintaining the air of exclusivity essential to a luxury brand’s appeal.
 
Tiffany & Co. somewhat pre-empted this advice with the opening of the Blue Box Café in its New York flagship earlier in the same month, creating an exclusive and immersive brand experience for its customers that toyed with the Breakfast at Tiffany’s legacy. 

Elsewhere, Cartier also seems to have got the message, as demonstrated by its multifaceted "Un Cartier de Paris" pop-up experience in the French capital last December and the opening of its reconceptualized boutique at high-end London department store Harrods in the same month. 

As e-commerce continues to outmanoeuvre its brick-and-mortar counterparts, some luxury brands have even taken the fight to the courts. US cosmetics group Coty won a case in the EU Court of Justice in December, preventing sales of its luxury goods on online platforms, such as Amazon and Ebay, in an effort to preserve their exclusive image.

Developments such as these, which reaffirm the connection between luxury products and the exclusive space of a brand-specific brick-and-mortar store, suggest that customer service should continue to play an important role in the luxury industry going forward. 
 
The State of the Luxury Industry report surveyed affluent consumers from the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, China, and Mexico for its 2018 edition.

Respondents in the US came from households representing the top 11% of earners, with a minimum annual gross income of $150,000. Other international participants represented the top 10% of earners in their respective countries, with minimum incomes of £60,000 in the UK, 50,000 euros in the eurozone and 1 million yuan in China.

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