Editor’s Note: Ian Rogers is chief digital officer of French luxury multinational LVMH, where he recently launched 24sevres.com, the online version of the world’s first department store. He previously worked at Apple as Senior director of Apple Music. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely his.
Stores no longer stand alone as the only gateway to a brand. They are part of a triumvirate. Physical shops, online experiences, and luxury-level services via text, voice and video all bring consumers and products closer.
This is forcing us to rethink the definition of a luxury customer experience. Our future customers will move freely between online, chat, voice, video and physical stores without thinking about the distinction, and the physical store will showcase human touches and experiences impossible to achieve online.
In the 1990s, when I was pushing a digital future for music, I was dismissed as either crazy or an enemy of an entrenched industry that sincerely believed they would sell Compact Discs forever. But I was a believer, and for twenty years I pushed the rock uphill at Winamp, AOL, Yahoo! Music, Beats Music and Apple.
By the time we launched Apple Music in 2014 the fix was in. The industry had crested the proverbial hill and the recorded music business was set to grow again as tens of millions of music subscribers were added.
With digital music on its way to growth I went looking for another industry in transition. I left Apple and moved from California to Paris to help with the digital transformation at LVMH, the group that has defined and will continue to define luxury.
Like the music business a decade earlier, the luxury industry is facing change as its customers embrace the Internet and in particular their mobile phones.
Every week we read news stories about the coming “Retail Apocalypse” and the “Decline of brick and mortar” stores. Is there reality to this sensationalism? Every retail store will change in the next ten years to adapt to the changing purpose of physical retail, but the best stores are not going to disappear, particularly in the luxury sector.
News articles proclaim foot traffic is down for all retailers. It may sound counterintuitive, but in many cases foot traffic is down but revenue is up.
This is explained by the fact that the majority of our customers are doing their research online before visiting the store, allowing them to walk in knowing what they want and that they will find it.
To see what the future of retail looks like, look at the continued evolution of the world’s first modern department store, Le Bon Marché in Paris.
Le Bon Marché was a pioneer of multi-brand retail when it opened in 1838 and has been innovating ever since, from building some of the first shopping “experiences” to sending millions of catalogs to customers.
Today at Le Bon Marché, in addition to shopping the world’s top clothing brands, you can have lunch, buy music on vinyl, or do your grocery shopping. You can even take in an exhibition. Le Bon Marché is old, historic even, but it is far from standing still. It is full of experiences impossible to replicate online.
In June we launched 24 Sèvres to bring the spirit of Le Bon Marché to the entire world via the Internet. Its selection of women’s fashion reflects the unique Parisienne aesthetic, with ready-to-wear, shoes, accessories and beauty products with stunning imagery and a luxury delivery service. Innovative features such as the ability to video chat with a Paris-based stylist from any iPhone anywhere in the world bridge the gap between the digital and the physical.
The experiences of Le Bon Marché and 24 Sèvres are our interpretation of the future of retail: a friction-free retail experience integrated with online and remote customer service.
Physical stores are not dead after all.