Many observers believe that it's time for the luxury brand owners to start taking the Internet more seriously. Generally speaking, luxury brand owners have low ambitions for their Web sites, and for the most part fail to achieve them. The lack of e-commerce can be partially explained by problems surrounding exclusivity deals with retailers. But it can only be fear of damaging the brand that explains the overall lack of interest in the Internet among luxury brands. Aquascutum Corporate Gifts has thrived on Regent Street for 150 years, selling a range of archetypal British goods. In 1998, Aquascutum Corporate Gifts launched a Web site. The experience of Aquascutum suggests luxury brands can reconcile their need for exclusivity with the potential of the Internet. Most luxury brands have spurned the Internet, certainly for any kind of selling, seeing its 'find a bargain' reputation as damaging to their image. But those that have gone online are proving there are other ways to benefit. (Report by Alex Blyth).
According to the Web site of the Bond Street Association, "At the start of the seventeenth century, the Bond Street area was a boggy and unpleasant patch of open countryside; but by the mid-eighteenth century it was a paradise for the fashionable shopper, offering an increasing abundance of rich treasures." At the start of the twenty- first century, while Bond Street is still home to many of the most desirable brands in the world, many have Web sites that could well be described as "boggy and unpleasant". The neglect reflects the wariness and even disdain with which those brands have tended to treat the Web. However, many observers believe that it's time for the luxury brand owners to start taking the Internet more seriously.
Generally speaking, luxury brand owners have low ambitions for their Web sites, and for the most part fail to achieve them. The top luxury brands searched for on Kelkoo are Burberry, Armani, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Bang & Olufsen, Tiffany's, DKNY, Chanel and Oakleys. Only half of these directly sell products online. Some luxury brands, such as Prada, settle for a holding page only. Others like Garrard, Burberry and Versace go to the other extreme, valuing design over function and using lots of clumsy Flash animation.
Site Confidence offers a service measuring the usability of individual Web sites. In tests run between 15 and 21 December 2003, the average download time for 100 random UK Web sites was 19.6 seconds; the Versace Web site took an average of 97.3 seconds, and the Burberry Web site a staggering 102.3 seconds.
Daniel Letts, consultant at brand agency Wolff Olins, complains: "There are too many luxury brands stuck in some kind of 'skip intro' time warp. Versace is a particularly annoying example, and doesn't even offer a 'skip intro' option. The online experience turns you off." Ledbury Research recently surveyed views of luxury brands online from 1,000 consumers with more than$200,000 in liquid assets and contrasted the findings with those from 1,000 average consumers. MD Marc Cohen singles out Bulgari as worst in the sector, saying, "It has a terrible online presence."
Luxury behemoth LVMH, which owns dozens of brands including Louis Vuitton, Moet & Chandon and Parfums Christian Dior, is one of the few to have embraced the Internet. It owns the popular and well- designed E-Luxury site on which it sells most of its brands. However, the company refuses to reveal exact sales figures and declines the opportunity to discuss the Web site. It gives the impression it's somewhat embarrassed by the site. Rather than using any of its many corporate or brand sites for the dirty business of e- commerce, it has set up a sub-site, given it an apparently unconnected brand, and then kept quiet about the whole thing. By and large, the luxury sector seems to want to pretend that the Internet doesn't exist.