Luxury firms step out cautiously into virtual world

Buying diamond watches or designer labels on the Internet might seem anathema for those able to jet across the world for a shopping spree, yet luxury firms are slowly but surely investing in e-trade.

Two high-end French labels, Lacoste and Mauboussin, have just opened Internet boutiques while British luxury Internet site net-a-porter has been bought out by luxury Swiss group, Richemont, owners notably of Cartier and Chloe.

The luxury sector long thumbed its nose at the virtual world on grounds that "surfing on the Internet was far removed from the experience of a brush with luxury," said Joelle de Montgolfier, head of the Europe luxury sector for consultants Bain & Company.

A telling example is Louis Vuitton, part of leading luxury group LVMH. It opened a site as early as 1999 but launched sales only in 2005.

Paris luxury house Hermes this week estimated its Internet sales at five percent of its total.

In a sector where exclusivity touches as well on distribution and price control, the cultural revolution has been slow in coming.

In 2009, worldwide luxury sales on the Internet totalled 3.5 billion euros, a fraction of total sales amounting to 153 billion euros, Bain & Company said. But while the share of sales on the Internet remains tiny "it rises 35 percent each year, including in times of economic crisis," De Montgolfier told AFP.

Consultants Precepta believe Internet sales in the luxury sector could double to seven billion euros in 2011.

Luxury web boutiques offer identical packaging to boutiques and ensure shipments are controlled.

"Not being present on the Internet amounts to losing sales in real stores," said Eric Bascle, who heads strategy and development for Devanlay, the textile arm of Lacoste, which has just opened its first web-shop in France.

"In the sector of premium labels, one out of two customers who buys in a boutique has consulted the web beforehand for the same product," he told AFP.

Lacoste, which hopes by 2014 to generate 100 million euros in turnover via web sales, is also banking the move will rejuvenate its image.

French jewellers Mauboussin, who have just launched e-trade in France, expects to see Internet sales of six to eight million euros, "equivalent to a Paris boutique."

In the jewellery sector, Boucheron, part of the Gucci Group owned by PPR, were the first to open an Internet boutique in 2007. As for Italy's Gucci, its web turnover "increased 50 percent in 2009 worldwide," a spokeswoman said.

In the United States, where e-trade has taken on, "it allows us to serve customers in smaller towns where labels are not present," said Gucci Group.

Faced with the boom in e-trading and the change in customer habits, the luxury sector has had to give in and follow suit to avoid subsidiary sites grabbing a slice of the pie, such as multibrand stores like Neimann Marcus or specialised Internet boutiques such as net-a-porter.

But many high-end brands, such as Louis Vuitton or Hermes, only offer a selection of their goods.

Jewellery firms such as De Beers in the United States, a joint-venture of De Beers-LVMH, or Tiffany for example choose to offer engagement rings on the net rather than more expensive sets.

"There's no hurry", said Philippe Pascal, who heads LVMH's watch and jewellery division. "After sales service has to be perfect to ensure customers are entirely happy with a purchase."

Voices
For the Love of God (2007) The diamond-encrusted skull that divided the art world failed to sell for
its $100m asking price. It was eventually bought by a consortium
which included the artist himself.
voicesYou can shove it, Mr Webb – I'll be having fun until the day I die, says Janet Street-Porter
News
peopleOrlando Bloom the pin-up hero is making a fresh start
Voices
Actor Zac Efron
voicesTopless men? It's as bad as Page 3, says Howard Jacobson
Extras
indybestFake it with 10 best self-tanners
VIDEO
Sport
Peter Moores was criticised for failing to handle top players when he last led the England team
sportFive years after being sacked from the job, Peter Moores to be named a cricket coach
Arts & Entertainment
Madonna in her music video for 'Like A Virgin'
music... and other misheard song lyrics
News
Much of the colleges’ land is off-limits to locals in Cambridge, with tight security
educationAnd has the Cambridge I knew turned its back on me?
Sport
Steven Gerrard had to be talked into adopting a deeper role by his manager, Brendan Rodgers
sportThe city’s fight for justice after Hillsborough is embodied in Steven Gerrard, who's poised to lead his club to a remarkable triumph
News
The energy drink MosKa was banned for containing a heavy dose of the popular erectile dysfunction Levitra
news
Environment
People are buying increasing numbers of plants such as lavender to aid the insects
environmentGardeners rally round the endangered bumblebee
News
Who makes you happy?
happy listSend your nominations now for the Independent on Sunday Happy List
News
Ida Beate Loken has been living at the foot of a mountain since May
newsNorwegian gives up home comforts for a cave
Extras
indybest10 best gardening gloves
Sport
Australia's Dylan Tombides competes for the ball with Adal Matar of Kuwait during the AFC U-22 Championship Group C match in January
sportDylan Tombides was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2011
Arts & Entertainment
tvIt might all be getting a bit much, but this is still the some of the finest TV ever made, says Grace Dent
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    Apprentice IT Technician

    £150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

    1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

    £153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

    1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

    £150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

    Sales Associate Apprentice

    £150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

    Day In a Page

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit