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."

ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    Ashdown Group: Project Manager - Birmingham - up to £40,000 - 12 month FTC

    £35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Manager - Birmingham - ...

    SThree: Recruitment Consultant - IT

    £25000 - £30000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: Sthree are looking fo...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin (based in London)

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + commission: SThree: Real Staffing's Pharmaceutical...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £18000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

    Day In a Page

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before