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."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
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

    Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

    Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

    Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

    Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

    £15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

    Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

    Day In a Page

    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
    Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

    Diana Krall interview

    The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
    Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

    Pinstriped for action

    A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

    'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

    Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

    Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
    Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us