Luxury and ultra-luxury brands have built their reputations on exceptional products that meet the highest standards of quality in materials used, workmanship, original design and services rendered. But when it comes to delivering a web experience, particularly for mobile, that meets the same high standards, they are missing the boat.
Luxury Brands “Get” Quality of Product and Services
These classes of products and services have been able to differentiate themselves to the point that the brands evoke emotional responses from customers. For example, on most weekend days in the summer you will see people (tourists) waiting in line to get into the Gucci store on Via dei Condotti in Rome, Italy to experience the brand in one of its native country’s flagship stores.
These Gucci brand advocates and customers are choosing to spend their time standing in line to see bags, shoes and belts in 90 degree weather. They are anxiously waiting for their turn to enter because they value the brand and the experience of being in that store as much as going to see one of Michelangelo’s Pieta’ at the St. Peter Basilica (a mere 2km/1.2mi walking distance). Or, maybe a significant other forced them to. Either way, with a finite amount time (let’s call it a week to be generous) in a city that offers enough historical artifacts to demand a year-long stay, Gucci’s brand and products are able to command the attention.
But Somehow Stumble in Web Experiences
Obviously these brands “get” the importance of quality and they are very careful to hire the best talent to ensure each brand interaction is exceptional. So, why do luxury and ultra-luxury brands that spend so much time and energy to perfect their brand’s brick and mortar experiences fall short online, and I would say outright (and knowingly?) fail to deliver anything when it comes to the mobile Web?
Something has been lost in translation for these brands as their market shifts from print-based marketing to building web experiences that match their brand’s expectations. In an era where Web experiences can be personalized and customer expectations can be predicted, luxury web experiences often start with a page that asks the user which country site they want to visit.
Compounding the problem further, many Web experiences go back to the same country-picker page -- not remembering the preferences already expressed by their visitors -- and subsequently push the users through an elaborate flash experience that completely misses why they are visiting the site. Many tried and true techniques, such as predictive URL redirects designed to help clients that fat finger a URL to their desired destination, are not employed.
Often the business owners for digital at these high-flying brands have to fight 10 times as hard as their media and e-commerce counterparts for their budgets, and then also have to work 10 times as hard on internal politicking to land on an experience that is optimized for the not-so-new medium (vs. a print experience transferred to the online world, which misses the mark every time).
What those who hold the purse strings are missing is that with each suboptimal Web experience, the brand is damaged.
And Fall-down Completely in Mobile
I would argue that Mobile is the most significant pain point for luxury brands today. Few luxury brands have developed a mobile Web presence or native mobile app. But worse yet, many don’t seem to even look at how their existing website will play on mobile.
The damage these brands incur based on mobile experiences ranges quite significantly. From Cartier’s worst-case scenario (I get a blank black screen when I try to access it from my iPhone 3GS,) to Rolex’s painful ’80s-style text links on white background (they used to have a high-quality iPhone-optimized site that is now gone), to Armani’s redirect to a single product’s page (Acqua di Gioia,) with no ability to get back to the site that I can access on my laptop.
Editor's Note: Read Jason's 2 two part series: Why Mobile Websites Are Better than Mobile Applications
A Few Bright Stars Stand Out
On the flip side of the coin, a few brands have had some successes worth noting.
Porsche has two optimized experiences -- touch-screen and non-touch-screen. Unfortunately, device detection is not fully functional from www.porsche.com.
Mandarin Oriental Hotels
Mandarin Oriental Hotels also has two optimized experiences -- touch-screen and non-touch-screen. They are setup with device detection from www.mandarinoriental.com.
- http://m.mandarinoriental.com automatically presents an iPhone/touch-screen or non-touch-screen version based on the device used
These brands are investing in mobile and I am confident that this will pay off long-term. They are learning and optimizing their experiences and interaction with their clients. By the time other players enter the mobile channel, these two brands will have years of learning under their belts, which will allow them to continue to stay ahead and deliver mobile experiences that match their brand promise.
I sincerely hope that more digital-strategy owners for luxury brands garner deeper support from their management in moving forward. Of all brand categories online, luxury and ultra-luxury should lead at protecting their brand image and meeting customer expectations, instead of lagging the pack. I know many luxury brand managers recognize this, but it’s time to allocate those budgets to staying ahead and moving towards the future.