Displaying items by tag: Darren Skey

Wednesday, 17 February 2021 17:03

ChicGeek Comment Luxury Local

DFS LVMH local shopping Paris

The capitals of Europe were long destinations for foreign tourists, most notably Chinese and Arabic visitors, to fill their shiny Rimowa suitcases to bursting with luxury goods. Buying a new Hermès bag on the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré or a bespoke suit on Savile Row felt more authentic and could seduce many an international visitor to spend, spend, spend. 

Left - Interior of LVMH duty-free travel division DFS's T Fondaco dei Tedeschi in Venice

International travel and shopping have always been happy companions. One relied on the other, but, travel has all but stopped, and the millions who once flocked to Selfridges in London or Galeries Layfette in Paris are no longer arriving. This is prompting luxury houses to pivot and focus local. 
In its recent results, the world’s largest luxury group, LVMH, said there was a 28% decline in LVMH’s revenue for the full-year in Europe. It said while the Chinese domestic market saw strong growth it wasn’t enough to make up for the missed sales from their trips abroad.
LVMH’s chief financial officer, Jean-Jacques Guiony, said he hoped the group could grow its local European market to fill the void left by the tourists.
“Growing our local sales by one-third isn’t achievable in a year, or maybe even two, but we believe it’s achievable in a significant way,” he said. “We see no reason we should be shutting down stores, even in Europe where the recovery is less obvious for the moment.”
Traditionally, in the final quarter of the year (Q4) the majority of European luxury sales (50-60%) usually comes from tourism. In their Q4 results LVMH bullishly said, while Europe is still affected by the crisis, the United States saw a good recovery and Asia grew strongly.
In London, Brian Bickell, the chief executive of West End property company Shaftesbury, recently said overseas visitors may not return in numbers before “late 2022, perhaps not until into 2023, being realistic”.
With luxury European sales down by nearly a third, this potential sales time lag of up to two years needs filling by luxury brands in prime city centre locations, but how will they do it?
Darren Skey, Director and Founder of Nieuway Agency, says, “I think brands and retailers alike are finding and will continue to find it hard to grow their domestic customer.  Many stores in particular have been so reliant on the tourist trade, in particular Middle Eastern and Asian.  
“To swing both your marketing message and buy to suddenly attract a different customer takes time.  With LVMH, what accounts to a local audience? They have 5000 stores globally so I'm sure they can localise their sales a lot easier than a store who has 1 or 2 locations in the same country.  We've already heard from stores in the Middle East, they have seen triple digit increases from the localised customer who can no longer travel.” he says.  
“I think the changes to the buy/brand mix will be minimal to be honest.  I believe stores will be going through a process of thinning their brands as opposed to finding new brands to attract a localised customer.  Where brands are being picked up is if the brand has global appeal and can be translated throughout multiple customer profiles.” says Skey.  "Our brand, Holzweiler, has seen this first hand.  We are seeing a really strong reaction which is going to elevate it beyond its perceived Scandinavian success story.  Having products which are all encompassing is paramount.  A good quality sweat top and sweat pant is going to attract a multitude of customers, especially during the global pandemic.  But it's also important to offer products which have longevity and will work post pandemic.” he says.
Will this luxury local sticking plaster turn into a long term strategy?
“I think this will definitely be a short term strategy,” says Skey. “As soon as borders open and the pandemic dissipates (if that fully happens at all) I believe the concentration will return to the section of customers who were previously driving the turnover.  “In fact, I believe we could see a complete juxtaposition from the WFH attire with people wanting to go out and express themselves again. But, who knows when this might be?” he says.
LVMH, in particular with its DFS (Duty Free Shoppers) division was busy building huge temples of duty-free luxury shopping and hotels in Europe to service these high-spending foreign visitors. In its results, it said DFS saw a significant decline in its activity in most destinations due to the total suspension of international travel, but, new services were being developed for its local customers and online sales have strengthened.
But, how many local Venetians will shop at DFS’s hugely impressive T Fondaco dei Tedeschi overlooking the Rialto Bridge? Not to mention the refurbished La Samaritaine in Paris which was scheduled to open in April 2020. 
After nearly 30 months’ of renovation, a department store and a 5-star Cheval Blanc hotel with 72 rooms was to open its doors. It still hasn’t opened. In September 2020, Louis Vuitton gave us a sneak preview of the finished building by holding its womenswear show there. 

DFS LVMH local shopping VeniceDavid M Watts, Fashion Industry Advisor, says, “Given they (LVMH) have deep pockets it will be possible for them to refocus on local markets in Europe but not without its challenges given the continued state of lockdown all across the world. 

Right - Artist's impression of the new, yet to open La Samaritaine in Paris

“I believe they should perhaps consider developing a pop-up shop menu that will allow safe shopping, but also access to digital and commerce which will create a new hybrid. Something bricks and mortar retail was crying out for pre COVID.” he says.
So, what kind of new products or changes do you think they’ll make? “I suspect that homeware, wellness, beauty and casual wear will feature heavily.” says Watts. “Businesses are starting to review their own product offering; sleepwear, blankets, candles, pyjama dressing and track suit iterations abound.” he says.
Can you see this being a long or short term strategy and do you think it will be forgotten about post-COVID if the market and travel rebounds? “I think this new approach to product and more lifestyle focus on product development will become a core part of business. even for pure fashion brands.” says Watts.
“I believe that there will also be a return to stylish dressing with less emphasis on work/corporate and more on fun. The pandemic is forcing many of us to review our social habits and one suspects that people will develop an entirely new approach to meeting with friends and socialising and dressing habits may well change with it too.” he says.
A sales manager selling LVMH products at Harrods, who wished to remain anonymous, said even after the first lockdown locals didn’t have the same money so his brands were starting to launch ‘entry price’ items within the iconic department store. The problem with ‘entry price’ products is you have to sell more to reach the same sales volumes. The international tourists were an easy cash cow for these retailers and now they will have to work harder for less.
Central London’s luxury shops will have to work in stages. It will first have to entice even domestic, ‘local’ shoppers back to the prime shopping districts, and get them spending. Then hope the high-spending tourists follow not too long after that.
 
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Published in Comment

Online shopping is allowing luxury brands to get away with lower quality

It’s subjective, I know, but if you’ve bought something from a ‘luxury’ brand, recently, you will probably notice the quality isn’t quite what it once was. On the unstoppable growth trajectory of higher prices and sales, the quality hasn’t stayed consistent: no doubt increasing already inflated margins.

I’m not naive, I understand you pay a premium for a designer name or brand, but there was always a minimum quality to the product, leaving you, the customer, satisfied and at least without the feeling of being ripped off.

I’ll give you an example. I bought one of those new GG buckle Gucci belts online, 18 months ago. I hadn’t felt it, or seen it, I just ordered it online. It was a simple black belt after all. You think you know what will arrive.

What turned up felt like a free pleather school belt. I’m not being facetious, but there was no quality there. When you’re charging £250 and you can’t even offer a decent strip of leather to take the strain of holding your trousers up, there’s clearly something wrong.

Why didn’t I send it back? When it arrived at home, in insolation, seduced by the packaging, and Gucci was so-hot-right-now, you just shrug your shoulders and think, "okay, so it’s not the best, but it’s what I wanted and it’s cool ATM". (Damn you hype!)

It’s when I look back, and think about that belt, I feel, that if I’d handled and seen it in the shop, I probably wouldn’t have bought it in the first place. I would have felt the quality and moved on.

And, so to my theory - the growth of online is allowing mainstream luxury brands to get away with lower quality products. Consumers are more accepting in their own homes, they have nothing to compare it to at the time and the thought and hassle of sending something back is making people keep things they wouldn’t have necessarily bought in a physical store.

“Shopping is very much a human multi-sensory experience so it follows that we want to use as many of our senses. Emotion plays the dominant role in our buying decisions so the in-store experience will always be far superior to the online experience. As Boxpark MD Roger Wade put it ‘Shopping online is like watching fireworks on TV’ says Andrew Busby, Founder & CEO of Retail Reflections.

There’s no doubt online has contributed to the massive growth of these brands, whether on their own websites or third parties. Last year Gucci’s online sales posted triple-digit growth on their branded website and that’s without all the other online retailers. Gucci didn’t hit €6.2 billion turnover in 2017 on physical stores alone.

“This all depends on your definition of ‘Mainstream Luxury’. The word ‘Luxury’ is banded around all too often. True luxury is confined, generally, to bricks and mortar shopping, hence the resistance of major houses to enter the online market. When I consider ‘Luxury’ I think of brands such as LV, Chanel, Loewe etc,” says Darren Skey, Founder/Director of Nieuway Limited, and former Head of Menswear at Harvey Nichols.

“I wouldn’t class brands such as Off White, Amiri, Vetements as ‘Luxury’.  What we are seeing is the luxury brands such as Loewe and LV seeing the growth potential of hype products and as such are designing products with this in mind.  This leads to more quantity produced and a lower quality, compared to their main ranges,  Fashion details are hard to produce on a large scale.  Unfortunately, there is no correlation in price reductions, as you would expect with economies of scale,” says Skey.

It’s hard to prove this point, but it’s an interesting factor to think about. Net-a-Porter group recently introduced a new service  for their “Extremely Important People”, where the delivery person waits to see whether you want the item or not, after they deliver it. It’s an instant reaction to the item(s) and it would be interesting to know whether this has increased or decreased returns. Obviously, they want the latter.

Quality is subjective and brands vary. But I think we’re seeing an overarching trend towards higher margins and lower quality from brands trying to still offer ‘luxury’ and compete with other brands’ stratospheric growth in turnovers.

There’s also a generational shift to think about. Since 2016, the global luxury market has grown by 5%, with 85% of this growth generated by Millennials according to a report by A LINE, a global branding & design studio. These younger consumers don't have as much experience and product to compare the quality to and brands are taking advantage of this.

“The expectation of the younger consumer is also changing and I think this is an interesting observation. For the younger consumers it is more important to have the latest hype piece regardless of the quality.  And, as we know, the majority of the Millennials shop online,” says Skey.

Brands have made it easier to return products, but unless it’s the wrong size or nothing like pictured, I think people are more accepting in terms of quality.

“I don't think that shoppers are unwilling to send things back once purchased online. Fashion is not cheap and I don't believe we are in an economy where this can be an option. I also think retailers are making the process of sending product back easier,” says Skey.

‘I am predicting a backlash to the returns culture we are currently witnessing - both from retailers and environmentalists. The average returned purchase in the UK passes through seven pairs of hands before it is listed for resale. According to Iain Prince, supply chain director at KPMG, "It can cost double the amount for a product to be returned into the supply chain as it does to deliver it”.’ says Busby.

What brands have to remember: when you’re not cool or hot anymore, the thing that will keep consumers returning is quality. This lowering of quality is short-termism and greedy and will ultimately be a big factor is diminishing future sales and brand loyalty. 

I’ve also written about brands which offer great value, like Fiorucci. here

Published in Fashion

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