Luxury Brands Mine Riches Online

It turns out that wealthy U.S. consumers share at least one attribute with other shoppers: They like the convenience of e-commerce, a fact that hasn't escaped Nordstrom and Giorgio Armani, which both have new e-commerce sites targeting this market.

In an online survey of wealthy consumers last month by the Luxury Institute, 63 percent of respondents ages 21-49 said they research products and services online, while 56 percent said they buy products and services via the Internet. The jewelry/luxury goods/accessories category was one of the top-gaining categories in terms of the number of unique visitors, according to comScore Media Metrix, showing a 22 percent increase in December 2005 versus November. Top-gaining luxury sites included, and

However, because luxury consumers are famously exacting in their standards, marketers targeting them usually steer away from run-of-the-mill features. Instead, Nordstrom's new Designer Collections Web site, which launches Feb. 6, will feature illustrations by world-renowned fashion illustrator Ruben Toledo and six dedicated customer specialists situated inside the chain's downtown Seattle store.

The Giorgio Armani Beauty site (, which debuted last month, is the only online outlet where the brand's entire range of limited-distributed fragrances and cosmetics is available, and it offers Armani fans how-to advice from its fashion team. The site also features lots of the brand's signature color black.

Luxury Web sites “have to show the product in its most elegant way without delaying the consumer,” said Milton Pedraza, CEO of New York's Luxury Institute, a research group that focuses on the top 10 percent of wealthy Americans.

These sites should be aesthetically pleasing, easy to navigate and offer the ability to sort by whatever criteria a consumer wants, be it type of merchandise, price or best sellers, he said.

In the past two years, more luxury brands have migrated to the Internet.

“As a concept, e-commerce is now readily accepted by even the most conservative luxury companies,” Pedraza said. After all, the wealthy are among the most technologically savvy groups out there, he said.

To date, the leaders have been hospitality companies such as Ritz-Carlton and auto manufacturers. But retailers and designers increasingly are discovering the Web's potential for keeping in touch with customers, Pedraza said. Luxury brands “are sending a lot of e-mails, but they're not highly targeted and they tend to be about discounts, which can erode a brand.”

Relationship building is one goal of the Giorgio Armani Beauty Web site.

“The Web gives us that conduit to develop an ongoing relationship with consumers,” said Jon Winsell, director of strategy at ID Society, which created the site.

Not only does a good Web site enhance a store's presence, it lets the customer feel closer to the brand, he said. The site has several unique features intended to extend “the luxurious feel of Armani to the Web,” Winsell said. One is the Beauty Bar, which shows all the products scrolling across the screen as if they were on a beauty counter in a physical store. Clicking on a specific product takes the browser to the product group of her choice.

“This helps simulate the in-store experience and allows consumers to feel like they are standing at the counter and browsing at the products,” Winsell said.

Customers also can view a selected shade of lipstick or eyeshadow on a model in order to make the process of finding the right shade easier. In addition, the site offers collection previews and product exclusives.

Nordstrom had in mind creating something similar to its in-store experience while developing the Designer Collections Web site, spokeswoman Pamela Perret said. As a result, the site is a more complete online version of what a Nordstrom store has to offer.

To help re-create the in-store experience, the site is designed to resemble an avenue with individual designer shops that consumers can enter, similar to the designer boutiques in Nordstrom stores.

Once a customer clicks on a ready-to-wear, shoe or accessory illustration, the site reverts to fashion photography and customers then can view photos of items from that designer's spring collections. Featured designers are Giorgio Armani, Blumarine, Burberry, Dolce & Gabbana, Donna Karan, Marc Jacobs, Michael Kors, Missoni, Ralph Lauren and Roberto Cavalli, though others may be added later.

Initially, all orders will be handled over the telephone by one of the six Designer Collections specialists. This way, if a customer has a question about the merchandise, the specialist can go onto the store floor and get a direct answer from someone who works in the relevant designer's boutique, Perret said. The team of designer specialists has an average of 15 years experience with Nordstrom and also will handle e-mail queries and live chats.

Chantal Todé covers catalog and retail news and BTB marketing for DM News and DM To keep up with the latest developments in these areas, subscribe to our daily and weekly e-mail newsletters by visiting

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