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  1. Luxury
April 1, 2016

The future of luxury is digital, with a human touch

By Spear's

Luxury businesses need to keep reinventing themselves while staying true to their origins and heritage, says Guy Bentley, CEO Worldwide of Glion Institute of Higher Education.

At the charming premises of Home House in Marylebone, Glion recently had the privilege of hosting luxury industry leaders from a range of different British brands to debate the nature of future luxury consumers and their notions and expectations of high-level costumer experiences.

In front of a select group of Glion students, alumni and guests, representatives from sectors as diverse as hospitality, jewellery, auctioning, yachting and private aviation shared their assessment of the state and future of the UK’s high-end creative and cultural industries, which have grown over 25 per cent in 2010 – 2013 and are forecast to reach sales values of £51 – 57 billion by 2019 and account for 158,000 to 177,000 jobs, according to a recent study  commissioned by Walpole, UK’s luxury trade association.

With this rapid growth and the volatility of global markets, luxury businesses need to keep reinventing themselves and create the type of products and services that continue to inspire new breeds of consumers, while staying true to their origins and heritage.

The main challenge remains equal to all brands within the luxury sector: how to sell non-essential goods and services. Typically, brands utilise design, branding and the experience related to a good or a service to differentiate from competition and engage customers and all three categories need to be of the highest level and quality to inspire consumers to choose and stay loyal to a certain brand.

At the same time, consumer groups are changing with a younger millennial generation gaining spending power that is well-informed and spoilt for choice, since it makes most purchasing decisions online and expects the best value for money within a specific price range. In order to cater to this consumer group, auctioneer Christie’s is increasingly running online-only auctions for modern art, watches and wine and now generates over 30 per cent of its new business over online channels.

But also more senior customers’ behaviour is shifting: where a Sunseeker boat show in the past attracted a mostly male clientele it has today become a family event, where purchasing decisions are made across genders and generations.

Luxury companies have further developed strong relationship management with their top-tier clientele and organise non-accessible, unique experiences to ensure their brand loyalty. At Boodles, buyers of certain collections get access to exclusive private performances of the Royal Ballet, accompanied by a Boodles family member.

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In terms of products and services, the luxury industry is seeing a general shift from luxury goods towards luxury experiences, as many consumers already own the luxury goods they aspire to. Also, experiences tend to be more inclusive and can be shared with others, either in person or via social media.

The high-end hospitality sector has typically been an area of experiential luxury, where guests are willing to spend more for a higher quality of service and a heightened atmosphere. Celebrity chef Marcus Wareing builds on the heritage of his restaurants and caters his service to fulfil his guests’ every wish. Contemporary Mark Hix commissions artists to create unique restaurant environments, such as huge Damien Hirst sculpture of a cow and a chicken kept in formaldehyde for his latest grill restaurant.

For long-time London hotelier and Glion alumnus Stephen Alden, innovations often occur across sectors and through creative collaborations. A turning point in the industry was when hotels discovered design and luxury brands discovered service, realising that costumers expect the highest level of service throughout the entire journey, from product promotion to sales consulting and after-sales service.

Across the industry, online channels have become indispensable to raise awareness for brands and facilitate transactions. Quintessentially Lifestyle, a bespoke concierge service, teases members with the latest luxury experiences in their online community to then suggest personalised unique experiences based on customers’ preferences.

Private jet charterer Victor  follows a high-tech/high-touch approach with a customised app complementing a high-level customer service, enabling clients to choose how they wish to book their charters and how much interaction they prefer in the process.

Despite digitalisation trends, consumers seem to appreciate a human element within the transaction and on the highest levels of luxury, a need for personal interaction prevails to provide the personalised, compassionate service that inspires consumers’ confidence.

With Glion, we have recently established a world-leading higher education institution in London that looks back on long-standing tradition of classical Swiss hospitality, paired with the business and soft skills required to lead teams and operations. Our latest undergraduate track combines hospitality and luxury brand management and prepares students to join this aspiring sector and create future personalised experiences.

Because according to Alden, ‘Luxury is something that moves you – with an emphasis on you.’​

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