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Luxury puts human experience before digital

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Arab luxury world, the key annual regional conference on the business of luxury, opened the doors to its second edition today. The two-day annual event serves as a successful platform for members of several sectors from the luxury industry to interact, share and exchange knowledge as well as insights.

The first two plenary sessions of the day, “The Future of the Luxury Market” and “Focusing on Core Resident Customers”, established the pervasive importance of digital media, but with some caution – while digital is important, it is the human experience in the physical world that really seals the deal when it comes to luxury buying.

Isabelle Harvie-Watt, CEO and country manager of Havas Media Group Italy, admitted that luxury brands are slow in adopting the digital medium, but warned that digital isn’t the only channel that brands need to focus on. “An omnichannel approach is needed,” she said. This is especially true in the premium goods sector where 76 percent of consumers prefer to buy from the physical boutique or store – but what’s interesting is that 70 percent of these consumers research online before buying.

Juergen Schmitz, managing director of Infiniti Middle East, added that, when potential consumers visit the dealership, they are already in the semi-final or final stages of purchase. However, consumers want to experience the actual product – the car – and the most important aspect of this experience is the test drive. That’s why the front-line salesmen are the ones who have a great deal of influence as well as knowledge about their consumers.

As Mohammed Abdulmagied Seddiqi, vice-president of sales and retail at Ahmed Seddiqi & Sons, pointed out, it is the job of the salesmen at the retail outlet to inform, advise and inspire trust from consumers. While social media plays a big role in transmitting information about a product or company, it is ultimately the staff that needs to help the consumer feel and understand the product.

Manikandan Hari, client managing director at Starcom MediaVest Group, said that the virtual experience is important before the real experience, because 84 percent of people prefer to experience the brand virtually before they do so physically. This is also what helps create a dream for many people – which translates into the actual experience for just a few.

However, Cyrille Fabre, partner at Bain & Company, cited the example of the Apple store, wherein every customer is asked to fill a feedback form – onsite or through email – at the end of the purchase. The sales staff at the store then analyzes this feedback before the beginning of each day. This is what enables them to provide a truly personal experience – and this is important because, as Jean Marc Shammas, brand director for Middle East and India at Piaget Richemont Dubai, said, “It’s not about the characteristics of the product you’re selling, but about the emotions you’re creating.”

Technology and data can help brands provide consumers with a personalized experience, but the trick is in striking the right balance between knowing consumers enough and knowing them too much. As David Friedman, president and co-founder of Wealth-X, put it: consumers don’t want brands to know how they are, but they do want brands to know how they like their coffee. And this is why Harvie-Watt appropriately summed it up when she said that technology and data should enable “brands to be butlers, not stalkers”.

 

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