There’s no denying it: online shopping is growing, notes the staff of Westime, a purveyor of fine watches with boutique locations in Southern California. In quarter four of 2013, e-commerce sales were up slightly more than 10 percent than the previous year, according to Internet Retailer. But, there’s one segment of the retail industry where online shopping doesn’t hold appeal.
Luxury retailers and brands such as Westime, Chanel, and Celine find that they are better able to serve their customers by not offering an online shopping option. While some cry snobbery, there’s proof that providing an in-person shopping experience is preferable to an online experience.
The Online Shopping Presence
The statistics don’t lie: more and more people are buying online. The Digital Analytics Benchmark report from IBM looks at the details from 800 retail sites online. Online shopping was up all over the board in 2013, with particular gains seen in the number of people ordering from department stores and home goods stores online. Department stores saw a 62.8 percent increase in online sales, while home goods retailers saw a 46.4 percent increase.
The way people shop online is also changing slightly. More and more people are using mobile devices, such as smartphones or tablets, to browse and eventually buy products online. People are also being directed to retailer’s sites through social media sites, most notably Facebook and Pinterest.
However, while the IBM report accounts for the number of sales, it doesn’t keep track of customers’ satisfaction with the online shopping experience or the number of returns that occur as a result of people ending up with an item that wasn’t quite what they expected it to be.
The London Experience
Online sales might be up, but in the luxury market, in-person still seems to be the way to go. A survey from International Jewelry London found that three quarters of Londoners would rather go to the store to buy luxury goods such as jewelry and watches. Less than one sixth of the Londoners surveyed said that they had purchased luxury products online.
Why Some Retailers Just Say No
In-person shopping isn’t just the preference of the luxury shopper. It’s also the preference of many luxury retailers. When asked why they prefer to keep the shopping experience in store instead of selling items online, many executives and representatives from luxury brands note that a key part of buying luxury is the tactile experience of it. Another key part of luxury shopping is learning more about the brand and interacting with the sales staff and the items directly.
Westime, a luxury watch retailer with locations in La Jolla and Beverly Hills, prefers to think of itself as more of a watch resource than a watch retailer. It’s not so much about selling watches as it is about having customers immerse themselves in the world of high-end timepieces. As a representative from the store notes, “We want people to think of Westime as a place to come to learn about watches. Even if you think you’re only slightly interested, there’s no pressure. We want people to think of Westime as a watch resource, rather than just a place to come and buy one watch, one time.”
When asked why the store has chosen to focus on in-person sales rather than online sales, the representative stressed the importance of building relationships with customers, whether they are first-time watch buyers or collectors. Westime notes that building relationships “is something that would be incredibly difficult over the Internet.”
The need to feel and learn about the items is part of the reason why Chanel doesn’t offer ready-to-wear garments online. You can purchase small items, such as cosmetics, from the site, but if you want to buy a classic Chanel boucle jacket or skirt, you’ll need to find a physical store that sells the brand.
Defending the label’s decision to keep the ready-to-wear line offline, Bruno Pavlovsky, Chanel’s president of global fashion told Bloomberg News, “Fashion is about clothing, and clothing you need to see, to feel, to understand.” Pavlovsky noted that the only reason the label sells its cosmetics online is in an attempt to draw more shoppers into the store.
Celine is another designer label that is only available in stores. According to CEO Marco Gobbetti, the label’s decision to stay in stores only is because it believes that in-person shopping is how its customers want to interact with the label.
It comes down to customer service, as well. There is no way that an online shopping experience is able to replicate the attention that a sales associate is able to give a person shopping directly in a store. Customers can form relationships with salespeople at a high-end retailer or brand. When a product comes in that the salesperson thinks a customer would enjoy, the sales associate can set it aside and let the customer know about it.
While some luxury brands and retailers have jumped on the online shopping bandwagon, holding out is working for others. Stores and labels such as Chanel, Celine, and Westime find that offering an in person experience is optimal for their customers, and that their clientele would rather have an experience over convenience.
Amy Freeman contributed to this article.