Gilt Groupe’s Wilson: ‘Brands Should Think of Their Dot Com Businesses as Their Flagship’

Left to right: Cynthia Lewis, publishing media executive; Tony Sardinas, Modern Luxury LLC; Lauren Indvik, Mashable; Alexandra Wilkis Wilson, Gilt Groupe Photo: Nancy Lazarus

The headline above was the advice to luxury and retail brands offered by Alexandra Wilkis Wilson, co-founder and chief merchandising officer of Gilt Groupe, speaking on a panel, “The Luxury Market and the Web.” The event was hosted by Goldstein Communications in New York on Tuesday.

Other panelists included Lauren Indvik, assistant editor, Mashable; Tony Sardinas, VP and Managing Director, Modern Luxury LLC; and Cynthia Lewis, publishing media executive. The event was moderated by Stevan Schwartzenberger , account executive, Goldstein Communications.

The definition of luxury has evolved and is hard to pinpoint today, according to Lewis. “Now luxury has become more democratized. Typically luxury was viewed as an indulgence and not a necessity, but it has become more personal as we see what consumers are willing to spend money on,” she said.

Luxury consumers may be easy to categorize demographically by higher income and education, but what they are looking for varies. Sardinas said Modern Luxury’s audience “requires personal attention”, while Wilson described Gilt Groupe’s members as “brand savvy.” They appreciate value as well as exclusive access to designers.

Indvik emphasized the importance of luxury brands investing in digital efforts such as social media. She said, “At first with social media, they did not see a return on their investment, but many case studies now have shown tangible results.” Even for luxury brands, she characterized Facebook as a platform with a captive audience that represents a good opportunity since users recommend brands to their friends.

Wilson acknowledged that Gilt Groupe’s Facebook page has a limited number of users, but they have been using preview sales to generate more buzz. The company also used Facebook in August after their collaboration with Target hit a snafu when the retailer was being criticized for its political donations.

Luxury brands are also utilizing other forms of digital media, such as Chanel’s YouTube videos and Hermes’ ecommerce site. Location-based services have also become popular, according to Indvik. One notable example was Jimmy Choo using Foursquare to send shoppers on a treasure hunt in London in the spring, with the prize being a pair of trainers.

With all the new forms of digital technology available, Wilson still credits PR and television with playing a significant role in building Gilt Groupe’s member base. When the company launched in November 2007, they were mentioned on the TV show The View, and within 24 hours she said their member base tripled to 60,000.