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Digital and discounts ride to rescue of battered luxury sector

luxury digital prada

Global uncertainty on too many fronts is keeping the luxury market in standby mode at the moment. Even the sector’s big spenders are worrying about terrorism, the oil market, the US presidential election, Brexit, and this currency going up or that one going down.

So it all adds up to a tough time for the sector. Well, ‘tough’ may be putting it too strongly. According to a Bain/Altagamma report, sales are going to hold steady for 2016 at a mere €249bn/$273bn for those luxury goods we can simply walk into stores and buy like bags, boots and $500 jeans.

Add in other luxury goods like art, yachts, private jets, interior designers, cars that do 0-60 in four seconds and restaurants where you have to book six months in advance, and you have a market worth a cool €1trn.

But no growth is no growth, whether you’re a 99p store or LVMH. So, in the face of a stagnating market, what is the luxury world doing?

Bain partner Claudia D’Arpizio said: “Brands are refocusing on the local customer base and working to develop products that are more affordable and more inclusive to meet their needs.”

Now we’ve been here before, of course. Once upon a time luxury brands churned out quite a lot of lower-priced goods that were designed to pull in the less affluent among us, but after the last recession many of the firms involved decided that “wannabe luxury customers” weren’t worth the effort and focused on the truly affluent with ultra luxury products at eye-watering prices.

But it’s not that easy anymore and companies are having to think differently.

“The luxury market has reached a maturation point. Brands can no longer rely on low-hanging fruit. Instead, they really need to implement differentiating strategies to succeed going forward,” said D’Arpizio. “We are already starting to see clear polarisation when it comes to performance with winners and losers emerging across product categories and segments.”

luxury digital gucci

One thing the sector is doing is focusing (finally) on digital. Bain said e-commerce leads among luxury shopping channels as a growth strategy.

The report puts it like this: “Around the world, retail, which continued to gain share as recently as last year, drastically slowed with the first footprints of rationalisation in the market. E-commerce is the leading channel in terms of growth, reaching 7% penetration in 2016, which makes it the third largest luxury ‘market’ globally after the US and Japan and a key driver in luxury’s digital revolution.”

Digital continues to be a democratising force on the global luxury market. Previously high barriers to entry have all but been destroyed, enabling emerging brands to compete directly with more established players.

“Naturally, an influx of new market entrants is concerning to incumbents, who are worried about losing market share,” said Bain’s Federica Levato. “But, we anticipate big opportunities for the brands that are willing to think and act more like their up-and-coming counterparts.”

luxury digital Dolce & Gabbana
Dolce & Gabbana

Discounting is also key, which may be a bit contradictory for a sector that claims to hate markdowns. But when those markdowns are under brands’ control, they don’t seem too unhappy.

Today, discounted luxury goods represent more than 35% of the personal luxury goods market, versus full-price and off-price stores comprise more than 30% of the market. These numbers are expected to increase as consumers continue to push for value for money. Luxury brands that can strategically, rather than tactically, manage the outlet channel while reducing discounts in stores will reap the rewards, Bain said.

Accessorisation and polarisation are also prevailing market trends. Soft accessories and jewellery continue to be consistent outperformers, surpassed only by beauty, despite variable trends from brand to brand.

And what exactly does polarisation mean? The ongoing polarisation trend is the outperformance of the Absolute luxury and Accessible luxury segments. Unlike in previous years, where brand performance was largely even among the major players, the current era more clearly reveals brands with a strong lead and those that are falling behind in these sectors.

And finally, what about the Chinese consumer? Mainland China is increasingly outperforming the market as Chinese consumption at home increases. However, the rise in local spending doesn’t offset decreased purchases among Chinese tourists, especially in Europe.

For the first time in history, Chinese consumers have decreased their contribution to the total luxury market from 31% in 2015 to 30% in 2016. Local factors such as price differentials, lower levels of service, and overall incomparable shopping experiences are driving down volumes and average ticket sales at home compared to Chinese consumers’ purchases overseas.

But over the longer-term, Chinese luxury spending and the country’s contribution to total personal luxury goods consumption are expected to trend upward, due in large part to a growing middle class with more disposable income to spend on luxury purchases.

Looking ahead, D’Arpizio anticipates the personal luxury market will reach €280bn-€285bn by 2020 (compound annual growth rate of 3%-4%, beginning in 2017), but cautions that it won’t be an easy road.

This post first appeared on, a style-meets-business blog by journalist, trends specialist and business analyst, Sandra Halliday.

Editor's pick technology

Smart watches to lead wearables growth in 2015 and beyond

This post first appeared on


Unit sales of smart watches are expected to grow 358% year-on-year in 2015, according to the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA).

The introduction of the Apple Watch as well as continuing uptake of other similar wrist-worn devices from the likes of Samsung and LG, will result in a total of 10.8m sales across the US.

The category – one of a number of wearable technologies being tracked by the CEA alongside fitness trackers and smart eyewear – will also see 470% growth in revenues year on year, to a total of $3.1bn. Combined, the industry is expected to hit $5.1bn in 2015 and up to $7.6bn in 2018.

“Once you put a big name like Apple or Samsung into the mix, [everyday consumers] start to take notice and start talking about them over coffee,” said Jack Cutts, director of business intelligence at the CEA, referring to the mass awareness of wearables ahead.

Speaking at technology trade event CES, he suggested these devices – smart watches especially – will be mainstream by 2018, but he urged the industry not to set expectations around the kind of penetration experienced by smartphones. Success doesn’t have to come in the form of ubiquity, he explained.

Those who do win will incorporate both ‘premium’ and ‘fun’ designs over the next few years, he outlined, with price points sitting at $500 to as low as just $30 in 2020.

He also suggested that such devices would become increasingly useful. Beyond just the communications or fitness/health tools they are today, they will also incorporate things like authentication, a central hub alongside the phone for everything to do with the ‘Internet of Things’, and more.

“Does my dad need one yet?” asked Cutts. “No, not really, it’s still a very techy device, but we’re on the cusp of that changing.”

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Digital snippets: Timberland, My-Wardrobe, Instagram, Flipkart, holiday and more

Happy New Year everyone and welcome to 2015!

We’re headfirst into CES in Las Vegas this week for what’s looking set to be yet another week for wearable technology. Look out for more of that to follow shortly, but in the meantime, here’s a highlight of some of the fashion and tech stories you may have missed over the past couple of weeks…


  • How Timberland used customer data to reboot its brand [The Washington Post]
  • My-Wardrobe domain name bought by Net-a-Porter [BoF]
  • Instagram spam purge costs Nike, Adidas and Forever21 hundreds of thousands of ‘followers’ [The Drum]
  • Flipkart now valued at $11bn after raising another $700m [Business Standard]
  • The 5 biggest trends in fashion and tech in 2014: a look back to look forward [Fashionista]
  • 5 retailers who nailed it this holiday season [Inc]
  • The psychology behind a mysteriously fluctuating holiday sweater sale [Fast Company]
  • What’s the future of luxury? [Fortune]