Where Has All the Luxury Gone?

Coach StoreWe in the industry have been bandying about the term “luxury” pretty freely of late, but there is growing realization that if a product or brand is easily accessible and relatively inexpensive, it’s not really a “luxury” product. And the minute you add the term “affordable,” it becomes an oxymoron.

As the ever-widening income inequality gap illustrates, the rich are still getting richer. According to Pew Research, the top 1% of households in the US, or those making $400K or more annually, earn 23% of the total income in the country, and control 35% of the net worth. Both figures have been steadily growing for more than a decade.

One ever-present behavior in the spending habits of the superrich of any generation is opting for the special over the mundane. Makers of high-end jewelry and electronics, cars, exotic vacation hotels, and other products and services target this group of discerning consumers for a reason: They value, and are willing to pay a steep premium for, that which is appreciated by and accessible to only an elite few.

Milton Pedraza, CEO of The Luxury Institute, a research firm that tracks and advises the global luxury goods market, says that consumers consistently define luxury as the best of design, quality, craftsmanship, and service. Brands that always deliver against these attributes, including Audemars Piguet, Chanel, and Buccellati, also tend to have a compelling brand heritage story. [Read more…]

Around the World with Paco Underhill

cooking_oilWhat We Can Learn From Emerging Markets

Merchants have a temptation to move up-market. We suspect this is a reflection of their desire to seek higher margins. While we can applaud the successes of luxury categories at the upper tier of the market, it is at the other end of the spectrum where we find insightful examples of merchant innovation. For many of the world’s consumer product goods companies, future earnings and sales growth are anchored in their ability to not only move up, but also to more effectively cover the down-market. But we may be missing some very special lessons in this traditional marketing strategy. We can learn from what’s hidden in plain sight in emerging economies by recognizing the transformation of our ideas and the ingenuity of adapting our concepts to local solutions. There is also a new wave of clever entrepreneurs who are retooling conventional retail and marketing in novel grassroots ways.

Sumba: Rethinking Trust and the Pragmatics of Third-World Recycling

The Indonesian Island of Sumba has the peculiar distinction of being the world’s southeastern-most home of the horse. Its equine culture is unique to the archipelago, and adventurous tourists invade the island for its horse festivals that involve ritual battles on horseback. Its welcoming villages are dominated by tall prehistoric megaliths, not unlike Easter Island. But in Sumba, these giant icons are made all the more startling by the vibrant human life that continues on the island, in contrast to the abandoned statues of Easter Island. Sumba has a few resorts that tend to be patronized by glitterati looking for places where the tabloids can’t find them. It is, in its way, paradise lost and found. [Read more…]

Defining the Value of Omnichannel Shopping

Mobile banking wallet on screen of smartphone isolated on whiteBefore investing in an omnichannel strategy, retailers need to understand the true value of this consumer shopping behavior and the opportunity it presents. A new MasterCard study suggests the right approach is to start with the customer. How does their omnichannel spending behavior differ from spending in a single channel?

Conventional wisdom suggests that retailers should invest in bolstering the omnichannel experience they offer consumers on the basis that more channels will result in increased sales. Makes sense, but merchants can either invest in an omnichannel strategy and technology because it seems like the right thing to do, or they can make informed decisions based on data that details the value to be gained from key customer segments. Imagine the following scenario: A working mother of two needs a simple dinner solution for the evening. She logs onto Pinterest for “quick kid-friendly dinner” and decides on the “Cowboy Casserole.” The list of ingredients she needs is automatically saved onto her mobile phone, and dropped into her local grocery store shopping app. She opens this app, and decides to pick up the order on her way home. She stops at the store, where her order is waiting in a cart. She notices a sale on blueberries and adds two pints to her cart. She picks up a single-serve sparkling water for her car ride home and a few magazines to wind down later. The kids love dinner and the mom has illustrated the type of behavior that merchants of all classes are moving to better serve. She is an omnichannel shopper. As such, she is highly sought after but not very well understood. [Read more…]

Widening the Gap

shutterstock_192812690Having followed Gap and Gap Inc. for 25 some years, I’m intrigued with the many growth opportunities the $16+ billion company still provides. As an analyst, I’ve long applied a portfolio approach to Gap Inc.; when one brand is humming another is flubbing— and basically that’s been the case. Gap Inc. is accessible: luxury (albeit boring) at Banana; value at Old Navy; and just-plainclothes- with-a-hint-of-attitude (mostly from good marketing, not so much design) at Gap. Recent acquisitions, along with new global opportunities and a changing industry, begged another look at this behemoth. And I like what I see! [Read more…]

Luxury Needs a New Story

luxneedsnewHow Alex and Ani, Saint Laurent and STORY are doing just that

Recently, cracks have begun to show in the “same old story” that serves as the traditional luxury marketing platform. For years, for decades, and in some cases for centuries, luxury brands have been doing the “same old song and dance” for their current and prospective customers. The luxury story, which describes how brands are positioned and marketed, goes like this: exclusivity, design excellence, exceptional workmanship, top-quality materials, and aspiration for brands that one aspires to own and to show off. Things are changing.

In July, Hermes reported a slowdown of sales in its fiscal second quarter 2014. In the same month, LVMH reported first-half year sales were below expectations; and Kering, owner of the heritage Gucci brand, reported a 2.4% decline in the brand’s sale in the second quarter 2014. The only bright spot for Kering was their Saint Laurent brand … but more on that later.

While many fingers point to slackening demand in China as the culprit, American affluent consumers have undergone a dramatic mood swing regarding luxury since the recession, reflected in those disappointing results. That change in attitude is illustrated in Unity Marketing’s Luxury Consumption Index, our measure of affluent consumer confidence based upon quarterly surveys. [Read more…]

The Forecast: Share Wars For Rest of 2014

RL_Blog_9-10-14Forget about all of the holiday projections soon to be bandied about by the legions of economists, analysts, pundits, experts and faux experts. This is the one you can take to the bank, and it comes from none other than Macy’s CEO Terry Lundgren. Crisply, clearly and without hesitation, he nailed it at his presentation at the Goldman Sachs Annual Retail Conference.

“The rebound that we were all expecting in this year hasn’t happened. The consumer has not bounced back with the confidence that we were all looking for. And so the performance I think we had in the second quarter, and we expect to have in the second half, is going to be a continuation of what we’ve been able to do over the last several years — and that is to capture market share and get the most out of the consumers that are in our stores.”

In other words, folks, there will be no overall market growth this holiday season; only share wars in which the great retailers will steal share from the not-so-great, resulting in a zero-sum game. So, here you have it, The Robin Report official holiday projection: Zero Percent Growth. [Read more…]

Stalking the Cyberazzi

iStock_000027023380SmallDo you ever get the ominous feeling you’re being watched or followed? Well, you are!

They know what you’re doing and where you are at any given time; what you eat; the car you drive; ailments you have and whether you’re pregnant; divorced; trying to lose weight; cheating on your spouse at some sleazy motel; or the color of the upholstery in your Lear Jet.

They know every predilection, quirk and fetish you thought were buried deep in the recesses of your private life. You are fair game and their job is to create a dossier on you from cradle to grave.

Disturbing isn’t it? But this is the shadowy world of the data broker, companies that track every aspect of people’s lives and lifestyles. They are the keepers of a Pandora’s box of consumer data and it’s there for anyone to open—for a price! [Read more…]

Private Brand Primer: Five Things Not to Do When Launching a Signature Fragrance

Stocksy_txp33ce1e73JS7000_Small_35808Launching a signature fragrance is both exceptionally difficult and wonderfully exciting. It is also daunting and exhilarating. A fragrance launch is many things, but what it is not, is rocket science.

While both involve an attempt to blast off and to reach the stratosphere, the similarities end there. For example, typically no one’s life is at risk because of a fragrance launch. That being said, a promotion or even careers have been in the balance because of such a launch. Also, while there are many complex calculations that are part of a fragrance launch related to the formulations – the financial projections and logistics – none of this math even borders on aeronautical engineering or requires physics. Furthermore, a fragrance launch does not require you to deal with immutable laws of nature ­­– such as the laws of gravity or inertia.

However, having been responsible for putting numerous cologne and perfume products on the launching pad over the last several years, I have observed a few basic patterns and have acquired quite a bit of empirical data, albeit mostly anecdotal, about how to launch a signature fragrance. So here goes… [Read more…]

Touch Screens: Innovation or Distraction?

electronic-superhighway-namjunepaikOur visual language continues to evolve faster than our spoken or written word. That evolution sits at the confluence of disruptive everything; from the viability of broadcast media to the science of visual merchandising. It also circumscribes a generational shift in how and where we access information.

If our screen owning habits are changing, how has that affected our screen watching habits in retail and other places outside our home? Ten years ago, our measurement data suggested that a television-based image attracted twice the number of eyeballs as a static paper-based image. Remember the video walls in stores and shopping malls that were some weird commercial rendition of a Nam Jung Paik art installation? It was brilliant the first, and maybe also the second time you saw it, but eye-straining thereafter.

[Read more…]

Luxury Retail: Turning Affluent Austerity into Retail Prosperity

lux_retailI got a call earlier this month from a freelance reporter who follows my beat – research on the affluent consumers and the luxury market. As she walked through the Time Warner Center on Columbus Circle on her way to the subway at midday, she found the halls and high-end boutiques unexpectedly empty. The only store seeming to do any business was Whole Foods. She wanted to know, “What’s up?”

I shared a similar experience visiting the Tysons Galleria, in McLean, Virginia, located in one of the nation’s highest-income counties. Walking through the mall on a weeknight, there was a remarkable lack of customers. The most active shop in the whole place that evening was the Starbucks café. [Read more…]

Small Retailers Face Huge Technology Gap

Restaurant ownerTalk about proof points. In the April issue of The Robin Report, Gary Kearns from MasterCard wrote about the level of technology needed for retailers to create and maintain one-to-one relationships with consumers. “Few retailers today have the sophistication, systems and savvy to create a mutually rewarding relationship with [key consumers],” he wrote. A new MasterCard survey illustrates that point and details a huge capabilities gap between large and small retailers. That gap must be addressed if smaller retailers will have a chance to compete in a data-rich world.

The survey comes from MasterCard’s Global Insights team and is detailed in its recent Merchant Scope report. MasterCard conducted qualitative and quantitative interviews in Canada, Germany, South Africa and Brazil to identify the attitudes, opportunities and obstacles that are driving small business technology use.

The 90/20 eCommerce Equation

While most of the findings varied by vertical and country, a few numbers jumped out. The first: Nearly 90 percent of small to mid-sized merchants have an online presence, but only 20 percent have an eCommerce website. They lack the technology to accept payments online. That is a significant number, regardless of how big your store count or balance sheet.

It’s significant because the concept of financial inclusion is not limited to certain consumer groups in developing economies. Inclusion is about retailers, too. The retailer who cannot sell online is missing opportunities for themselves, but is also underserving consumers. Mega-retailing has had its share of consumer advantages in terms of price and service. But the overall health of retailing also depends on smaller regional chains, local favorite boutiques and rural multi-purpose stores.

Part of the responsibility falls on the data and payment technology communities. Small merchants need their help in understanding and meeting the evolving expectations of more informed and digitally connected consumers. These expectations center on convenience, an innovative shopping experience and personalized customer support. In the current data-driven retail environment, the consumer shopping experience starts long before entering a store, and includes the ability for the merchant to be present in different devices and channels. Advances in technology – including payments – have often presented an opportunity for small businesses to level the playing field. But, as consumers take advantage of mobile technology and real-time information, businesses of all sizes find themselves needing to create an “always on,” omnichannel presence or mobile app offering instantaneous rewards that attract new and repeat customers.

Barriers to Technology Adoption

The second set of numbers that jumped out from the study concerned barriers. The two clearest barriers to adopting technology, according to the report, were cost (46 percent) and know-how (31 percent). Here, small merchants need to prioritize resources for marketing. When examining what can be spent on digital marketing, they need to address key questions to help determine if an investment is worth it. Is this the key to improv-ing the customer experience? Do you understand how to use sales data to effectively build marketing propositions? Are you losing out on sales because you are not sure how to identify your best customers? What can you invest in now to make this pay off and run your business better?

Now let’s look at the ability to generate customer data. Here the capability of small merchants also needs to be improved. The Merchant Scope report shows that merchants find point-of-sale (POS) devices in large measure work as a transaction terminal. Half of the respondents globally indicated satisfaction with the payments acceptance experience. Nevertheless, MasterCard’s research indicates that the data passing through POS systems are under-utilized. They are leveraged for the authorization of transactions, but not as a potential window into insights on their customers. Today’s consumers are increasingly driven to shop by intelligent offers – perceived value over price and customized messaging. Consumers don’t just want to receive discounts; they want to be offered discounts on the products they care about. Developing ways to collect and use consumer purchase behavior data, in line with prevailing data laws, to offer them the things they really need depends on effectively utilizing the data flowing through the POS.

Regardless of the merchant’s size and geography, the most cited challenges (on average 41 percent of merchant respondents) revolve around identifying new customers. More than 32 percent cited Internet marketing and promotion, and 28 percent cited offering loyalty benefits to customers. Today, as more and more data is generated about customers’ shopping behaviors and preferences, there’s an opportunity to use that data to tail customer experiences, working with existing laws on data usage. Smaller merchants are starting to see the challenge and look for competitive solutions.

Leveling the Playing Field

Improving this situation requires a mind shift. Consider technology in the context of how it is integrated. Buildings blocks like eCommerce and effective new digital marketing will be greatly improved when technology is integrated. The sales data that comes through a well-developed eCommerce and invent-ory system is the fuel for developing strategies of product promotion and how to offer customers the goods and services they want most.

The rise of the mega-retailer has changed everything about the competitive environment for merchants of all sizes. Large, vertically integrated merchants have revolutionized supply-chain and inventory management, taking technology in those areas to a level that enables them to cut pricing and improve the customer experience. They have exploded across continents, with technology channels creating the “omnichannel” reality of global shopping. According to information published by the National Retail Federation, the top 250 retailers control $4.3 trillion in revenue; 63 percent of them are global. They have leveraged their scale and technology resources to present customers with a unitary, integrated shopping experience that inexorably is moving to an individually customized marketing model. That model has effectively upended the traditional merchant/consumer relationship, empowering the consumer to the point where customer experience and online agility are increasingly important as growth drivers for top global online retailers.

When it comes to leveraging technology, the picture for the mega-retailer is much clearer. But for small and medium-sized merchants, it’s still murky. The ability of large, often global merchants to dominate retailing creates an arena where small to medium-sized merchants may feel they cannot compete. The ability of large merchants to integrate technology both on the macro level outlined above, as well as in-store, presents a daunting competitive environment for small and midsized merchants.

The gap in technology resources between global retailers and smaller-scale merchants is glaring, and can be closed with the coordination and participation of banks, governments, and technology providers, as well as merchants. The downside of not addressing these gaps is that smaller retailers will fall further behind in becoming better engines for economic growth. The upside is huge.

Q/A with William P. Lauder

William_Lauder-1We sat down with William P. Lauder, Chairman of The Estée Lauder Companies, the $10 billion global beauty juggernaut, and talked about the evolving retail landscape, the importance of knowing your consumer and the opportunities and challenges of globalization.

Robin: William, we’re living in what we believe is the biggest transformation of the industry in the history of retailing, and therefore in wholesaling and branding as well. Some CEOs are saying it feels like the Wild West. Others feel like they are living in the chaos of technology that is far ahead of our capabilities to totally understand and use it.

And here is The Estée Lauder Companies, the undisputed leader in their space, right in the middle of it all. You served as CEO from 2004-2009, when you transitioned to your current role as Executive Chairman. During these ten years, the business has nearly doubled. So, I know you’re really smart, but is there also a bit of luck working here as well?

William: When I first joined this company in 1986, I perceived that my mission was to gain the experience to do what we needed to help the company be at the forefront of prestige aspirational beauty around the world. In 1996, more than half of our business was in North America. Now more than half our business is outside of North America. Emerging markets like China and Russia were very important, and we had a low share of market in those countries as well as in Europe, the UK and elsewhere. So, we saw a greater global opportunity where the pie was expanding, as opposed to our huge share of the US pie, which was static. [Read more…]