Over the past few years there has been a monumental shift in consumer behaviour towards luxury goods.

The change in paradigms of how people consume content and shop has particularly been shaped by the power differences in generations. Young affluent consumers are increasing in numbers and, with it, the way in which they shop for luxury is changing in line with their needs and demands.

Millennials and Generation Z consumers now make up over 30% of all luxury spending. More importantly, according to UBS Group AG, 18 – 35 year olds generated 85 % of growth in the luxury market last year globally and will represent 45 % of total high-end spending by 2025. If you’re a luxury brand, you need to be proactively playing where they’re playing, and doing it seamlessly.

If brands are to successfully take advantage of the millennial playing field, luxury businesses must break apart their customer journeys in order to redefine them and reform their customer clusters based on a new digital life map. Only by understanding the needs and desires of this new breed of customer will they be able to continue to converse with them and prolong that relationship in our increasingly automated world.

Recent studies have found that 80% of sales are influenced by online activity. Online research, experiential marketing, live streaming events and social channels like Instagram are paramount to luxury purchase decisions, but the crux of the matter is that luxury brands need to bridge the gap and convert online activity into online purchases.

Now, only the technological innovators can survive – this global phenomenon requires creating a strategy to seamlessly manage your brand’s DNA across every touch point to create a cohesive digital ecosystem. To win over this generation of luxury consumers, our fragmented and fast-paced retail landscape requires new business models and progressive, inventive interpretations of what luxury digital means, where experience and sustainability is championed over consumption and currency.

Leading with a digital strategy

Luxury retail is screaming out for a revolution. Luxury brands need to understand that digital must be more than a marketing channel and should be knitted into the fabric of their brand. The only way to achieve this is by putting digital at front-of-mind by embracing the intelligent technology that can shape and influence the future of retail. Profitability and brand differentiation will depend on a business’ data strategy and technological difference that not only provides the end goal but also enhances the brand experience, providing the exclusivity that is expected from a luxury retail experience.

Angela Ahrendts pioneered the luxury digital revolution at Burberry when she opened their doors to an innovative and, above all, a digitally accessible approach to the luxury experience – however that was a long time ago and there hasn’t been a front runner since. New luxury digital retail is more than ‘gimmicky’ interactive store displays and virtual mirrors, and the savviest brands are toe-testing digital by partnering with native digital retailers like Farfetch. Gucci tapped into the immediacy and convenience demanded by younger affluent shoppers when they partnered with Farfetch to deliver their goods in 90 minutes. ‘Spend more time living’ was the campaign’s ethos and it’s one that is shared by people with a high net worth for whom time is a valuable asset, and increasingly want their services to be delivered seamlessly – they won’t settle for mediocrity.

AI is paramount when it comes to redefining a digital luxury experience, providing retailers with the ability to anticipate their customers’ needs. The brands that embrace technology and create bespoke experiences based on knowing their customers’ habits, needs and desires are the brands that will be able to sustain their share in the luxury market. Tom Cheesewright writes about ‘invisible luxury’, a term I’ve used for a long time, but only now is beginning to make sense. He talks about a yacht that orients itself to the sunset based on where you’re sitting. How beautiful is that? No shifting positions on your part, no commands to the crew – this is the level of technology and innovation in luxury that will make the difference. But how does that translate in retail terms?

AI is more than being able to tell your Google Hub or Alexa what to do. It’s about retailers anticipating your needs and providing them before you’ve even thought to ask. Voice assistants are at the forefront of predictive commerce and if brands harness it right, we could be at the point of a retail revolution – it’s exciting to see who in luxury will commandeer this technology and use it to push forward in their territory.

Authenticity and emotional integrity

The only real variable in a retail experience other than brand differentiation is the individual that is purchasing from you. They are unique and bring a new set of values that retailers must use in an intelligent, engaging and, most crucially, invisible way – no one wants to feel Big Brother over their shoulder. Hidden intelligence with hyper-personalisation is key to providing distinctive and exclusive experiences and it is vital that these experiences have an enriched emotional value. Luxury brands which have authenticity, provenance and heritage knitted into their DNA and are grounded in social responsibility will have stories that resonate with today’s more considered consumers.

Louis Vuitton and Gucci have both successfully managed to tap into a younger aspirational mind-set by hiring the likes of Virgil Abloh as the artistic director (LV) and Michele Alessandro as creative director (Gucci) who have both collaborated with cult icons that personify and magnify millennial values. Michael Burke, Louis Vuitton’s chairman and CEO, praised how Abloh’s “innate creativity and disruptive approach have made him so relevant, not just in the world of fashion but in popular culture today”. Marco Bizzarri, president and CEO of Gucci, says his choice of working with Alessandro Michele “was emotional rather than rational; he had a different vision for Gucci from what had been done in the past”.

Proving to be the biggest and bravest digital player in luxury today, Bizzari has recognised that digital will play a monumental part in Gucci’s economic future. The brands that can interpret our world and create a progressive digital strategy to amplify the organic and diverse values that shape the zeitgeists of today will be the ones who succeed in the luxury digital revolution.

Why luxury brands need digital transformation