Do luxury brands have to be different online? 

I suspect the answer to this is a resounding yes. People buy from luxury brands for various reasons: 

  • Status (showing off). Look at me, I can afford a £6,000 watch etc…In fact, there seems to be a market in producing stupidly expensive items just for this purpose. I blame overpaid footballers. 
  • Quality. If you buy a £6,000 watch or a designer dress, you’re expecting higher standards of craftsmanship. 
  • Exclusivity. Scarcity is a big part of this. People want a piece of clothing etc that very few others have. 
  • The ‘experience’. People look for a different buying experience, and certainly a better class of customer service. 

The trouble for luxury brands online is that a lot of what makes them luxury brands occurs offline, such as fancy showrooms, personal service and so on. 

Burberry’s flagship London store is a great, hi-tech version of this: 

Online, if you’re expecting people to spend big money on big ticket items, then providing a great user experience is the least you can do. 

Quite what form that UX takes is another matter. There are a lot of very usable sites out there from brands like John Lewis, but these don’t necessarily convey luxury. 

However, many luxury brands have attempted to be a little more creative over the years, and have focused on form to the detriment of function. 

Problems with luxury brands online

Mystery navigation

Awful usability is the main problem, and the Dom Perignon site is a prime example of this. It takes an hour to load, and the navigation is appalling. 


Painfully slow load times

Givenchy’s site is another example. Like Dom Perignon, it’s slow (you’ll see the timer every time you select a new section) and the company has seemingly failed to grasp that people might arrive at the site wanting to buy something. 

Click the ‘e-store’ link and you might expect to be able to shop online. Not unless you download an app you can’t. 

Barriers to entering sites

To get into Henessy’s site, you have to first select your country (because there’s no way of doing this automatically right?) then enter you date of birth. 

I realise this is a silly rule put in place by the industry watchdogs etc, but Hennessy manages to make this even harder than most other sites manage. 

Realising that people will just lie about this pointless question anyway, most alcohol sites default at a suitable date so the user can just select enter, but here you have to actively select the day, month and year from dropdowns. If you can see them with this colour scheme that is. 

Hidden ecommerce sites

Even for those brands that do actually sell online, it can be very hard to actually find the ecommerce part of this site. Are they embarrassed about it? 

Here on Dolce & Gabbana, there is a link to the online store, but it’s in small grey text on a black background.

Also, though the site displays lots of images from its shows, advertising, and new collections, none of these pages actually link you to the product pages where you can actually buy them. 

Awful UX

Chanel’s site is also horrendous. Truly horrendous. For one thing, it moves with the cursor, meaning you can’t actually control anything.

As you ‘accidentally’ mouse over images and videos you get snatches of audio which are very irritating. 

Not making much effort

Perhaps Manolo Blahnik feels it doesn’t have to worry about online so much, but it does seem a waste when a site is little more than a placeholder. 

Automatic audio

This is a pet hate of mine. I like to have a lot of tabs open, and sometimes you open a site meaning to return to it later, only to have the music you’re listening to interrupted. 

It’s intrusive and unnecessary. But many websites just don’t seem to understand this. News sites with their embedded videos of Premier League highlights are some of the worst offenders, but visit a few luxury sites and you’ll see they’re just as bed. 

Thankfully, Google has introduced a symbol so you can identify the culprits amongst your open tabs and kill the sites responsible. 

As you can see, Chanel and YSL are guilty here, though they’re not the only ones in the luxury ‘space’. 

You can’t actually buy anything

Back to Chanel here. Though there is a ‘products’ link, and a wide selection of items, don’t expect to be able to buy anything.

Never mind the thousands (millions?) of searches with intent to purchases for Chanel products from web users worldwide. 

The product pages are a pretty sparse too. There are links to store locators and social sharing buttons, but you could hardly make them smaller. 

Weird terminology

Now, we don’t want some sort of homogeneous web where all sites look and function in the same way, but there is something to be said for following convention at times. 

Especially when this makes life easier for the user and reflects the language they use. This also matters a great deal in search. 

Here are a couple of examples. The first is from Hermes, which has decided to buck convention for its calls to action.

Perhaps ‘purchase’ instead of ‘add to basket’ works for this site, but it’s indicative of the rest of the site. 

The second example is from Bang & Olufsen. Its TV section is labelled ‘picture’. Not a term people looking for TVs on Google will search for.

Perhaps B&O gets enough branded search traffic that it feels this is less important, but failing to optimise for Google is just leaving money on the table. 

Site search

Site search is important, yet luxury brands seem to pay less attention to it.

Indeed, an L2 study last year found that 30% of luxury brands’ ecommerce sites don’t incorporate site search.

Colour schemes and readability

This is an area where design often wins over function, with colour schemes which make it harder for users to pick out key links and elements. 

For example, with this colour scheme, D&G’s site search box is almost invisible. 

Lack of attention to on-page SEO

Jimmy McCann looked at this issue in more detail last year, but suffice to say that SEO isn’t always considered when designing luxury sites. 

Using text as images, and lack of attention to copywriting for SEO can mean that sites don’t even rank for their own products. 

Here, Dolce & Gabbana is way down the organic search results (at number seven) for its own precise product name. 

In the next part I’ll take a loom at how brands con convey luxury online, and some examples of sites which do manage to combine a luxury feel with great user experience…