Being luxurious online (Column)

January 09, 2014  |  Mark Tungate  |  Comments

From Fifth Ave. to Africa, retailers want a high-end online shopping experience

Mark Tungate is based in Paris. His column from the capital of fashion and luxury appears regularly

On the face of it, the digital and luxury worlds have little in common.

Luxury brands generally add value through sensuality, heritage, aspiration and esthetics. Google, Facebook and Twitter all have their uses, but beautiful they ain’t.

Having said that, the qualities used to promote luxury goods are often implied rather than explicit—and there’s nothing less tangible than cyberspace.

Besides, luxury goods companies no longer have a choice: they need to appeal to a new generation of tech-savvy consumers. So luxury has gone digital. When Hudson’s Bay Co. acquired Saks Fifth Avenue this summer, analysts pointed to the upscale retailer’s success in the e-commerce sector. Since then, its luxury discount chain, Saks Off 5th, has also debuted online.

Meanwhile, the departure of Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts for Apple—to run its online and physical retail spaces—suggests that technology brands crave the lifestyle magic associated with high-end fashion labels.

Part of that spell, as Ahrendts knows, is woven in the store itself. When you’re shopping in a perfumed marble palace peopled by ethereal black-clad assistants, springing several hundred dollars on a bag somehow makes more sense. Flagship luxury stores are retail theme parks, designed to pleasure you into parting with your cash.

So how do you recreate that experience in the neutral online space? No discreet scent. No photogenic vendors. No glittering glass cases. No one to sit you down and bring you a cup of espresso while their colleague fans out a tactile range of wallets.

I put the question to the founder of, “Africa’s premier luxury online fashion and beauty retailer.” The site had caught my eye because the luxury industry sees Africa as the next emerging market, particularly fast-growing countries like Ghana, Nigeria, Côte d’Ivoire and Sierra Leone.

Koko’s discreet founder, Abbey Ojoye—who is based between London and Nigeria—told me: “Of course we understand the allure of traditional luxury stores. Creating that experience online involves understanding the importance of the ‘feel’ of a physical store.”

Ojoye says his team pays great attention to colour schemes, text, fonts and graphics—as well as tools like slide shows and the ability to zoom in on images. “We have a team of designers who create pages that are easy to navigate and updated daily. Our customers also appreciate the fact that the sign up, login and checkout process are seamless.”

Packaging and after-sales service are equally important. Natalie Massanet, founder of pioneering online fashion retailer Net-a-Porter, once told me she wanted her packages to be so beautiful that her customers would weep with happiness when they received one. And if they weren’t overjoyed by its contents, Net-a-Porter would come and pick up the item at no extra cost.

Ojoye takes a similar approach. “We refer to our customers as ‘KOKOnistas’ and we treat them like kings and queens. That means phone calls to update them on new arrivals, invites to special events, a bespoke service, meetings with personal stylists and even payment on delivery for some customers.”

Customer service executives call each customer personally to confirm details of their order before it’s shipped: “Not only to avoid fraudulent use of their accounts, but also to give our service a human touch.”

Of course, in the online space, you can build up detailed profiles of individual customers and their preferences. And luxury shoppers like nothing better than to feel as though they are members of an elite club. In terms of marketing the site, Ojoye says social media like Facebook and Twitter are vital, along with old-fashioned word-of-mouth. “Africa’s growth and in particular the emergence of a middle class has resulted in a surge in the use of mobile phones with internet access,” he points out.

Above all, he’s well aware that the idea of “luxury” is reinforced by a whole host of media outside the retail environment. “KOKOstores is just one aspect of the KOKO brand: we also have KOKO Life magazine and from January KOKO TV, the first dedicated fashion TV channel in Africa, which will promote the whole KOKO lifestyle.”

He maintains that luxury online customers in Africa are no different to those in other parts of the world. “They want to be sure that the price is comparable internationally. They want a brand they can trust. And they want to be certain that quality is never, ever compromised.”

Mark Tungate’s column “Branded Deluxe” appears regularly in Marketing. Subscribe today, and check out the iPad version of our magazine.

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