A digital earthquake has been felt in the luxury goods industry, and its impact is indisputable. There’s a host of new opportunities available to brands: new user behavior, product innovations, and particularly, exceptional and innovative customer services. As Cécile Robin, Head of eCommerce EMEA at Shiseido, explains that the luxury market’s cornerstones are its services.
With expertise both in marketing and sales, Cécile Robin began her career in supermarket distribution at French retail company Carrefour, before turning to luxury. With 15 years of experience, including eight years in eCommerce at Sephora, Cécile is now the Head of eCommerce at Shiseido. She is in charge of business development for the group’s eCommerce sites across EMEA and works on eCommerce acceleration for the Shiseido Group.
Here’s what she has to share about how luxury brands can bring their history of exceptional customer experience online:
The Shiseido Group launched its European eCommerce site in October 2019. How did the launch go?
The crisis we’ve been going through since the beginning of the year has been a major accelerator for eCommerce. In April, we outperformed the sales figures for the entire first quarter! As with any site launch, we keep it in an “incubator” to analyze our customer journey, spot potential friction points, and find out about performance. So, we accelerated the process and developments, and now it’s a success story that we are closely monitoring because, in these unprecedented times, the rules are changing every day.
What was the aim?
Shiseido is the group’s eponymous brand! So, it was only natural that we wanted a premium, distinctive communication channel with our customers. It was a vital cornerstone in our regional eCommerce strategy. We have a clear desire to increase our digital footprint, and with this in mind, we don’t see our sites as a simple sales channel but as a window display for the brand. We aim to showcase our products, with as wide a range as possible and exclusive products, to promote our brand DNA and, of course, to offer distinctive, quality content.
So, it’s like a flagship store, but online?
Exactly. That’s our eCommerce sites’ mission. We have our products on show, but much more on top of that: previews, services, and very specific offers.
What’s changing online in luxury this year?
It is the development of decision support tools, without a doubt. This technology isn’t that new, but the crisis has accelerated its rise. With the situation we’re going through now, we can’t just try out a lipstick or foundation tester like we used to. How can brands help with this? How can we support our customers and reassure them that they’re making the right choices?
We can see an apparent increase in the use and development of decision support tools by luxury brands. Take the virtual try-on tool, for example, which is very quickly becoming more and more widely used.
What tools do you have to teach customers more about your products?
We’ve prioritized many developments to meet our customers’ expectations of our different brands: the virtual try-on I mentioned is one of them; we have our solution, but we’re also working on online skincare diagnosis and virtual beauty consultations. You can now book a beauty appointment via Zoom. Through this online consultation tool, advisers can help our customers find the product best suited to their beauty needs. The fundamental issue is how to remain close to our clients (while still physically distanced from them), how to listen to them, and how to surprise them, wherever they may be.
Taking that support we offer in-store and reproducing it online is crucial for the luxury industry.
Is exceptional customer service the key to luxury brands offering a unique experience?
Of course, that’s undoubtedly one of the critical points. To offer exceptional customer service that helps us stand out, we need to provide a frictionless experience throughout the journey, minimizing any frustration or obstacles. Our service has to run smoothly from the first contact right through to home delivery (if the aim is to encourage a purchase). It’s also important to support customers in their decisions (e.g., access to information, finding products, and testing) and to anticipate their questions (through FAQ pages or proactive emails about delivery, for example). Customer service must be premium too, in line with our brands’ values, but it also has to be state-of-the-art, by offering interaction via chatbot or virtual agents, for example.
How do you see the luxury market in Europe changing?
I think we’re on our way to becoming much more socially responsible. This is a requirement we’ve identified from our consumers, who are increasingly considering brands’ environmental impact. One of the prominent examples is what we use in our packaging: tissue paper, stickers, colorful high-quality packaging, etc.
Brands are going to have to rethink their products and everything associated with them. I think there’s a great story to be told here.
Have you already launched any new initiatives on this front?
Yes, that is central to the group’s priorities and is reflected at every level: for example, we have days when employees spend their time working for charities. This approach goes far beyond the products themselves.
As far as eCommerce is concerned, if we take a look at packaging again, we’ve stopped adding printouts to our parcels, so customers no longer receive a paper invoice or returns slip, for example. The challenge is to get our consumers to accept these changes, as our value proposition is still a unique experience. Similarly, while price remains by far the most important consideration for product delivery, the top three criteria also include speed and meeting delivery times. So, communication is critical if we want to take longer with delivery for less environmental impact.
Shiseido has historically been well-established in physical stores. Has digital transformation taken priority?
The digital maturity of the Group’s brands varies from one country to another, but digital in all its forms has become a priority throughout the value chain. From expertise to investment and throughout the whole organization, every area is embracing the digital revolution. That’s what will make a difference! Being part of an international group with a presence in several countries is an incredible learning and sharing source. We have regular discussions between the different regions and brands. We have access to a vast pool of knowledge. And then, of course, we can localize and adapt. It’s a fantastic asset.
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