Luxury Brands Get Digi With It

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While luxury brands have long been considered elitist, even they are being affected by the digital revolution. While there may be some skepticism about the use of social media by luxury brands, increasingly, these brands are following the online stampede — only they’re wearing $1,500 stilettos and sashaying down the digital catwalk.[more]

Luxury brands are now looking at the web as more than a straightforward sales channel for downmarket items.

Tiffany, for instance, sells lower-priced items (such as silver) at Tiffany.com to customers who may not have access to their stores (or even feel comfortable there). Tiffany traditionally casts a wary eye on the web, where it’s been pillaged by counterfeiters. The brand famously sued Overstock.com and pursued eBay and other e-sellers of Tiffany-branded knock-offs.

Other luxury goods companies, however, which also eyed the Internet with skepticism are rushing to open online shops as new features assuage their concerns, as the New York Times notes.

The lure of the Internet as a sales channel for luxury brands is clear: social media and digital marketing drives traffic to their own websites and distribution channels, offering their products to a larger consumer base than ever before. Add digital innovation to the mix, such as Jimmy Choo, Burberry and Ralph Lauren have been doing, and younger, savvier brand fans will respond favorably.

Armani, a relative latecomer to social media, is so enamored with diigtal and mobile that the haute couture brand has just released its first smartphone, for Samsung (above). Besides Armani.com, its Galaxy S model is being marketed on a co-branded microsite, Armani’s Facebook page, its Twitter feed, and on its YouTube channel.

Google has clearly seen the potential of luxury goods on the Web. The company just launched a fashion website, Boutiques.com, that combines its considerable search capabilities with a social slant. Fans can set up their own “boutiques” and follow brands including designers, retailers and celebrities such as actress Jamie-Lynn Sigler, whose virtual “storefront” features a personal note and shows which branded goods she likes this season.

Boutiques.com goes beyond a more traditional e-tailer such as Net-a-Porter.com, a luxury goods website that offers fashion and jewelry, or even niche online retailers that specialize in a luxury sub-category, such as BlueNile.com with its focus on engagement rings and other high-end jewelry.

Small luxury brands may be quickest to embrace social media — including niche luxury plays such as The Art of Shaving, a brand owned by P&G, which rewrote the book on social media with its Old Spice campaign this year. Just as significant, smaller luxury brands in particular are starting to see other avenues of e-commerce opening up that may present opportunities for broadening their reach.

London-based Boticca.com, for example, aims to “wedge the door open for independent designers of jewelry and accessories from around the world, and match them with an equally international clientele.” The stylish website uses the tagline, “I’d rather wear a unique story,” in keeping with its focus on smaller independent designers rather than big luxury brands.

Why embrace virtual over bricks and mortar retailing? Boticca.com COO Avid Larizadeh tells the New York Times, “The tools are there now to create the same luxurious atmosphere that you have in a shop.”

Consider it a sign of the times. As upscale consumers migrate to online shopping, luxury brands aren’t far behind.

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