Luxury Retailers Seeing Online Potential…Finally?

While the luxury space certainly has some digital standouts (think Burberry, Ralph Lauren), many luxury retailers have been historically reluctant to adopt online initiatives for fear of compromising a prestigious brand image. The idea of making everything so available and transparent to everyone turns some luxury brands off. If this couture gown is available to the masses, what makes it special? If anyone and everyone can like my luxury brand on Facebook, how will I distinguish who likes it just because it’s “cool” to like it, from who likes it because they’re a paying customer?

But the days of these questions seem to be coming to an end as it has proven nearly impossible to escape the digital world, and only hurtful to any brand – luxury or not – in the long run. Thus is evidenced by some recent moves made by luxury brands like Roberto Cavalli and Oscar de la Renta.

The Oscar de la Renta design house has made its involvement in social media quite public by announcing plans to use Facebook as a major e-commerce channel, according to Alex Bolen, CEO, in an interview for Mashable. The company has built its Facebook fan base to more than 224,000 and its Twitter follower list to more than 84,000. It drew requests for 25,000 samples in three days when it launched a fragrance for the first time in 10 years via a Facebook sampling campaign. The brand is planning to launch a major Facebook commerce effort soon, and has developed a product from its fragrance and beauty lines that it thinks will sell well on Facebook. Bolen said he wants to have a group of “deeply engaged evangelists for [the] brand.”

In other news, Roberto Cavalli will be launching a special e-commerce initiative in October called The Glam Gallery, which will be a selection of iconic Cavalli red carpet gowns available for sale at With this launch, consumers will be able to purchase actual gowns worn by celebrities and film stars on red carpets across the world. Before this, the only way to get such an opportunity would be at a Cavalli brick and mortar boutique.

It’s possible that these brands are considering new revenue channels because they are realizing a slowdown in business due to global economic uncertainty. For instance, as reported by Andrew Roberts at Bloomberg, Roberto Cavalli’s CEO, Gianluca Brozzetti said that luxury companies should brace for weaker growth in 2012 as Europe’s sovereign debt crisis leads to a slowdown in spending.

But whatever their motivation, it’s clear that lots of luxury retailers are finally bowing to the power of digital; be it via social media, social commerce, mobile commerce, traditional (funny we can now use that adjective) e-commerce and e-mail. Catalogues may still be a brand staple for many of them but the future clearly integrates new medias to supplement the way luxury retailers have historically marketed.

What do you think about this new wave in digital from luxury companies? Are luxury retailers still behind or are they paving the way? Are these digital marketing efforts here to stay?