While bumpy at the start, the 17-year-old marriage between luxury and technology has been a happy union so far. But as with most healthy partnerships there comes a time to reflect on where you are, adopt change and move on. It’s a juncture that José Neves, founder of Farfetch, and Yasmin Sewell, fashion director of Style.com, both find their brands at right now, and one they are embracing, as they told the CNI Luxury Conference.
"This paradox between luxury and technology is within the industry – I don’t think that the consumer thinks like that," said Neves on the perception of online luxury. "Rather than ask, ‘Do we know how many consumers are using technology?’ my question is: ‘Do we know any luxury consumers that do not use technology?’ It’s not technology versus fashion, it’s about finding the right technology that identifies the specific requirements of the industry…Instagram is teaching us that desire for very luxurious things can be built on platforms like theirs and that technology is a tool."
On-hand today to add weight to the impact that Instagram has had on the industry was Morin Oluwole, head of luxury for Facebook which owns Instagram, who described it as "an intimate space to engage with consumers and where creative content can be adapted for the mobile experience". She also revealed that the social media company sees the average consumer check their account 10 times a day, while the luxury consumer checks 20 times.
"In a lot of ways it’s day one. We acquired Instagram in 2012… and luxury is one of the top categories on the platform," she said. "We see how people utilise Instagram to focus on discovery – how people discover products and lifestyle."
Sewell echoed both Neves and Oluwole’s optimism for embracing technology on new platforms, and explained that in her 20 years of experience, there’s never been a time when we’ve questioned everything as we are now.
"Technology gives us time," she continued. "It’s a time in our industry when everything is changing. What luxury meant 10 years ago, doesn’t mean the same… it’s not the obvious player." But, said Sewell, it’s important not to overlook the need for the human touch.
"We’ve built a platform that isn’t just about product intelligence, but human curation and without the human instinct you don’t have that element of discovery," she said of the nearly one-year-old Style.com. For Neves, technology comes in most useful when it comes to what is emerging to be the ultimate luxury item the conference delegates agree on: time.
"Where tech can help is not with gimmicks but making the experience more human," he said. "Time is the ultimate luxury, so if we can use technology so that the time (is reduced) that the sales assistant in the store is checking the inventory, or looking for the customer on the database, or not recognising a VIP - we can remove that friction. Through seamless technology we can free up time."
This seamless technology comes in many forms – and it’s not the ones that we’re used to. As Sophie Hackford, who was moderating the panel, said, it could be virtual reality, real-time CCTV or emotion-scanning software, areas Oluwole is keen Instagram develops into.
"Instagram and social media as a whole is playing such an important part in the luxury business – we now need to know how it drives a business forward," she said, revealing that she would like to work on bringing the social experience to life.
"Now that we can understand the need to go shopping, we can understand the desire to go shopping, and we now need to know how to take advantage of people’s needs, points of views and immediate desires," she explained, although she also agreed on the unparalleled experience of going into a store and highlighted that their recent survey showed that while users look to Instagram for lifestyle inspiration, they still flock to print for product and purchase information. Essentially it’s about understanding the behaviour of the Millennial.
"Facebook has a heavy Millennial usage," continued Oluwole, saying they pose an opportunity for the brand to win loyalty over time and therefore are targeting a consumer that will be a consumer of the future.
"Our average age is 36 years old," chimed Neves. "It’s more a Millennial mindset. This is a generation born in the Eighties, so they’re now 30-somethings, and they’re influencing the generation that came before them. We need to pay particular attention to that."
Sewell also agreed with the Millennial mindset, although stressed that Style.com doesn’t categorise by age, but by mindsets ."I’m not a Millennial, but I have the same hunger for newness…as can an older woman or man, and so we think about them."
As for the future, all agreed that to be successful moving forward, the luxury industry must use technology in an "invisible way" – not so that it impedes, but aids in areas that need it. As Neves put it, to find a way to "be a positive force for fashion as it can be transformative in a very informative way".