With stores closed, the covid-19 pandemic forced brands to accelerate their transition to digital business, and to optimize their customers' online shopping experience. This is something that the CEO and co-founder of French startup Hapticmedia, Henri Foucaud, has certainly noticed. The startup supports the digitalization of luxury brands via 3D modeling and visualization solutions, with clients including major names from the Richemont and LVMH groups. He tells us more about these new tools, and about how brands today must reinvent themselves to meet the new expectations of their customers.
Has the pandemic reversed the hierarchy of bricks-and-mortar stores and e-commerce?
These two channels are complementary today. First contact with the product is made online on a smartphone in more than 80% of cases. This is therefore essential, and it has to be successful, otherwise the consumer will go to another brand. This lead can be transformed online as well as in physical stores. In Europe, physical commerce still has a large lead on online sales, even if e-commerce is growing quickly. In Asia, and particularly in China, online sales of cosmetics are much higher than sales in physical stores. The reality [of the situation] is therefore diverse, but what's sure is that the pandemic has strongly accelerated the importance of brands' primary showcase, their website.
What should luxury labels do to adapt to the e-commerce boom?
It starts with admitting that the world is changing fast and that the old ways of the past no longer apply today. It's also necessary to realize that not changing means resigning oneself to rapid decline. There are major changes to be made. Dream images on glossy paper and beautiful handcrafted products are no longer enough to seduce. Luxury is now conceived with influencers and an anchoring in the real world of glorified public figures. The offerings of e-commerce sites can also obviously evolve to appeal to China's Gen Z, the main vector of growth for luxury groups, towards more interactivity and customization.
How can your solutions support the digital revolution in the fashion and beauty sectors?
Cosmetics are products that have a very personal dimension. Brands are increasingly seeking to make the product itself -- as well as its container and packaging -- customizable, with a personalized presentation as well as engraving, to put the right text on the gift box or on the perfume bottle directly. In the 'Les Abeilles' project for Guerlain, everything is customizable: the perfume, the size of the bottle, the color, the decoration, the type and color of the bow, the engraving, etc. In the end, the consumer will create their own product, which will become infinitely personal and bring the customer emotionally closer to the product.
Certain barriers such as delivery, or the need to touch or try items, can prevent consumers from turning totally to e-commerce. How can this be overcome?
Virtual Try-On is the hot topic of the moment allowing consumers to try products on themselves with their phone and to gauge the results and effects. This subject requires perfect 3D modeling of the products beforehand in order to use this technique, which is also based on augmented reality and artificial intelligence.
How can you make up for the lack of advice, or personalized shopping experience online?
Instant messaging systems are becoming increasingly common on e-commerce sites. It is also possible to contact a salesperson directly via video conference on the sales site, or to make a video-conference appointment for even more personalized advice.
Gen Z, a key target for luxury brands, is particularly savvy when it comes to all things digital. How can brands succeed in winning these consumers over when they're already late to the game?
Luxury groups are very powerful and know how to surround themselves [with the right people]. Both LVMH and Richemont have very effective infrastructures and programs for collaborating with start-ups using the latest technologies. And even if some company cultures can sometimes prove reluctant, adopting these new modes is no longer really optional, without risking decline or disappearance.
This interview has been translated from French.