The central paradox of luxury handbags has always been that brands need to sell as many as humanly possible while still convincing every customer that he or she is getting something exclusive and sought-after. Until now, a cheap-and-easy way to do that was to eschew online sales in favor of forcing customers into brick-and-mortar boutiques, but according to Businessweek, the effectiveness of that strategy might have come to an end.

Over the past decade, aggressive expansion in Asia, and especially China, have helped fuel sometimes-staggering global growth for luxury brands. The numbers generated by the luxury-hungry middle and upper classes in the region satisfied investors and board members, thereby buying brands some time before they’d have to figure out how to tell their stories online. Increasingly, it seems like that time has come.

Businessweek reports that growth in China is slowing because of regulation and saturation, and with a dearth of new physical markets to explore, brands that had previously avoided fleshing out robust digital strategies will likely be forced to look at the Internet as their “new China.”

Not only are markets shifting, but so are buyers. Consumers in their 20s and 30s are used to having easy access to the products and services they want online and via their phones, and they’re more likely to view a required in-store experience as a nuisance than their older counterparts, who generally interpret it as a natural part of the luxury buying process. “Luxury,” as a concept, simply means something different to younger people.

Eventually, even the stodgiest of brands are going to have to meet their consumers where they are. Increasingly, that means on the Internet, despite the lowbrow connotations that can have for old school businessmen who don’t relate to it in the way that a 30-year-old woman with disposable income and an iPhone 6 might.

Brands might want to take a note on this (and many other things, honestly) from Hermès; the brand is still far and away the most exclusive leather goods brand in the world, with double digit profit increases every quarter and more demand than they can possibly supply. Somehow, the brand manages to do that while still selling a fairly vast array of products, including more than a couple styles of handbags, on its website. Luxury doesn’t have to be inconvenient to feel special.

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Share Your Thoughts With Us

  • lavinia

    The point
    is not to be convenient the point is “to be truth to the brand (from the brand itself)”
    and when you decide to be a luxury brand you do not have to move from the word “exclusive”
    and “expensive” (for no reason) otherwise you are not believable anymore (see the
    “Coach example”). Hermes has always been surrounded by its exclusive perfume of
    luxury which makes a customer feel like unique (I can afford it). The very new
    customers want the exclusiveness not the brand’s logo to be shown on a bag,
    nothing must be shown, only the exclusiveness must talk for you.

  • lavinia

    I add: The
    choice of Celine (for ex.) not to be on the internet could be possibly be bound
    to the fact that they could have to satisfy the biggest request if they go on the web
    (could they do that, is their logistic ready right now???) and moreover it could
    also be a choice to become a brand really exclusive (I remind you Goyard which is
    not reachable if not in some exclusive shopsà in Europe only in France and England!
    in USA only NYC, Boston and LA!). This could be another strategy, in contrast to the “run on the web”, and bring
    you -on the long distance- on top.

  • viennaprinzessin

    I wish they would at least let some retailers sell a few things. We move frequently and some places do not have any shopping. Plus my children live in other countries making sending them things time consuming. Luxury is not supposed to be a hassle.

  • Katrina

    There is something about purchasing an exclusive handbag in person. Especially if you have sweated and saved for the purchase. The memory of window shopping for months and then finally being able to make it your own. The memory of the purchase, of waking into the store, feeling the texture, trying it out in front of giant mirrors and the exultation of receiving it in a dressed up package is worth the hassle. Personally, I will not purchase luxury bags online, I have to connect with the handbag. I think brands that allow both options of online purchase and in store personal experiences will win on the long run.

  • “…30-year-old woman with disposable income and an iPhone 6 might.” – I am almost exactly this person, and I would still very much prefer to buy a luxury handbag in person. I want to try the bag on, feel (and smell!) the leather, see where it sits against my body, before making that decision. I also do think that being assisted, offered a drink, given advice by a nice sales assistant in a plush, luxurious environment is part of the experience.

    • Stina Sias

      That’s true. If it’s an option to make a big purchase in an environment like this, I’d much prefer it. But the fact is there isn’t a Chanel, Celine, or Hermes boutique within hundreds of miles of where I live. It would be nice to have more options.

      • Erika

        I agree

    • I don’t think that the shift toward the Internet is about losing the in-store experience, but about having choice. Younger customers are more likely to want the choice and view its absence as an inconvenience rather than a luxury. I’m also that consumer, almost exactly, and I’d rather (and almost alway do) buy online.

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  • Stina Sias

    This is really insightful and well written. I’ve just gotten to the point in my life where I can afford to buy nice things, and I view being forced to jump through hoops to buy something as a nuisance and as snobbery. I would rather buy a used bag on ebay than have to jump through hoops in a brick and mortar store.

  • Aliza Zibkoff

    I think that the internet may be perceived as “penny wise pound foolish” in the long run for some luxury brands, especially extreme luxury brands as the customer base of very wealthy individuals shrinks. As we have seen in the past decade the worlds wealth has been condensing and concentrating into a smaller and smaller group. In other words those that can be considered filthy rich are a much smaller group that ten years ago and they have more money than their predecessors (which makes them more “filthy”?!…don’t ask me I didn’t make up the phrase.) These people will definitely not take nicely to anyone carrying something they own especially us plebeians! Of course this may give rise to a new more exclusive bread of luxury brands for this group of persons…or maybe a French style revolution where they get their heads handed to them…Boy am I getting morbid, maybe its time for coffee.

    • I don’t think the vast majority of luxury brands can stay afloat just on those few ultra-wealthy customers, though. Accessories business thrive on the aspirations of the upper middle class, and fashion brands thrive on accessories.

      • Aliza Zibkoff

        You may be right but I think this may give rise to uber-luxury brands for those that just can’t stand to be part of the “riff-raff.” Or perhaps the current luxury brands will lean more towards services that can only be had in store (like customizing, monogramming and things like that.) I do think this may change things for what some people consider luxury handbags (not me of course I don’t have that kind of money…or aspirations either.)

  • klynneann

    Hermes may have made the jump to selling via its website, but it still has a long way to go – the site is not at all user friendly, slow, and rife with issues.

  • shueaddict

    As a woman in my 30’s with a disposable income and an iPhone 6 – I say you have to have both!!! Just because they are diferent shopping experiences they do not have to be mutually exclusive.
    As a consumer I am “cash rich but time poor” and although I love going to Dior in Vienna and having a coffee and a chat with Maria – those are precious few moments. Sometime I get a sudden craving for a certain rockstud bag and man, I want to pay for it in 5 min and have it delivered with DHL to my office the next day … I find that kind of experience deeply satisfying.

    • Canuck65

      I agree with you. There are times when I enjoy the luxury of the experience of shopping in person and other times I don’t for a variety of reasons. I like the flexibility of both options – as you say they aren’t mutually exclusive and any retailer including high end luxury retailers that ignore the internet is doing so at their own peril.

  • Barenia

    “The sale ceremony” as they call it… can never be replaced by internet. Having some history told by a dedicated saler about the product you’re about to buy, seeing much more products around you that cannot be displayed on the web (exotic MTO), waiting with a “coupe de champagne”, beeing seen buying it, the box, that brown LV carton bag …

    But Maybe… luxury brands must think on how converting this “Sale ceremony” within the web: access to a private part in the web site, having someone to call you, a visio, a special short movie about the bag you buy, the way they pack it, a serie number to follow it, I don’t know

  • Shanelle

    I think that is true in some cases, but in others the maintenance of absolute exclusivity is considered to be the highest calling. I am glad that Louis Vuitton sells certain bags online (and also takes Paypal); but if it was only available in stores, I would still get in my car and drive the 3 hours to NorthPark Center Mall in Dallas, Texas and buy one if I had the money to do so. If I wanted a Goyard handbag or Chanel handbag, I would be willing to travel to New York to buy them (but of course to take in the sights of New York! :) ). That is just me. Now can super exclusive luxury brands survive without e-commerce in the long run? Probably not. There are only so many billionaires and multi-millionaires in the world to buy all that, but I have a feeling they will stick to their guns and not sell online as long as possible. The only time I get frustrated with luxury brands is when an item sells out and you have to hunt for months to find it, like the Coach Metallic Highrise bag. It took me 4 months to find it and when I did it was on Ebay. But when I received it and verified the authenticity (because I rock like that), I was more than pleased, I was ecstatic.

  • The luxury goods will not sell fast in China from 2014. It was sold fast because of extremely corrupted civil servant , but now the situation was changed.

  • confident

    Its just a bag.