FOR DECADES, LUXURY brands had mastered the art of the sale. The precise calibrations of product design, store layout, careful lighting, piped-in music and professional staff kept you lingering, gazing, craving and eventually pulling out your wallet or purse.
But today even high-end malls look like mini-airports. There are layers of checks and security, zigzag queues around ubiquitous stanchions, staff and signages telling you where to go, and frequent safety announcements on the PA system. When you approach an individual store within the mall, this ritual has to be repeated, as if you’re now going through the boarding gate.
All this is anathema to luxury, which thrives on creating exquisite environments to transport you to consumer heaven. Face masks, hand sanitisers and no-touch thermometers now commonplace in every store are generating fraught, unsettling reminders that your body is fragile and susceptible to illness.
In such an environment, what will rescue the luxury store from extinction? Perhaps the same things they stand for – the emphasis on quality, nurturing of customer relationships, and bolstering of brand clout through exclusivity and conscientiousness. Lately the expansion of omni-channel capabilities into digital realms has become more crucial, as second-wave infections keep older, deep-pocketed shoppers at home.
In our 9-page special coverage this week, we look at all the ways that luxury is staying on its toes. There’s the ilLido group completely changing the layout of its Art and Aura restaurants at National Gallery to address current dining needs. There’s CYC Made To Measure that now sells well-tailored masks and locally-invented antiviral sprays on top of custom-made clothes. There’s Hugo Boss choosing not to close ranks in difficult times but instead reaching out to help vulnerable communities.
At the end of the day, luxury will thrive because dining out at a Michelin-starred restaurant will always beat fancily-packaged delivery from said restaurant. A pampering professional facial will always trump your home-based 5-step beauty regime. And no online shopping experience can surpass the simple buoyant pleasures of roaming through a luxury store and discovering a beautiful object on the spot. Right then and there, you can hold it in your hands, feel its exquisite material, marvel at its design, and – one credit card transaction later – bring it straight home.
This story was originally published in The Business Times