With its painstaking attention to detail and an unexpected quantity of compartments that vanish behind a system of doors calling for fine craftsmanship and inlays, Houdini by Roberto Lazzeroni for Giorgetti is the cabinet that has become one of the protagonists of the latest production Made in Italy, created during the lockdown and presented to the public in the showroom and on digital media, at the Giorgetti Channel readied by the Meda-based brand during the difficult months of the pandemic. A finely crafted object, like the best of Made in Italy 2020-21, which could be admired thanks to the web, more than by actually visiting the physical spaces of the company.
Like it or not, the digital dimension is now essential for Italian design. Above all because it is the area that is racking up points in terms of growth. Among the latest sources to bear this out, there is the report “Luxury Retail Evolution & The Digital Evolution” prepared by Altagamma, which shines a spotlight on market excellence each year: “Covid, on an international level, has led to a general drop of 20% in the sale of personal luxury goods, but with many discrepancies between segments and geographical areas,” says the chairman of Altagamma, Matteo Lunelli. “The pandemic has accelerated the development of digital distribution, which in 2020 amounted to about 50 billion euros, with a share of total sales growing from 12% in 2019 to 23% in 2020,” Luca Solca of Bernstein reports. A leap of five years in just twelve months, and one that is destined to continue. By 2025, forecasts show that online sales will account for one third of the total market. Like a long game of Monopoly, for Made in Italy, composed for the most part of small and medium brands, the digital realm has been a field full of probabilities and pitfalls.
“Already prior to Covid-19 the premium brands had to come to terms with a drop in traffic and productivity in their direct single-brand stores. The explosion of the digital made this problem even more urgent,” Solca explains. Italian companies have three elements of weakness: smaller scale with respect to international competitors, which is a drawback when it comes to the high investments and costs involved in online operations; high dependency on multi-brand wholesalers (department stores, for example), now going through a serious crisis; and – a factor shared with the entire fabric of Italian enterprise – cultural backwardness with respect to digital transformation.
This does not mean that the race to do things better online has not begun: enormous efforts have been made to make inroads in a growing and by now fundamental world. Hence the presentations of Boffi-De Padova on custom web platforms, the 3D configuration system for beds on the part of Noctis, the augmented reality shopping of Natuzzi, or the Wall&Deco app with the same technology, the interactive catalogues of Porro, the online trading of Rimadesio, the e-commerce of Lema first in Italy and then, from June 2021, all over Europe, adding the United States in July; the one-to-one video call encounters of Visionnarire, to create very close visualizations of finishes, through the use of the best technologies. Then we have the Minotti TV studio for dialogue with the trade through programming of educational events; the digital consulting of Molteni@Home which has also launched, in November, an exclusive e-commerce system for the USA.
Or Moroso, which has reached almost a million single users this year, profiled in 24 countries, generating selected traffic for points of sale. Poltrona Frau was the first to launch an e-commerce operation, back in the fall of 2019, and the platform is still active not just in Italy, but also in France, Germany and Switzerland, with a roll-out plan for other countries this year. From abroad, Tom Dixon has chosen a more ironic profile, transforming the design into a hologram to present his collections in 24 cities (including Milan in April).
The digital wave is not a neutral set of statistics, but a phenomenon that modifies attitudes and desires. Above all, it implies a ‘leap.’ According to Chris Morton, CEO and founder of Lyst, a fashion shopping app, “consumers expect to be able to do everything with their smartphones, and a correct strategy adds value both for clients and brands, while incorporating the physical experiences of luxury. Data and personalization are at the center of everything, as the digital dimension makes unusual new approaches to retail possible.”
In this context, precisely the new e-tailers are generating the best performance, as opposed to almost all traditional department stores: having obtained licensing to sell for major labels, those brands do the shipping, which implies having the ability to access global stock of the label rather than stock set aside for a specific retailer. This helps the new, emerging digital players that are already connected to a high number of stock locations.
In the new virtual market, the winners are those that design a particular type of presence: “You have to focus on special exhibitions, capsule collections, pop-ups, diversification of flagship stores to make them more interesting, services for consumers with an added value, such as personal shoppers and privé areas in boutiques,” says Solca, referring to a model already developed in fashion, which design can take as an example. Obviously activities of this type call for fixed costs in order to compete, which become more feasible with the benefit of economics of scale, while we know that the Italian business world is made of small and medium companies.
Also for this reason, the research conducted by Bernstein forecasts structural consolidation of multi-brand distribution in a digital context: “In the digital world the traffic moves on the Internet at the speed of light, and it can be concentrated on those who develop an advantage in terms of depth of assortment, generating a situation in which the winner takes all.” In short, there’s plenty of work to be done, but at least we have made a start with it.