The pandemic has speeded up the growth of digital distribution, which above all in the case of design can no longer avoid integration with physical retail. The digital market has to be carefully balanced with traditional channels, both single- and multi-brand, not just in terms of productivity of stores, but also in terms of service for increasingly informed and demanding consumers. Digital natives are used to accessing everything on their smartphones, but above all they know how to find information on the web and to take advantage of customer service that responds to their profile and is ready to provide answers. Luxury, in traditional retail and online, also corresponds to the quality and immediacy of the experience, thanks to digital methods that provide new possible and novel approaches to sales.
The design brands of Made in Italy have come to e-commerce somewhat later than the fashion world. But they do have something to teach: “from the viewpoint of graphics and user experience they are ahead of the pack,” says Aldo Silvestroni, head of communications and external relations at Triboo, a digital transformation factory listed on the stock exchange, with over 500 professionals and a thousand clients. “The design websites are very intuitive and effective at the level of user experience, and are able to convey a clear idea of what design is all about. The problem arises in the moment of online sale, when the image of the decontextualized product loses many of its most distinctive characteristics. Fashion, on the other hand, manages to be closer to the end user, and more inspirational.” Some notions for an effective website: “if creativity has to focus on the spirit of the product, the emotion, the user experience has to aim at simple, intuitive browsing, complete with images and videos. Technology today can open up new horizons, such as 3D graphics or augmented reality, to visualize a product being worn, or inserted in a context. The solutions are constantly advancing in their development.”
Nevertheless, more than technology what is fundamental is service, along with an omni-channel strategy: “We have formed partnerships,” Silvestroni continues, “with major Chinese online players, consolidating our collaboration with the Alibaba group, already launched in the context of the B2C Tmall and Tmall Global platforms, which bring hundreds of Italian brands to the Chinese market, reaching over 750 million active consumers on an annual basis. And we have implemented smart payments through the Alipay app, which is increasingly utilized, and ‘mini-programs’ of sales and advertising on Wechat, where you can find everything, at this point. The purchase has to be ‘user friendly’ in just a few clicks, interacting with social media, in an incremental way with respect to native e-commerce. But boosting an omni-channel approach also means staying in the physical store.”
In this process of contact, without mediation, in relation to end users only, the quality of service becomes crucial: “there is sweeping reinforcement of customer care, in all possible languages, not just for sales support but also for the experience in general, from the wearability of garments to shipping towards the most remote cities on the planet. And it is important to always have someone who responds, because Gen Z and the Millennials, especially on Asian markets, the main target for e-commerce in the luxury sector, are accustomed to having guarantees of effective service. Nevertheless, the more adult generations are also getting into e-commerce, through ad campaigns on Facebook and Instagram.”
Daloom, a software system that permits multi-brand design stores to create their own cloud showrooms, has been available for several weeks now, combining digital catalogue services and e-commerce functions. The project is the result of collaboration between Archiproducts and Furnichannel, a digital transformation company working for companies in the furniture and design sector. Daloom simplifies the work of dealers, allowing them to create their own digital showrooms in a few easy steps, and to publish – thanks to SaaS in-cloud software – complete product profiles without spending long hours uploading photos and information. “We are hoping to become a scale-up, as in the case of Airbnb, but in the furniture sector, with 0.33% of the European addressable market,” says Tiziano Pazzini, founder of Funichannel. “To boost the process of training of our clients, we have created the Furnichannel Academy, a free service with over 600 courses and self-instruction tests.”
Do to production complexity and consumer attitudes, the furniture sector is closer to the automotive world than to that of fashion. “Most of the clients explore online, where they are seeking information on products, but complete their purchases in a physical location, due to the emotional impact of the sensorial dimension,” Pazzini says. “Since this is a programmed purchase, if the client cannot find you online, you won’t be selected. The passage from the so-called ‘short channel,’ or e-commerce, to the long channel of the store has to be seamless. And because the furniture sector is fragmented – not like the few majors in the world of cars – the difference lies in the level of service, in a perspective of customer care, not just product.”
The furniture sector is one of the few faced with the paradox of online demand that is higher than supply: “there are clients who are ready to buy online, but the delays of the industry have kept the market from growing: only 4% of Italian companies have e-commerce built into their websites. This is indeed a matter of investments – analysts indicate a correct level of investment in digital methods of 8-10% of sales, but now we are only at 2-4% – but it is also a matter of mentality. The first challenge, then, is full distribution in online sales channels, while the second is to wager on a more highly evolved purchasing experience, for example with added functions such as augmented reality, connected to a physical sales network.”