Take, for example, a 100 millilitre jar of La Prairie’s Skin Caviar Luxe Creme: at a retail price of $765, it’s a significant investment for even the most well-heeled customer. So even if they can’t actually try out the product for themselves when buying over the Internet, these discerning, highly international clients still expect their experience to reflect the pricetag - and to be offered a wealth of skincare advice at the same time, in their own language.
These were the issues faced by Renee Tavoularis, vice president of global ecommerce and digital marketing at La Prairie, when she was appointed to the role in early 2013, after almost 20 years with the luxury skincare brand. Previously, the company had sold online only to customers in the US and Australia, using a combination of hosted and on-premise platforms that simply weren’t agile enough to support the company’s brand and growth strategy. “We weren’t in a position then to provide the luxury experience for our customers that we wanted to create,” she says.
La Prairie’s ecommerce team is based in New York, although its global headquarters are in Zurich and its customer base is scattered all over the world. Last year, with a global revamp of the company’s ecommerce operations planned, Tavoularis and her team decided that they needed to be able to set and maintain very strict global standards, while still allowing for local adaptation at the country level, she explains. And they also wanted to be able to scale quickly, bringing new countries on board when local market demand justified that expansion.
“Right now, as a company, we don’t have have digital experts in each of the countries in which we operate. So starting globally, and being able to adapt to global markets was imperative for us,” she says. Having investigated the market, she found that an ecommerce platform from Demandware would best support that strategy. Today, the company is running 18 localised sites, in fifteen languages. Three of these (the US, the UK and Australia) currently support e-commerce, a number that La Prairie plans to grow to eleven by 2016. France and Germany will be added later this year, says Tavoularis, with a roll-out in China planned for next year.
Next year, revenues from ecommerce, she says, should account for between 5 percent and 7 percent of net sales.
But global expansion can’t come at the cost of customer experience, she says. “It’s quite a challenge for us: how do we mix commerce with content for a luxury experience? Ecommerce isn’t just a sales vehicle, it’s a branding mechanism. So when we look at our digital strategy, we have to have top-quality content. Our site has to be well-designed and informative, as well as aesthetically beautiful and elegant.”
That meant incorporating into the strategy a rich, multimedia combination of words, photography, illustration and video.
Also essential was the inclusion of a skincare advice tool, ‘Your Skincare Advisor’, which advises guides clients through a personalised consultation and advises them on the best products for their particular skin types and beauty concerns. “Our luxury positioning stems from having one-to-one relationship with customers. Offline, that’s about the conversation they have with an advisor across a department-store beauty counter. Online, we needed to offer the same personalised experience and that was a challenge, too. It’s one we continue to work on. Every new product launch involves a content evolution for us.”Customer reviews, however, are not part of the La Prairie online experience. “We have links to our social media channels on the website, but we don’t have ratings and reviews. That’s another big challenge for a luxury brand - whether to include customer content - but we decided that we’d rather handle queries and comments elsewhere.”
But regardless of the product a company sells, providing a seamless customer journey is now imperative for any brand with online ambitions. A big effort now, Tavoularis says, will go on analysing website metrics to better understand the type of La Prairie customer who’s happy to buy from the company online and which products they’re most comfortable buying there.
“Demandware provides us with a platform where we can bring all of our websites onto a single infrastructure, and manage them cost-effectively, without having to worry about technology and upgrades, but focusing instead on refining and enhancing the customer experience. We’re very pleased with our progress so far, but there’s still a lot of work for us to do. A cloud-based platform gives us the freedom we need to focus on customers, without the technology headaches.”