Alexandre Wehrlin, Director, European Business School, Geneva: Before answering, we should first consider consumers’ values which have also considerably evolved. Two contexts come to mind. They are the “yellow vest” protest movement in France and the mob that stormed the Capitol building on January 6th. In both instances, while there were some peaceful demonstrators, it’s the anger and aggressivity of the rioters that sticks in our mind and, in the background, the inequalities that are undermining our societies. Transposed to the world of luxury, we can see a trend for significantly less ostentation, greater gender and ethnic inclusivity, and genuine efforts for sustainable development. It’s fundamentally important that brands present their customers with an irreproachable profile.
Each customer has values that are important to them and, whether we like it or not, these values influence the experience through the expectations they form, which the customer may or may not express. First on the list is the expectation of a personalised relationship. The customer wants to hear an authentic language that corresponds to their own thought pattern. In this respect, it would be wrong to think there is a universal customer. Luxury is becoming polarised. The good news is that we have customer relationship management analytical tools that enable us to understand the customer more closely. In a word, personalisation means technology.
At a time when brands are growing their digital presence, only a few, such as Breitling, Vacheron Constantin and Hublot, are incorporating blockchain technology as a “passport” for their watches. This is precisely what Adidas is doing by adding a microchip to its running shoes. This type of technology is a means to develop new experiences through information sharing with the customer and tracking the relationship to create new opportunities. I’m puzzled as to why so few brands are showing an interest. Like I said, these “tools”, alongside big data and AI, are essential when connecting with the customer.
Luxury used to be held up as an example for others to follow, with beautifully appointed stores where customers, who were already won over by the products, were attended by sales staff who offered the same care as would a concierge in a five-star hotel. Now social media has reshuffled the deck. Brands have had to first discover then invest in these new media. Furthermore, the sales associate no longer stands as a key link in the added value chain, now that the customer relationship is forged to a large extent online. Whether we’re talking about social media, mobile apps, newsletters, search engines or brands’ websites, seven or eight out of ten touchpoints are online. This is why I see blockchain as delivering genuine added value for the customer. Take the example of a bottle of wine. By scanning the label, we find out in which vineyard it was produced, which vinification method was used, which winemaker was involved and for how long it was aged. Conversely, the wine producer can track their bottle and learn more about the customer’s preferences. If we were to transpose this to watchmaking, brands would have unprecedented information about the watches in circulation through which they can interact with customers.
Paradoxically, the greater the role of technology, the greater the desire for human contact. Which means it would be a mistake to say the boutique will become a thing of the past. However, rather than simply sell watches, stores will gradually become ambassadors for the brands. Watches are at the cutting edge of technology. It’s a shame brands have yet to put the same amount of innovation into customer relationships!