Last month, when I announced that Louis would be closing its doors for good in July, the response was overwhelming. So many well wishers, a handful naysayers, and two or three people who claimed they knew more about my business than I ever could. The assessment walked a fine line between critiquing me and promoting their own interests, but I found the comments interesting nonetheless.
One savvy blogger wrote that they knew Louis was closing because of our major “tech fail.” They stated that the barrier created between our customer and us once we moved from our trendy Newbury Street location to the rapidly developing Fan Pier could only be repaired if we took a cruise down Digital Drive. After a few more clever, yet uninformed sentiments were declared, the blogger asked, “…being such forward thinkers, why (did) LOUiS shun tech?”
Well, for those of you holding your breath…here’s why:
I’ve been reading a lot, in the Business of Fashion, WWD, etc. about the benefit or deficit of adding a multi-channel sales strategy to your business. And there are reasons why the benefit hasn’t been definitively defined and the deficit remains. A shining example is Gucci – a brand that has a global, multi-channel sales strategy that has compromised and weakened, and deteriorated the cachet of what Gucci once stood for.
It was recently announced that, Frida Giannini, the Creative Director for Gucci since 2005, would be stepping down. According to an article in The New York Times, the company claims that after Tom Ford, Ms. Giannini couldn’t maintain the “buzz,” and after 9 years would be leaving the brand. Did she lead the iconic fashion brand astray, or should the fact that “Luxury consumers, particularly in China, have turned away from Gucci’s signature logo-emblazoned goods in favor of subtler fashion statements” be telling them something.
Further into the article you get the sense that their parent company, and Kering’s chairman, François-Henri Pinault, recognizes that “Over the last five-seven years, there has been a great change in the world of luxury in terms of scale and growth, and we are facing the question of how to maintain exclusivity while continuing to grow.”
I would argue that you can’t. You can find Gucci everywhere these days, and when you can find a brand everywhere, it’s not exclusive and it’s simply not a luxury brand anymore.
As is expected, all successful industries spend a great deal of time and money listening to their consumer – and the consumer says that they want it fast, and they want it cheap. But when you give the consumer something fast and cheap, they are at the same time agreeing (willing or ignorantly) to give up a little (or a lot of) quality as well. Companies react to their customers to maximize what they want as quickly as possible, to the point where the consumer experiences fatigue, loses interest, and really doesn’t care for the brand anymore.
Perhaps this is what has happened to Gucci. And perhaps instead of talking about it, the company thought technology would fix it, but actually technology is breaking down the brand even further.
Let me ask you – why wouldn’t a person go into a Gucci store, find something they like, turn their back, pull out their smartphone, and find it online or at another retail location on sale?
People think that brands will be obsolete if they don’t incorporate technology into their model, and my argument is that technology or not, most brands will be obsolete anyway. You can sell out and expect people to pay full price when they know they don’t have to.
Another great example of “too much” is the GAP. After thriving for the better part of 40 years, they are now the perfect representation of how a perfectly good thing can go awry when you grow too much. They have become a sad example of brand that has to be so “across the board” they can’t get it back. It seems that every two years they promote something to the effect of “Too much fashion? Let’s go back to basics,” and two years after that they say “You’re too basic! Let’s get back to fashion.” They just let go of their creative director too, and they can blame whomever they want, but the bottom line is, how can you get it all right when you have so many categories to service?
I’ve heard from several people that the fashion at the popular brand J.Crew is beginning to lag now they too have so. many. stores. Perhaps it can be said that Mickey Drexler, former CEO of the GAP, current chairman and CEO of J.Crew, has become a victim of his own paradigm. He knows how to get these companies going, but burns them out by inventing too many ways and locations to sell them.
Once you get that big, you can’t cut things back, you just have to be that much more generic with what you do.
However, some brands have figured out how to beat the system and keep their sales intact. Stores like H&M, Uniqlo, Top Shop, and Zara have mastered the art of copying design trends, keeping production costs low, and establishing a quick turnover of a product that is unique to them. They control the ebb and flow and they are growing because of it.
There was a day when people didn’t want to buy something with a click. There was a day where people saved their money to purchase something of quality that they coveted. They were proud and they appreciated the accomplishment. Now, sadly, those days are all but gone.
And what of the actual products. It seems like no one talks about the products anymore, they only talk about the incidentals like: is a celebrity wearing the brand, and what was Kim Kardashian’s #OOTD today?
What ever happened to appreciation of craftsmanship? Don’t you want to know what it feels like? Don’t you want to try it on? Don’t you want a knowledgeable sales person to recommend what he or she knows will work with your body? Don’t you want to know that what works for Kim, isn’t going to work for you.
For me, the real problem with technology is that it is taking away the art of choice. Your smartphone or iPad or television tells you what you want, and you believe it. When you shop online, and therefore eliminate all of your senses while doing so, you end up with generic goods – but at a price. And as a result, brands are no longer pushing the envelope the way they used to. Generic is expected and brands are learning how to deliver it. That’s not a world I care to live in, and I certainly wouldn’t let LOUiS live there either.
Eventually consumers will realize what they gave up, understand that overall they weren’t really saving money, but instead were being lured into a world where corporate, crowd-sourced products are simply being reproduced again, and again, and again.
So, while some of you prefer to stay in and shop glued to your smartphones and tablets, other are excited to be out in the world honoring individuality, effort, and ingenuity. Some of us actually enjoy the art of exploration, and make a concerted effort to seek out the things that possess value and have longevity.