Luxury retail has to evolve

by Buyi Mafoko. This year has dramatically altered humanity and the luxury retail industry has not been averse to the inevitable shifts that have resulted from the pandemic.

by Buyi Mafoko. This year has dramatically altered humanity and the luxury retail industry has not been averse to the inevitable shifts that have resulted from the pandemic across global markets. Luxury is the art of the realisation of a dream, a once-in-a-lifetime experience and the crafting of pure emotion. Luxury retail is in the essence consumption of that dream. It is a category that has been affected by COVID-19, yet also evolving simultaneously.

The  events of recent months have inspired society to desire a greater sense of connection. The ostentatious nature of luxury is susceptible to moral criticism and the globalised pause has lifted the veil on our culture to reveal our innate desires for a more synergistic relationship. As a society, what has become apparent is our value for experiences over brands. There has been an evolution in all aspects of how we now live our lives and luxury brands must adopt future luxury retail strategies to maintain their contemporary relevance.

Changing rules for luxury retail

The pandemic has changed the rules for luxury retail and set new consumer expectations. The modern luxury shopping experience aims to fuse the human-to-human contact with a digital destination for future luxury shopping preferences. Increasingly, consumers desire a more personalised retail shopping experience, which will challenge luxury brands to take more monumental steps towards creating a ‘phygital experience’ (physical plus digital), for luxury consumers to discover new brands and shop at their convenience. This must be matched with a deliberate effort to endow them with the same ‘ceremonious’ service standards they have become accustomed to whilst shopping at their preferred luxury boutiques.

Investing in more personalised and customisable retail engagement platforms that are intuitive to future luxury shopping preferences and consumer tastes will create new sales fulfillment channels for the acquisition of new clients. Offering a unique shopping experience curated specifically with the individual client in mind, luxury boutiques must chronicle their own evolution to immerse new consumers to discover new brands. This can best be achieved by new customer initiatives such as exclusive shopping access as a drive towards maintaining customer loyalty by adopting safe and secure digitally led shopping experiences.

Meet digital demands

These new retail conditions have exacerbated an evolution in the industry and many luxury brands find themselves in unchartered territory, needing to pivot to meet the digital generation. Against a backdrop of uncertainty, luxury brands need to innovate and inspire consumers’ changing worlds and conscious consumption. COVID-19 has dramatically accelerated the need for luxury retail outlets to embrace virtual channels and harness the opportunity of implementing an “online-to-offline” strategy. Beyond their boutiques, innovation is acting as an agent of change that is driving the luxury industry to prepare for more digital sales. According to McKinsey, 25% of consumers in the US and Europe who bought luxury goods online during lockdown were doing so for the first time.

In the post-COVID era, the luxury retail experience needs to offer more. With online shopping on the rise, brands can leverage ecommerce platforms as complementary to their retail strategies to enable online purchases that are accompanied by shopper expectations that replicate the in-store experience. Phygital retail offers brands new channels that can engage more customers. Leveraging digital advancements is critical in helping the luxury industry cement exceptional customer service and engagement beyond the store, enriching its client base and strengthening its brand identity.

Exceptional service standards

Iconic flagship stores are known for their expensive architecture and meticulous service rituals that inspire and create memorable in-store experiences for customers. For luxury brands in particular, their role is to consistently deliver on expectations. Every customer interaction should leave a lasting connection — which goes beyond product. When brands become passive, customers will move on to the next one that offers them this special, personalised, luxury moment.

The luxury customer is in pursuit of unparalleled service in every service encounter. A key touchpoint is the brand’s personnel, who play a vital role in ensuring that every aspect of every detail emits the unique brand experience. Because the digital trajectory has drastically shifted the needs of luxury customers, retailers need to invest in training for their service staff to enable them to create valuable shopping experiences that work in this context. Retail spaces are reimagining the shopping experience with reference to COVID-19 safety guidelines. For example, beauty brands have had to reconsider more innovative sampling solutions that will allow consumers to test out a product in a hygienic and safe manner.

New customer expectations

Shopping is enabled by accessibility and the new characteristics of luxury retail shopping must embody diverse ways to grant their customers more access. Increasingly, customers now expect a more personalised shopping experience such as in-house specialist concierge service, rapid delivery, virtual shopping assistants. Luxury purveyors can meet the expectations of an elevated degree of service by availing dedicated sales advisors who are trained to operate beyond the physical retail environment and extend their customers shopping journey beyond the store. As people’s purchase habits have changed drastically, evolved consumer expectations demand more personalised advice on what is uniquely suitable for them.

Heritage luxury retailers need to adapt their environments to address shopper needs for smarter, digitally savvy alternatives to traditional retail models. Luxury retailers that emerge significantly stronger from this crisis will emphasise digital transformation across their supply chain and invest in regular training for their sales consultant to equitably professionalise the online and offline brand encounter. Synergistically, they must distinguish their strategies to be authentic, inspirational and purposeful in both physical and digital environments.


Buyi Mafoko is founder of The Events Fraternity; co-founder and Managing Director at Matte BLK, a 100% black-owned, digital experiential and activations agency; with a digital print production subsidiary, Matte BLK Printing. The Events Fraternity is a luxury events business and consultancy. Mafoko is a seasoned entrepreneur and communications executive who has built multiple businesses from the ground up. She is currently completing her international master’s degree in Luxury Brand Marketing at Glasgow Caledonian University in London. Her goal is to build credibility in advising global luxury brands with digitally intuitive market entry strategies aimed at attracting the internally diverse, culturally robust and progressive consumer markets across Africa. 

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