The customer experience associated with premium brands is tailored to us with just as much attention to detail by designers when creating an online store as the finest tailored suits by tailors. Norbert Krizsán, design strategy advisor at Mito Digital, talks about the tools that can be used to create a sense of exclusivity in the digital space and where luxury begins and ends.
The Art of Presentation
“I can serve you the same piece of fried meat in a way that you’ll say it was the finest meal of your life, and in a way that you’ll push it away in disgust.”
I heard this chef saying decades ago from a good friend, and although a chef may never have said such a thing, I could fully believe it then and now. What stuck with me from the above quote is the two important truths it contains. One is that, regardless of what it is, its environment, whether in a broader or narrower sense, will greatly determine the associated experience. The other is what one of the rarely mentioned but important claims of the design professions is, that the experience actually exists only in the human mind. Experienced designers hear various requests from clients in their work about the kind of experience their product or service should evoke in online customers. It should radiate freshness and youthfulness, the “be sexy” trend is still popular, and there are also requests (which gave me a hard time, I admit) to convey the ambience of an exclusive perfumery while the store has a completely different profile. Designing for such experiences can sometimes be easier, sometimes challenging, and sometimes downright impossible. Fortunately, the experience of luxury does not fall into the latter category.
Dream in Luxury?
Although the boundary of what is considered luxurious begins in different places for every person, there are characteristics that often work in almost every case.
A strong, stable, conscious brand that is able to consistently present the same image everywhere and at all times, from advertising to the entire shopping experience to post-purchase communication, may be the most important starting point.
Furthermore, if the product or service is accessible to anyone, or if there are too many of them, it can significantly reduce the desired effect. The illusion of inaccessibility or personalized uniqueness can set anything apart from the crowd, whether it’s a watch, jewelry, or clothing.
Of course, it’s essential that what the store sells is of impeccable quality. However, it’s worth noting at this point that we are more forgiving of a product’s flaws when it’s more attractive or harder to obtain. A good example of this is the original Lamborghini Countach, where for reversing you have to hang out halfway through the open car door, and the windshield wiper only clears half of the windshield – but it’s still a Lamborghini.
Premium Shopping Experience from the Couch
Although it’s easier to achieve the above three elements in physical spaces, there are a few tricks in online commerce that can be applied at any time.
Visible, Subtle Human Presence
These days, the invested and visible human presence and work mean a lot. Lifeless, cookie-cutter webshops and a lack of human communication during the purchasing process do not favor any (luxury) brand. A good digital interface feels like a real person is speaking to the customer, while a digital interface that provides an exclusive, premium experience treats the customer in the same way.In terms of communication tone and style, we use short, concise sentences on websites to make the conveyed value immediately visible. We avoid exclamation marks, loudness, and humor. That doesn’t mean we banish humor altogether, but rather that we use it in moderation and with sophistication. Whether the brand’s style is informal or formal, direct or distant, what’s important is that it presents the same image consistently everywhere, just as a live person would. It would be strange if wordplay jokes appeared on the Hamilton watches website, wouldn’t it?
Exclusive = Forward-Looking, Unique, Elegant
A good practice to create the illusion of exclusivity or unavailability is to establish a visual appearance that is just slightly above what customers are used to. The style should be familiar but forward-looking – for example, in the case of the Acronym premium fashion brand’s website, a bold, surprising impression is created by stripping down the design to the minimum and redefining the navigation without the main menu.
Every brand has its own identity, but clarity, sophistication, and the creation and maintenance of its own style are crucial in the virtual space as well. Since these can vary from culture to culture, it is essential to understand the peculiarities of the local market, as well as the needs, habits, and behaviors of the people living there, alongside the given business goals. Fortunately, as designers, we already have pretty good research tools, from user interviews to unobtrusive observations during online shopping.
Tailored Suit and Experience
Constant availability, well-designed, automated systems appearing in the right places, and the ability for the online interface to adapt to the customer’s own pace and preferences create trust and security. This, in turn, takes us a big step towards turning an interested visitor into a satisfied customer. If they feel they can return at any time rather than being rushed, they will be happy to come back.
Personalization is now an essential aspect. With the data collected about the visitor and browsing history, we can fairly accurately predict which product will interest them and when they are most likely to become a happy customer with just three clicks from a notification sent to their phone. And when they become a happy customer, we can truly serve them in a personalized way through a loyalty program application, tailored to their habits and needs.
If all this is complemented by the ability to start shopping in the mobile app and finish it in the physical store later, it gives the customer a high level of flexibility and convenience. After all, who wouldn’t be delighted to be able to add products to their online half-filled basket when entering the physical store – and then pay comfortably through the app when leaving? In addition to supporting multichannel processes, precise package tracking, simple returns handling, and the most flexible payment processes should be fundamental, although they may differ from brand to brand.
Changing Direction and Setting the Course
There have always been exceptions, and there always will be. Some have reached the exclusive or premium brand club through different routes and considerations, and that’s fine – there is no royal road. It’s a tough but not insurmountable uphill battle to digitally reposition a brand that has long been associated in the minds of consumers with an experience and perception that we want to change. We worked with an airline that wanted to reposition their customer base from passengers who fly once in their lifetime and are afraid of flying to young people who travel and party in smaller groups. The first step here was to clean up the online interface from all unnecessary clutter and create a bolder, more modern design, with more direct messaging and illustrations that followed the current style.
When we are at the top, it’s our sweet burden to provide guidance and direction, whether we want to or not, to other brands that will try to imitate and copy or, in a more pleasant case, make all the innovation that characterizes our product or service available to larger audiences over time. Just as the expensive developments of Formula 1 eventually appear in production cars, exclusive digital solutions also permeate mass-produced items in other areas.
The Finest Fried Meat
Perhaps the most important lesson is that one cannot stand out from the sea of brands by focusing on just a single point or a sales channel. It is essential to maintain the desired experience from the first encounter with the brand all the way through the purchase, even extending to the customer relationship that can last for years. A human, personal tone with the customer, as well as a commitment to impeccable quality, leads to valuable brand loyalty – and this loyalty must be nurtured and rewarded.
This is how that slice of breaded meat will always be the finest slice of breaded meat in your life.