Beyond the product, luxury shopping is defined by the special touches that make a customer feel pampered while paying a steep price. A glass of champagne, an attentive associate and a pristine presentation are the cherries on top of the exchange in-store that make it a luxury experience.

Online, those human touches vanish. Most luxury brands — still, astonishingly, not all — have accepted that they can’t sit out on e-commerce, and top digital luxury brands are getting creative by adding specialized touches to their online stores.

Certain features have become table stakes, even if some brands are slow to adopt them. Free shipping and free returns, customer service live chats and related product recommendations should be assumed offerings of luxury brands online. But others that aren’t widely adopted as e-commerce strategy can set the brand’s experience apart and recreate the high-touch feel of luxury stores for the screen.

“The experience correlation between what happens in stores—when you enter, communicate with associates and buy—and on the digital landscape should be similar,” said Amay Makhija, a research associate at digital think tank L2 and one of the leads on the company’s recent Fashion Digital IQ Index report. “Then you have brands doing extraneous things, not just replicating the in-store experience, but taking it forward.”

On the product page
Fendi, for instance, is figuring out how to impress a sense of urgency on the online shopper, who’s easily distracted and can vacate the shopping trip with the click of a mouse. In a Fendi boutique, a kind but persistent salesperson might appear at your shoulder to remind you that there are only a few of a certain blouse left in stock. Online, an equally persistent pop-up window appears to Fendi shoppers who have remained on a product page for an extended period of time. The pop-up tells potential customers how many other people are looking at that product, as well as how many are left in stock. If an item is moving fast, shoppers will hopefully rush to add to cart before it sells out, “replicating the urgency of shopping in store,” said Makhija.

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Fendi’s online product page nudge.

For Gucci, which L2 named the year’s most digitally savvy luxury brand, the difference is in the details. The brand makes a clear link between its complete runway looks (which are typically pulled apart on online product pages) and the items available in the most recent season by using photos straight from the runway in its online product feed. With this tactic, Gucci is also discreetly withholding prices from its e-commerce shoppers. You don’t see the cost of an item until you click on the complete look and then to the specific product you’re interested in, which works for luxury shoppers who are typically “price agnostic,” according to Makhija.

At the same time, Gucci and Fendi both have useful Help tabs right on the product page. Both lead to customer service contacts, and Fendi’s lists information like return policy and tools for finding products in-store. Gucci also lets shoppers reserve something online and find it in-store, a feature only 5 percent of brands that L2 observed have.

Customization
Brands who build out online-only experiences into their e-commerce stores are one-upping those who simply see the e-commerce arena as another venue for potential purchases. Coach, for instance, has a gift-giving platform on its online store that lets customers purchase an item, then send it to a recipient who can then select color and size, and request other customized features, like a monogram stitching.

“The smartest brands are moving past replicating in-store experiences and exploring what wasn’t formerly possible, like on-demand customization and virtual gifting,” said Christina White, vp of user experience at Huge.

As customizable items become more prevalent in luxury collections, online has become a go-to tool for adding embellishments to handbags and more pieces of flair to formerly unchangeable products. The Louis Vuitton website lets customers add initials to luggage and other bags for on-demand additions with visuals.

Bridging in-store
As e-commerce capabilities for luxury brands improve, the physical store isn’t exactly declining. While 7 percent of luxury transactions happen online, 60 percent of every purchase is impacted by a digital touchpoint somewhere along the way, according to L2’s research.

“This means brands need to evaluate what the role of digital is for them,” said White. “For the most part, it’s giving brands more reach and appeal, and putting customer service in front of people when they’re trying to make a decision.”

The best online brands are recognizing the shift to mobile and how people are using it. According to L2, it’s used to research products, seek customer service and find local stores. Mobile GPS capabilities, which Jimmy Choo, Tom Ford and others have incorporated into mobile apps, are becoming more widespread. The ability to book an appointment with a stylist in-store also helps turn intention into purchases.

“Some people still don’t feel comfortable making high-end purchases online,” said Makhija. “Although a lot of brands haven’t completely embraced e-commerce itself, just to understand the significance of the online touchpoints gives them a chance to connect customers intimately with products and the brands.”

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