To revive its declining brand, Coach finally embraced that the definition of luxury was changing. So, it had to change with it.
At Coach’s Spring 2017 runway show during New York Fashion Week, models paraded in ecd Stuart Vevers’ third collection for Coach, which included leather, fringe, studs, silk skirts, scarves, handbags decorated with padlocks, and a short-sleeved sweatshirt with a portrait of Elvis on the front.
In a post-show statement, Vevers acknowledged that Coach was looking to appeal to the new luxury consumers.
“We are living in a world where people aren’t aspiring to stereotypical images of luxury,” Vevers said in a statement following the show. “Luxury to the next generation could mean a T-shirt or fun playful backpack, and I want Coach to stand at the forefront of the new codes of luxury that are being created right now.”
Coach, which turns 75 this year, is fighting its way back into favor after years of slipping sales. Over the past 10 years, the brand was subjected to increased competition in the affordable luxury market due to the rise of brands like Michael Kors, Kate Spade and Tory Burch. It drifted more down-market, selling logo-slapped bags made out of nylon and leather, rather than all leather, its core product. It also fell victim to continuous discounts at department stores, which compromised the brand. At the end of 2014, Coach’s revenue was down 19 percent.
To right itself, Coach overhauled its image and took more control of its brand across online and in store channels. It pulled bags from department stores that were continuously putting its products on sale. It hired Vevers as creative director in 2013, and held its first New York Fashion Week shows in 2015. That year, it also brought on its first head of innovation, Dana Randall. The efforts have, so far, paid off. At the end of the brand’s fiscal 2016 in August, it reported an annual revenue increase of 7 percent.
According to Marie Audier D’Alessandris, Coach’s chief of global marketing who joined the company in 2012, the key to Coach’s newfound relevance was a shift in mindset around the definition of luxury in a digital age.
“The question had been around inclusivity versus exclusivity,” said Audier D’Alessandris. “Luxury was about selling a dream and being so exclusive, and it’s been fascinating to see the world around fashion changing. We have new philosophies now, and the balance between inclusivity and exclusivity is at the core of the future of luxury.”
Part of that balance relied on Coach reformatting its mobile strategy. The brand pulled its mobile app, which it launched in 2014, and instead made its site compatible on the mobile web. It also launched its Coachmoji app for iMessage, letting users swap “inspiration” boards, sets of images from the collection, grouped together according to a theme. Up next, it plans to add an ability to shop from the message board.
While mini iMessage icons of a handbag or varsity jacket might not have always shouted “luxury,” the Coach team recognized that they needed to have a presence where their customer already was, in order to bring their products — which have improved in quality — front of mind.
“For now, the piece of commerce that has the most immediate need for us is product discovery,” said Randall. “That’s where we see Instagram struggling. You see something and you don’t know how to get it. We want to help the customer understand who we are so when they go to buy, they know what to look for.”
Randall said the launches of the Coachmoji and iMessage apps were the result of an internal infrastructure that allowed her innovation team to work more cohesively with the creative and marketing teams.
“You have to have your internal teams integrated if you want to be first in anything,” said Randall during an Advertising Week panel. “We can go rogue to some extent when it comes to trying new ideas, but we have to rope in the creative, the user experience and the marketing teams for full alignment. If there’s not that hand off, it’s not going to make sense to the customer.”
That’s how Coach has approached customer service across channels as well. It was among the first luxury brands to offer a live chat online as well as buy online, pick up in store, according to L2’s Digital Fashion IQ 2015 report. Those investments put the brand in a better position to build on digital integrations, like adding commerce to the Coachmoji app in iMessage.