Boucheron is the first haute jewelry company to audaciously put the entirety of its collections online. Jean-Christophe Bédos, Boucheron's CEO, explains the ensuing surprises as a Google study reveals millionaires spend more online than in-store.
Luxury goods houses used to be fearful of e-commerce. Inspired by improved technology and how high-earners are big online spenders, Boucheron audaciously became the first haute jewelry brand to put the entirety of its collections online last year. The venture was pioneered by Jean-Christophe Bédos, Boucheron's chief executive officer.
When Jean-Christophe Bédos became the chief executive officer of Boucheron in 2004, the idea of launching online sales was unimaginable. The high-speed train of e-commerce seemed more suitable to discount shopping and was hardly synonymous with the rarefied world of luxury goods. Two years later, Bédos was re-evaluating the situation. The reason was simple: he'd discovered that the super wealthy, for whom time is the real luxury, were dedicated online shoppers, sometimes spending thousands on Internet purchases.
Indeed, according to a new Google study, 94 percent of millionaires said that making a high-end or luxury brand available online didn't cheapen their opinion of the product or brand. Furthermore, 91 percent said that they would like to see their preferred luxury brands online.
Millionaires, defined by the survey as having an income of over $1 million, were found to be likelier to use the web for buying luxury goods than their "ultra-affluent" counterparts, who have net worth of $1 million or more. Millionaires are reported to spend around $211,267 each year on luxury goods and are hugely enthusiastic about luxury goods launching e-commerce. All the affluent consumers in the study spend an average of $114,632 a year online versus an annual spending of $22,813 for those who shop in-store. Certainly, the findings challenge the previously held assumption that luxury shoppers favor the retail experience.
These consumers may be too busy to be dropping into Boucheron's temples of luxury but can shop online any time, day or night. As Bédos explains, Boucheron's e-boutique has put the brand into contact with new consumers with different needs, proving the widening appeal of luxury goods and the ease of online shopping. Boucheron is the first haute jewelry company to make the brave decision to put the entirety of its collections online, meaning that online shoppers have exactly the same access to its products as well-heeled shoppers on Paris's Place Vendôme, which is where the company is headquartered.
Luxuryculture.com spoke to Jean-Christophe Bédos, Boucheron's CEO, about its move into e-commerce.
This is the first time that an haute jewelry company from the Place Vendôme in Paris has had the audacity to put the entirety of its collections online. This groundbreaking decision means that, with a click of a button, you can buy online all the same products that you would find in Boucheron's flagship store in Paris. By making this brave decision, Boucheron has become a pioneer of the luxury e-boutique.
What made you decide to create an e-boutique selling the entirety of Boucheron's collections gh your e-boutiques in September 2007?
As you see from statistics in surveys on the European and American markets, online shopping is increasing and the segment of the population with the highest revenues is spending a lot of money on the Internet. Our reasoning was deductive and pragmatic. We said that since this population corresponds to our clientele, we have to be there to serve them and we'll go and meet them on a new vector, which is the Internet. It's not a new vector for them, because they're buying online already. But the Internet is a new vector for luxury houses. Because when you have a reading [about buying luxury goods] that is perhaps dogmatic, ideological and cautious, you notice that there are lots of taboos concerning the Internet universe.
What challenges does the Internet present for luxury goods houses, and how has Boucheron approached this?
Luxury houses have had a twentieth century approach to the Internet, considering themselves owners of their ivory tower. There's a reticence about rubbing shoulders with clients on a terrain where there's equality and where people can voice their opinion of you. It runs countercurrent to the generally applied culture of luxury brands, which is focused on marketing your offer. The Internet is a form of gigantic democracy where the brand is submitted to forums that people propose. Numerous luxury goods brands don't dare go down to the forums where they'd make themselves the object of other people's comments. It's about fear and caution. But if we don't throw ourselves into the arena, we'll never know what the Internet is.
Consequently, Boucheron decided two years ago to go there because we're already in the twenty-first century. And it's necessary to rethink the paradigm that defines the values of a luxury goods house. By deciding to go online, we accepted not only a new technological culture but, above all, a new philosophy and a new way of doing things that's dreaded by others.
What has the outcome been like?
The outcome has been very positive, fantastic. It's interesting because you learn a lot about yourself through the eyes of others and you can't play in this Internet domain if you don't accept other people's way of seeing things. You can play in the luxury goods sector having a peremptory or arrogant approach, saying, "This is who I am. Take me if you like me in our stores on the most beautiful avenues in the world." But you cannot behave like this on the Internet because people will turn away from you.
What lessons have you learnt?
The interesting lesson is that you can't be prejudiced towards consumers' behavior and can't imitate this. The lesson is that the marketing that consists of dividing a clientele into segments breaks down because each individual is a marketing entity. We'd anticipated that there might be an increase of traffic in our stores because some of the people who surf the web don't dare to buy online. Our retail sales increased very slightly from the moment when we started selling online. Our sales assistants reported people arriving with a computer printout, saying, "I saw this on the Internet. May I see it? Can I try it on?" And if they're satisfied, they buy in the store. What we hadn't foreseen at all is that other people will go back home to buy online. The extraordinary and beautiful lesson that you learn through the Internet is that you can't have a priori opinions or a veritable dogma. You notice very often that the Internet shatters
prejudices. It's a very optimistic lesson about humility that we receive.
Which markets have you opened your e-boutiques in so far?
We decided to open in Europe first with payments in euros and sterling with credit cards authorized for paying in those currencies. Then we launched in the US in September 2008 so we're available for Americans who pay in dollars.
The periphery of the US – Canada, Mexico – and South America, like Brazil. Then there's Asia, of course: Japan and China, Hong Kong... And Eastern Europe.
Do you have a particular anecdote about an unexpected online purchase that you could share with us?
When we launched online in 2007, our communication campaigns were strong in France and England. But the very first sales of a big amount came from Holland. And, like a bar of soap that you can't find in the bath, the client had escaped [our target market]. It's a Dutchman situated in a territory where we don't communicate much, where the brand isn't very well known and where we don't have a store, who made the first big purchase. It returns to the notion of freedom. A Dutchman made a libertarian act in buying, and in surprising us, and in wrong-footing our expectations.
What is your definition of luxury?
Luxury is what remains when everything has been bought and thrown away.
If luxury were: