Luxury shopping has become more digital as the pandemic and Gen Z consumers redefine expectations for how we imagine and express fashion sensibilities.
Global luxury retail platform Farfetch positions itself as the go-to for brands and shoppers. Jeff Fowler is president of its Americas region. When he thinks What the Future, he’s focused on applying augmented reality and other technologies to make luxury shopping more experiential, efficient, sustainable and profitable for the industry and more meaningful for consumers.
Kate MacArthur: Do you expect luxury retail to rely more on digital or will there be any pull back in the future?
Jeff Fowler: We believe that the majority of transactions in the future will still be completed in physical retail and that the stickiness of digital is not going anywhere. Each has its purpose; each will inform the other. They’re really synergistic.
MacArthur: Does the luxury buyer have different expectations when they go online versus in-store?
Fowler: Each customer is different. What one might say they need might be a very hands-on service, like a tailoring or alteration service where you can get that if you go into a department store. For another, service might be the ability to decide a window of time down to a two- or four-hour increment when a product is going to be delivered because they live in a non-doorman building in New York City.
MacArthur: How much influence is the Gen Z buyer having on the broader luxury shopping experience?
Fowler: It would be difficult to overstate how much they have influenced the entire industry almost from top to bottom. Now, digital is really at the heart of so many brand strategies. You could make the case that this generation is ahead of where the industry is. The industry is at all times trying to keep pace with it, but without losing their truth and losing what has made them successful to this point. For some brands, that’s hundreds of years of tradition and heritage and patrimony.
MacArthur: Can you talk about how the metaverse may change what people expect from shopping?
Fowler: There are certain limitations that digital has where it can’t replicate that physical experience. Maybe we haven’t gotten to the point yet where you can fully replicate the tactile experience of touching the fabric or seeing a product up close and personal. But the metaverse is going to bring us very close in an augmented reality type of way.
MacArthur: How so?
Fowler: One thing that luxury brands are going to demand is really high-fidelity experiences. What they deliver offline is the very best of the best. We’re trying to bring an incredibly high-fidelity level of digitization of products. We started to experiment with things like virtual try-on that we’ve applied across categories, like jewelry, watches, eyewear and sneakers.
MacArthur: What is the lane for luxury brands to participate in the metaverse with authenticity?
Fowler: It will be different from brand to brand. You’ve seen brands starting to work with gaming platforms to provide virtual clothing or games that exist for the purpose of dressing virtual avatars. We’ve worked with one [called Drest] that enabled you to dress into different models and different fashion.
I would think of it as an infinite number of lanes and brands that will find their own recipe or find their own journeys in the metaverse. That might be complementary to what they’re doing in the real world, or it might be a different angle that they’re experimenting with.
MacArthur: What will all of this mean for the actual influence on how people shop?
Fowler: There was a time when luxury truly was meant only for the uber-wealthy. Now, you have as many consumers of luxury that are on the middle- to lower-tier of household income as you do on the upper tier. They consume differently; they consume different volumes. It’s an industry that’s becoming increasingly inclusive rather than exclusive.
MacArthur: Do you see a point where people could co-create luxury products or identify a product and be able to 3D-print it at home?
Fowler: I definitely do. One of our brands, Heron Preston, is working on a sustainable 3D-printed sneaker. It shrinks the supply chain down to the most infinitesimal level that you can. A customer would be able to buy a design or an element of authenticity and have the ability to create it, leveraging the exclusivity that blockchain can offer.
MacArthur: How is Gen Z influencing the demand for more sustainable materials and processes and how does that fit into the definition of luxury?
Fowler: Increasingly, there’s this view that what’s most precious is this thing that we all are responsible for, which is our earth. In some ways it is a resource that is not renewable. By 2030, we want to sell 100% conscious products. We’ll define that as driving all revenue from products that are certified organic, recycled, upcycled, pre-owned, fair trade, and are fundamentally better for people than some of the choices that exist today.