2020 has been a very unusual year. The COVID-19 pandemic has inflicted many losses: human, social and economic. What we are now experiencing is an unprecedented moment of crisis in modern history. However, it is during uncertain times that companies often come up with new ideas and innovations, converting the crisis into an opportunity, and adopting a long-term vision of future challenges.
This prolonged disruptive situation is creating profound changes in consumer behavior and how companies are responding to these changes—prompting a debate about the future of the fashion and luxury industry. There is a general feeling of rethinking luxury and driving it in new directions, considering which business models will be feasible and more relevant in the new normal.
Tradition and responsiveness, two elements that have always characterized luxury companies, will both be required to face great challenges in the post-COVID environment.
We see the pandemic acting as a divider between the old way of doing business and the new scenario that is taking shape, characterized by changing consumer behavior.
Over the past year, the luxury goods market has increased its overall value, but registered a lower growth rate. Among the causes impacting growth in FY2019, the effect of protectionist policies and trade restrictions might be the most important, with big luxury goods markets such as China and the United States both registering lower year-on-year growth.
FY2019 shows a general shift toward concentration in the industry.
- The importance of the leading luxury goods companies is clear: the 17 companies with luxury goods sales of more than US$5 billion contributed 70.1% of the total for the Top 100.
- For the first time in seven editions, the Top 10 luxury companies contributed more than half of the total luxury goods sales of the Top 100 companies
- For the third year in a row, the companies making up the Top 10 list stayed the same
- The multiple luxury goods product sector proved to be the top-performing sector in FY2019 with 12.8% sales growth and contributed more than one-third of the total Top 100 luxury goods sales, although it comprises just 10 companies out of 100
The new age of fashion and luxury and the emerging trends
Luxury goods manufacturers have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. For several months, people have faced restrictions on traveling abroad and there is still uncertainty about when it will be possible to travel more easily between countries. There has been a collapse in inbound tourism across the globe during the lockdown, causing massive fall in traditional retail sales. Duty-free shops that generate sales mainly at airports have been hit badly by the collapse in global travel.
Most of the important events and runway shows scheduled for 2020 were cancelled or rescheduled and many of them were changed into a virtual format.
With consumers forced to stay home, online retail sales increased during the first half of the year, prompting many brands to accelerate digitization and provide digital e-commerce solutions including “see now, buy now” live streaming. For example, one of the leading luxury brands collaborated with an online shopping platform, while another launched its own video boutiques.
The pandemic crisis could act as an accelerator for brands to adopt new paradigms of value creation
Now more than ever, luxury goods companies are seeking new ways to connect with their customers. They are reinventing and re-imagining themselves in ways that were previously unimaginable. Sustainability will be one of the main areas that fashion and luxury goods companies will rely on for their recovery. Global luxury brands have been investing significantly in ‘green’ technologies and other measures to reduce emissions from their factories. They are using carbon offsetting to contribute to the fight against climate change—compensating for emissions arising from their own industrial activities by participating in other schemes to make equivalent reductions.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also stimulated the adoption of online shopping channels by both companies and customers. Although the luxury sector was initially slow to adapt to the digital revolution, companies have made big investments to catch up with disruptive technologies. Most brands are now comfortable selling their luxury products online, as shown by the increased number of transactions via online platforms in 2019. They can now use digital channels to amplify their vision, convey their messages, and develop an intimate connection with consumers avoiding the restraints of social distancing. An example of this new approach was seen in September 2020, when the luxury world teamed up with an online shopping platform for the very first time, to launch a ‘shop in shop’ platform for luxury products which was reserved for a selected audience and accessible by invitation only.
However, physical stores which offer a unique customer experience will not be replaced completely by digital. An agile omnichannel sales approach will make it possible to overcome the restraints imposed by social distancing rules—by ensuring that stores follow safety and hygiene rules, customers can continue to enjoy the in-store experience.
‘Woke’ fashion, a rising trend among luxury brands
Millennials and Generation Z, the current market definers, look for culturally sensitive brands. They expect retailers to be ‘woke’, a millennial term meaning ‘awake’. The use of non-sustainable raw materials in products has a negative influence on decisions by customers in their choice of brand.
Corporate social responsibility issues were important even before the pandemic for a large group of consumers, mostly millennials and Generation Z, who had already adopted them as basic and essential principles in their purchasing choices. These generations are expected by 2025 to account for approximately half of all global personal luxury goods sales, and as present and future consumer they are outlining the rules for the luxury goods market. They are very much aware of the sustainability and environmental impact, issues that are likely to affect their purchasing decisions.
Luxury Resale: Not an oxymoron but a pre-owned boom
The secondhand luxury goods market is augmenting the demand for products in the primary market. To encourage the circular economy, legacy brands are embracing resellers.
The characteristic of luxury goods as a long-lasting status item is making them highly attractive to buyers in a secondhand market. Contradicting a belief that it will damage demand in the primary market, growth in the resale market is helping to increase it. Affluent millennial and Generation Z consumers are purchasing in both the primary and secondhand markets.
Online distribution has accelerated the growth of the secondhand market. Smartphones and online platforms are convenient sales channels for first-time owners, and online platforms offer a well-crafted taxonomy, vast catalogue of goods, price transparency, home deliveries and repair services.
Although some luxury houses may express doubts about the resale market, it is here to stay. Luxury goods companies need to adapt to the realities of the market, by promoting product scarcity and exclusivity, appealing to young luxury purchasers, or creating legendary and iconic products. Luxury goods create status that is resistant to the passing of time; and this makes luxury goods, handbags and watches attractive to personal collectors and a secondhand market. In times of uncertainty luxury collectibles are considered a secure longer- term investment.
Digitalization is fueling major industry opportunities across the value chain
In order to track continually evolving consumer behavior, luxury brands are developing an appetite for analyzing big data through artificial intelligence (AI) and augmented reality (AR) applications. As customers use more channels for purchasing, large fashion groups are seeking to develop more extensive client relationships by refurbishing retail stores and providing an omnichannel presence.
Many fashion houses are now using a variety of channels to promote and display their new collections, engage customers and increase their loyalty, sometimes using endorsements from selected influencers.
The global COVID-19 pandemic has been disruptive for the luxury industry and has contributed to accelerating the adoption of technology to compensate for store closures and the consequent reduction in customer engagement due to lack of touchpoints.
During the pandemic, social media has been used to obtain indicators of customer sentiment toward luxury brands. The ability to detect changes in sentiment enables companies to improve their understanding of the needs of their customer base and guide the creation of effective communication campaigns.
In the future new normal world, regulated by social distancing and health surveillance social media, virtual technologies will become increasingly important for brands to keep in touch with consumers and listen to their needs. They will be used to create winning go-to-market strategies for delivering an exclusive purchasing experience to customers, a distinctive feature that has always characterized luxury brands. The digital revolution is not meant to erase the tradition and heritage of luxury goods but should provide analytical tools and technologies to help strengthen brands and make them responsive to the needs of the contemporary world.
The focus of luxury marketing may be less on selling items and more on creating a value-added customer experience based on brand storytelling to strengthen customer loyalty and reinforce brand identity.
Despite the explosive growth in online shopping volumes, bricks-and-mortar outlets still deliver the exclusive emblematic experience offered by luxury brands.
They need to devise solutions that preserve the VIP experience of luxury while virtual technologies come in handy. In this moment, when it is important to preserve brand identity despite healthcare restrictions and reduced foot traffic, brands must increase their digital capabilities for virtual bonding with consumers.
The role of the store will evolve from a simple point of sale to a touchpoint for consumer engagement: less tied to sales and more to attracting customers through measures such as introducing entertainment into the experience or through one-to-one personalized shopping expeditions. The store will then become a critical touchpoint for offering exclusivity to the customer.
COVID-19 shoppers will no longer distinguish between offline and online channels. Both ‘showrooming’ and ’webrooming’ are now integral parts of omnichannel shopping for luxury and fashion goods. So, fashion companies need to enhance their interconnectivity as much as possible, for example with experience-based services such as Click & Collect, Localized Inventory, Click & Return, Click & Try, Seek & Send, in- store Wi-Fi access, and tech-driven luxury concierge services.
Progressive luxury brands use analytics and machine learning to tailor products and services to meet each individual client’s expectations. Big data analysis and AI have transformed customer profiles from periodic to real-time interactive. To target marketing initiatives, luxury brands seamlessly collect and analyze customer transactions and behavioral changes in their purchases and on all social media platforms.
Nowadays, in the luxury world, digital transformation is no longer the preserve of big brand conglomerates. More and more companies in the market are using advanced technologies to enhance relationships between consumers and to explore new forms of content for brand marketing. As physical stores were generating about 90% of their luxury sales before COVID-19, brands are now working hard to refocus their marketing strategies and using big data is crucial to better understand consumer behavior.
Product sector analysis
The five luxury goods product sectors used for this analysis are:*
- Bags and accessories (including eyewear)
- Clothing and footwear
- Cosmetics and fragrances
- Jewelry and watches
- Multiple luxury goods
*A company is assigned to one of the five specific product sectors if a high percentage of its luxury goods sales are derived from that product sector. Multiple luxury goods companies are those with substantial sales in more than one of the luxury goods product sectors. This analysis is based only on the Top 100 companies.
Multiple luxury goods companies have the highest share of luxury goods sales, sales growth and the highest net profit margin
Clothing and footwear companies still contribute the highest number of companies
Luxury goods sales growth among the product sectors became less polarized in FY2019. The growth rate was lower in FY2019 among the sectors that showed the largest growth in FY2018, and higher among those with lower growth rates in FY2018—clothing and footwear, and bags and accessories.
Multiple luxury goods
The importance of the ten multiple luxury goods companies is clear—they contributed more than one-third of the total Top 100 luxury goods sales in FY2019, with the highest average amount per company—approaching US$10 billion. They also achieved the highest sales growth and net profit margin among the product sectors, although year-on-year growth was down by 1.8 percentage points compared with FY2018, at 12.8%. The leading companies in this sector, LVMH, Kering, Chanel and Hermès, together with Capri Holdings and Cole Haan, achieved double-digit year-on-year sales growth. Only Burberry saw a decline, as a result of its 2018 sale of the Burberry Beauty license to Coty. All the companies were profitable, with five reporting double-digit net profit margins— LVMH, Kering, Chanel, Capri Holdings and Burberry—and their composite net profit margin was 14.8%.
Jewellery and watches
Switzerland is the home country for 10 of the 31 companies in this product sector, among which are the luxury jewelry and watch sector global leader Richemont, Swatch Group, and seven privately- owned global luxury watch brand icons including Rolex. Among the 31 companies, 12 are vertically integrated jewelry retailers in China (mainland and Hong Kong SAR) and India.
Results for the companies in this sector in FY2019 varied widely, with nine (including Chow Tai Fook and Rolex) reporting double-digit sales growth, and seven companies (including Fossil and Zhejiang Ming) a fall in sales. Jewelry and watches were the third-highest performing product sector on all composite metrics in FY2019, with year-on-year luxury goods sales growth down 1.8 percentage points, at 6.1%. The composite FY2019 net profit margin for the 22 companies reporting net profits was 10.2%, just one percentage point lower than the Top 100 composite average.
Clothing and footwear
The clothing and footwear sector continue to contribute the largest number of companies to the Top 100, but they have the smallest average size of just US$1.2 billion. More than half of these 37 companies are still privately-owned, often by their founding families. It is the most international product sector, although more than one-third of the companies are Italian, reflecting Italy’s influence as the home
of luxury fashion. Clothing and footwear saw the biggest increase in composite year-on-year growth in FY2019, up by 3.4 percentage points to 5.8%. It was the fourth highest performing sector for all metrics in FY2019. The composite net profit margin was 6.3%—six companies reported double-digit net profit margins, while only three reported losses.
Cosmetics and fragrances
Of the 13 cosmetics and fragrance companies, nine are based in the United States, France and Japan. L’Oréal Luxe, Kosé Corp and Euroitalia posted double-digit year-on-year sales growth in FY2019, while Clarins,
Pola Orbis and Revlon’s Elizabeth Arden and luxury fragrances saw a decline in sales. Clarins’ fall in sales was due to the sale of its Mugler and Azarro brands to L’Oréal. Cosmetics and fragrance companies are larger than the Top 100 average, with luxury goods sales averaging US$3.7 billion.
While this sector achieved the second highest FY2019 year-on-year growth of 8.5%, it also saw the largest fall in growth rate compared to FY2018, down by 3.4 percentage points. The eight cosmetics and fragrances companies reporting net profits had the second-highest composite FY2019 net profit margin of all the product sectors, 11.3%, and the highest FY2019 return on assets, 11.4%.
Bags and accessories
This smallest luxury goods product sector is dominated by the newly- merged company EssilorLuxottica. Five of the nine companies in this group are based in Italy. Year-on-year luxury sales growth improved by 1.8 percentage points in FY2019, although at 4%, this was still the lowest among the product sectors. South Korea’s MCM Group was the only company reporting double-digit growth.
Bags and accessories were also the worst-performing sector for profitability, with a FY2019 composite net profit margin of 4.3% from the seven companies reporting net profits. EssilorLuxottica reported the highest net profit margin, at 6.8%; but three companies reported losses, with Safilo’s particularly poor results due mainly to their exit from its retail business, the Solstice chain in the United States, and the initial impact of its loss of the LVMH brand eyewear licenses.