Rebecca Robins speaks with Mark Morris, Burberry’s Senior Vice President of Digital Commerce.
Times of crisis have often been platforms for innovation and experimentation. How has that emerged for Burberry, as luxury brands have been pushed to find new ways to stay close to their customers?
The good thing for us is that it didn’t involve pivoting. We already had a strong digital focus and there were areas that we dialled up, but we had a structure that allowed us to scale fast. We have been looking at customer journeys and how they have changed. The sorts of things that we were focused on is online to offline connectivity, outreach tools for inspiration, chat functionality with store associates. A personal relationship is the essence of luxury and that is a guiding philosophy for us. Luxury customer service moving towards a human relationship, augmented by data.
Virtual luxury provides a different lens on creativity
The opening of the social retail store in Shenzhen seems to be a good example of this. Can you tell us more about what’s been working?
It’s been a personal favourite of mine this year. And, of course, we launched this new type of store remotely. The last decade of Burberry innovation has provided us with this foundation where we can now tie all the pieces together. This is what social retail is, we have connected everything into one long-term relationship with our customer.
At its core, the social retail concept is a store based around the idea that our offline and online lives are intrinsically linked. In terms of our digital behaviours, we have taken the success stories we have seen over the years and tied it all together into one cohesive experience which can live in perpetuity. It’s no longer about individual one-off experiences, now they all come together and form a cohesive journey.
We have a WeChat mini program, which unlocks physical experiences both in store and online. When you download the mini program your character is an egg and you don’t have any currency. From that point, should you choose to engage with Burberry either online or in store, your social currency builds and your egg hatches into a Burberry animal. For example, if you scan a QR code in store, or order something from the café, you build social currency and unlock rewards. Store interactions will give you online interactions, and vice versa.
Our social retail store in Shenzhen is a store that was built from social but has exciting rooms and experiences for customers to discover. We have a highly engaged Chinese customer and Shenzhen is a young, tech-first city. This store is performing a role as a springboard for how we will connect with the customer more broadly. The learning so far has been strong – we’ve had a really positive reaction and good engagement. We see a lot of customers sharing and interacting with it.
China was a market in which Burberry had early success, amongst the first wave of luxury brands. What other things are working well/ do you see working well for Burberry in China?
China has a fashion forward customer and there are certain elements of our global digital agenda that we look to lead from China. As China recovered quite quickly through the crisis, our digital position helped us in the country. We’ve had good performance across Burberry.com, Tmall store and WeChat store.
Going back to our history as a digital pioneer, we were the first brand on Alibaba’s Tmall back in 2014.
We were selected for Tmall’s Super Brand Day on September 17th and similar to our live streaming on Twitch, we offered multiple camera angles of the Spring/Summer 2021 show and had 28m views on the platform alone. The reach is incredibly large! Partnerships like this one with Alibaba enabled us to reach second and third tier cities in China and we were pleased to welcome lots of new customers to our brand. A lot of the work we’re doing is about joining together our digital ecosystems.
What is the biggest change in consumer behaviour that you’re seeing? What is it that consumers are putting value on – and new value on – in the Burberry brand, and in luxury overall?
In terms of trends, our consumers are following some of the broader behaviours seen across fashion and luxury, like self-gifting and buy-now-wear-now. Digital innovation continues to be key. Our Summer monogram campaign did very well. We had a CGI campaign with a B Surf game, including lots of AR innovation – the idea was something playful and it seemed to capture a lighter spirit that people needed or were looking for. We leaned into the trends that were working.
Some brands are betting on virtual luxury by offering digital dresses (almost $10,000 was spent on a virtual dress on Instagram, for example), and online gaming. As a brand that has been experimenting in this area, could you share more about Burberry’s point of view here? And what do you think a luxury brand should do to be seamlessly integrated into the digital world, where consumers are increasingly spending their time?
It’s a super-interesting area. An example is our own gaming environment and how you use it to tell stories to different audiences. One example of this is social retail in Shenzhen, where we have taken the gaming experience, with playful characters, outfits, rewards and challenges and brought it into luxury. Different characters unlock different experiences in store, for example the Trench Experience Room is only available to a certain character. The café menu will develop in line with your social currency, just like an online game. There are also online rewards, like clothes and accessories for your character and stickers, GIFs and skins to share online. The more you engage with Burberry, the richer the experience becomes.
Another route is around existing gaming platforms and introducing elements of your codes into those environments. It’s allowing people to engage with you in more novel and freeform ways and it provides a different lens on creativity. Those environments designed specifically for luxury offer a more bespoke experience. We do have a couple of exciting things coming up as we continue to explore this area.
You partnered with Twitch for the livestream of your latest show. As Rod Manley, said: “Burberry has always been a brand of firsts and partnering with Twitch continues this legacy.” As a brand that led the way for other luxury brands a decade ago, can consumers expect something from Burberry that’s working in a more relevant way for consumers?
Rod is right, we’re a brand of firsts and with a clear idea of what we want to achieve. For the Spring/Summer 2021 show, Twitch made sense because of the nature of the multi-dimensional show. Our approach is to prioritise the core capabilities in technology that are appropriate to luxury and where we feel we can experiment.
How do you define luxury – in one word, or one sentence?
For me personally, and from my digital lens, luxury is the freedom and bravery to create. It’s the guiding principle in the digital world.
Burberry Shenzhen store and mini program © Courtesy of Burberry