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Selling Luxury with Ecommerce

Is it possible to sell a $50k watch on an ecommerce website?  A $20k fur coat?  A $2500 pair of shoes?

These are big ticket luxury items.  The question then, goes not to just being able to afford the item or obtain it from an ecommerce website.  It comes down why people buy luxury and what they want from their buying experience.

There is no doubt that when you target luxury, you’re targeting a slim segment of the online buying market.  Ecommerce shoppers tend to be the opposite of most luxury buyers.  They seek transparency and value.

A luxury item is one that intentionally shirks value.  Most online shoppers will look at a $50k watch and decide it’s an absurd purchase.  But this lack of value is what what the luxury shoppers wants, because it creates scarcity and social proof.  One does not buy a $50k watch to tell the time better.  They buy it because few people can – which creates approval from that rare group.

As Seth Godin points out, “discount luxury goods” is an oxymoron.  If you’re selling the “same thing but cheaper”, you’re not really selling the scarcity and social proof of luxury.  People don’t have the pleasure of splurging when they’re discount shopping.

Which brings us back to the question.   Do luxury goods sell online?

Indeed, there are many websites that do sell luxury items.  The internet is not an obstacle to reaching an luxury buying audience.  Ecommerce still holds the advantage of presenting more selection than an individual boutique can.  Many sites are curators selling from multiple designers and manufactures.

However, ecommerce cannot destroy the story of the splurge, the myth of scarcity, or the luxury audience is lost.  Seth notes the example of the how first-class travel blew this message.  They played too much with service and scarcity, blurring the image of why you should pay for first-class at all.  Those they would have courted the most decided they needed a private jet instead of going commercial, even when the best vodka was used in the airline’s martini’s.

Ecommerce luxury sites cannot lose sight of their target audience – nor can any online retailer.  But more than most, a site selling luxury is selling precisely that – luxury.  It’s an image, a story, a self-reference.  You’re not really selling the products on your website, and trying to do so as an ordinary online retailer will unravel the story that ends with people spending large sums of money on things they don’t need.