Luxury brands focus on digital retail experience

Brands and high-end retailers, including House of Fraser and Selfridges, are preparing to launch virtual shopping experiences using cutting-edge digital technologies.

Developments such as augmented reality, which can offer users a life-sized 3D view of products, and advanced chat applications, including Google Wave, are being used to create enhanced online services.

House of Fraser has tasked digital agency twentysix with a full redesign of its ecommerce operation. Colette Wilson, head of ecommerce at House of Fraser said she had commissioned the overhaul of the site, which will be completed by September, in response to increasing competition in the luxury sector.

Paul Coffey, managing director of twentysix, said: "Augmented reality and other applications that help make the web become a physical thing are helping to create the in-store feeling online."

Rival retailer Selfridges is preparing to open its first ecommerce site and is also aiming to recreate the exclusive feel of its department stores online. It is seeking an agency to promote the site with display advertising when it launches later this year. Similarly, exclusive fashion brands including Chanel and Marc Jacobs are also working on their plans for improved online stores.

Last year, the recently revived luxury jewellery brand Faberge decided to eschew opening a global network of boutiques; instead, it has used IBM technology to set up a website offering 24-hour access to a team of multilingual sales assistants who can provide one-to-one advice via live chat, text, telephone and video services. The website offers Faberge pieces ranging in value from £26,000 to £7m and enables the customer to see every product in minute detail.

When announcing the firm's decision, Faberge chief executive Mark Dunhill acknowledged he had been unsure whether it would be possible to create the required shopping experience online. However, he added that he had been convinced that the technology was available to "adapt the internet to meet our clients' needs".

The trend of luxury brands opening up online stores could offset slowing growth in online retail. The latest IMRG/Capgemini Sales Index reported that like-for-like online sales rose by only 5% between January 2009 and January 2010 - the smallest rate of increase on record.

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