Covid-19: How the pandemic has transformed Burberry's digital business

Luxury fashion brand Burberry has ben dramatically hit by the pandemic, with profits for the year down by more than half. However, the UK company’s investment in digital platforms has helped create a significant channel shift – even as stores begin to reopen.

“What moved up the order very fast was [the change from] offline to online behaviour,” Mark Morris, senior vice president of digital commerce at the company, told delegates at the virtual Decoded Future Digital event run by trends forecaster Stylus.

In fact digital was the brand’s fastest-growing channel, up 22% – a shift chief exec Marco Gobbetti described as “transformational” in Burberry’s annual report in June.

The company has utilised its direct messaging platform R Message, part of its R World Platform launched last year, which allows sales associates to chat with clients and has integrated mobile payment features like Apple Pay.

Burberry has connected back-end data on the platform to help its sales staff. “That is the primary area we’re focused on at the moment: helping them manage their client book through data science and then providing the right tools on top of that, such as virtual appointments.”

For example, if a customer has been engaging with the website and looking at certain products, the store associate will get a prompt to contact that particular client.

Virtual and physical

It’s not just store closures that have had an impacted on the brand: a reduction in international travel has also significantly impacted luxury sales in airports. “This has accelerated the shift towards digital channels,” according to the retailer's annual report.

“The luxury industry is well known for its travelling consumer… they may not be travelling as much as before but may well retain the affection for the brand and the propensity to purchase,” says Morris.

Ensuring customers are referred to the right store associate, even if it’s in a different country from where they made their last purchase, involves a lot of data science work “to make sure that is the appropriate thing to do and that relationship will be seamlessly managed in the future.” The company has also done a lot of modelling work to determine which clients might be ready for a new purchase.

Even as shops reopen, store traffic remains down globally – including in China where shops have been reopen for longer. “That means people want something different from that store visit. So some of the things they previously wanted: to touch the materials, engage with the store associate, to use the fitting rooms.. they want reassurance around. So you have to design a customer journey and experience that allows them to achieve some of those things in the remote part of the conversation.. across the digital and physical.”

That could involve using digital channels to book an allocated fitting room appointment, or sending samples of materials direct to customers. “There are lots of different things you could build into the virtual part of the relationship that would encourage people back to the store environment.”

For Morris one of the biggest changes accelerated by the pandemic is getting a full view of the customer journey. “You can go from someone landing on the website to knowing whether, based on their behaviours, you want to route them to a store associate so they can begin a video conversation… and want to see that product in that environment. Or whether you link them to live chat to a customer service associate. “

Using backend tools such as R World or WeChat Work in China, means joining up those conversation points. “That for me is a massive thing.