Sergio Rossi CEO putting a digital foot forward

Italian luxury shoe brand Sergio Rossi has used the coronavirus pandemic to get more creative with digital.

CEO Riccardo Sciutto has hosted live events from a new small format store in Milan, and increased interactions with clients and potential customers through online video. The foundation for it is described internally as ‘Sergio Rossi TV’, a new broadcasting hub, which enables tech to be used in luxury selling without losing the human element traditionally associated with the sector.

“Especially with lockdown, the digital and the physical need to mix together and we need to get humanity with tech – the easiest way to do that is video,” he tells Essential Retail.

Sciutto acknowledges Covid-19 has negatively impacted business primarily because of the temporary store closures it caused, but he says online is growing rapidly.

On the new pop-up, which opened in May in Milan's upmarket Via Montenapoleone shopping district, one in every five sales has come through online video calls, he adds. “If I told you this last year, they would have said maybe one pair of shoes per month would sell this way, but now every day if we sell 20 shoes, four are sold via video.”

Highlighting his tendency to think futuristically, the CEO suggests a “Netflix of luxury” would resonate with modern customers, where each brand has a channel. “The point of luxury is we have a lot of content, but the problem of broadcasting is they don’t have the content – why not put them together?”

It is a comment representing Sciutto's blue-sky thinking rather than something he is actually embarking on right now, but 30 minutes in his company provides the impression he's full of new ideas. "I’m thinking how can we make money like a tech company," he says, adding: "The only way to catch new customers is using tech to accelerate the process."

Is customisation the future?

Customisation is a big part of the luxury retail world’s future, according to Sciutto, who started working with Platforme three years ago to support the launch of a made-to-order business within Sergio Rossi. The technology enables customers to design their own shoes digitally.

“Platforme is fantastic because you can create the factory outside the factory,” the CEO explains.

“We can sell shoes on the website without any samples produced.”

Sergio Rossi provides customisation tech in its London flagship store (image credit: Sergio Rossi/Platforme)
Sergio Rossi provides customisation tech in its London flagship store (image credit: Sergio Rossi/Platforme)
Sergio Rossi's executive team predict a big future for customised luxury products (image credit: Sergio Rossi/Platforme)
Sergio Rossi's executive team predict a big future for customised luxury products (image credit: Sergio Rossi/Platforme)

Success relies on the 50,000 sq m factory in San Mauro Pascol, where workers follow methodical and traditional processes to create Sergio Rossi’s famous stilettos and boots in the same town where its eponymous founder was born.

Sciutto notes that customised shoes are generally available within three weeks of placing an order. It accounts for around 1-2% of sales, but the company expects growth in tailored products over time.

End of an era

Company founder, Sergio Rossi, died in Italy earlier this year at the age of 84, after contracting the coronavirus.

Following the passing of the man who gave the brand its name, Sciutto wanted to commemorate his life – and he formed a plan that leveraged the company’s new technological expertise while making a nod to its past traditions.

“We used tech to thank him, making a collection called ‘Grazie Sergio’,” he says.

A personal letter was distributed to around 1,000 clients, friends of the brand, and press, and inside the letter was a limited edition polaroid showcasing parts of the collection.

They were invited to a digital event, where they heard directly from Sciutto and learnt about the new collection. Thanks to word of mouth, more than 5,000 people tuned in.

Explaining the importance of personalised traditional forms of communication in an increasingly digital world, the CEO says: “Today you only ever receive a letter for a penalty or tax – it’s never good news.

“We wanted to get the humanity.”

Sciutto joined the business four years ago, taking the hotseat in the aftermath of global luxury conglomerate Kering selling the brand, following years of underperformance. He is developing a new path for the organisation.

“My first impression was we had lost our identity so we needed to try to recreate it, rebuilding what we were and where we are going,” he explains, adding that unlike the wider luxury industry which he says is averse to technology, he is embracing it.

“I’m like a millennial with the body of another generation – everyday I’m trying to understand what is the next [big thing].”

Brand-customer video interactions and digital design processes are the latest tech-enabled features embraced by Sergio Rossi, showing its CEO's innovative thinking. The Netflix-style platform for luxury brands remains on the cutting room floor for now, but don't count out Sciutto from giving it a go at some stage.