Luxury retailers need to retain heritage in the digital world

Bespoke menswear tailor, Gieves & Hawkes, is adopting digital while retaining its esteemed British heritage. 

The 400-year-old luxury retailer, based at No 1 Saville Row, is looking to create a new Gieves & Hawkes customer, by making the brand more relevant and modern. 

But digital marketing manager at Gieves & Hawkes, Olivier Van Laer, warned luxury retailers should stay away from the “big shiny objects” frequently offered in the digital innovation sector.

“We have a beautiful story to tell, but we need to keep it simple,” he said. “If you overcomplicate what your products stand for, you’ll alienate your customer.”

Speaking at the Luxury Interactive Europe event in London this week, Van Laer said the next big digital innovation can sometimes distract luxury retailers. Using Gieves & Hawkes as an example, he said the retailer once looked into building a mobile application, but decided against it, believing its customers were unlikely to use it. 

“So we steered away from it,” he said. “I’m not saying you shouldn’t take risks, but steer away from the next big thing if it isn’t proven.”

But Gieves & Hawkes, which holds a number of Royal Warrants due to its service to the military, is moving into the digital market while continuing to hold onto its heritage.

It recently refurbished its flagship store with a number of digital investments. “The new millennial did not like coming into a stuffy wooden panelled building – they liked the glass of scotch we gave them and we still give him that – but we’re combining the old and the new.”

With private tailoring starting at £2,000, Van Laer is looking to bridge the gap and take customers on the Gieves & Hawkes journey. He explained how traditional tailors are very loyal to their customers, “In the past, if you are a bespoke customer we would never upsell you a ready-to-wear-shirt, the tailor says ‘you do not touch my customer’, but you have to change this culture.”

Van Laer said the luxury retailer is currently experimenting with a digital tool to be used in the store to make the tailoring appointments more accessible.

Over 70 years ago Gieves & Hawkes used a cardboard wheel with levers to ask the customer about their preferences. This then provided information on what the customer should wear for a particular occasion.

“We’re not going to hand out cardboard tools – I think our customers are past that – but now we’re looking to develop a digital tool for our private tailoring customers where the tailors will be able to do the same, but digitally. Customers will turn the wheels and see the end result, because it is daunting to go to a tailor and commission it without knowing what-so-ever what it is going to look like.”

“We have a heritage and really powerful product, we’re not going to touch that,” he added. “We’re not going to hide the heritage and be something modern and something we’re not, or we will lose relevance to our customers.”