View from the Top: Future gazing with the boss of Holition

Former marketing director at De Beers and House of Garrard, Jonathan Chippindale, took his experience of luxury retailing to Holition, when he co-founded the company in 2009. Holition now consults and creates technology solutions for luxury marketers and retail specialists, taking a future-gazing approach to the digital tools brands need to adopt so they can talk to their ever-evolving digital consumer. These solutions include connected mobile, wearable technology and augmented reality experiences for the likes of Selfridges and Harrods, as well as beauty brands including Rimmel.

“Luxury has always been quite traditional,” explains Chippindale. “It’s been very good at telling customers what they should be buying before they should be buying it – Karl Largerfeld made a career telling women what they should be wearing.”

But Chippendale describes how in recent years consumers have been exposed to fashion trends from multiple touchpoints, including digital and social media. “Trends are coming from all over the place and it has taken luxury a bit of time to realise they can’t just talk at customers any more, they have to listen,” he says.

“The nature of a luxury product has been very old fashioned – it comes with heritage and has history and provenance – they talk about the stitch of the Birken bag and weight of the Rolex watch. And while luxury was really good at including theatre and experience in-store traditionally, it has been slightly distrustful of how digital can replicate that service.”

He explains how luxury brands make their margin from that experience and the fact customers buy into a bigger brand idea than the product itself.

Sticking your head in the sand

Chippendale laughs about early conversations with luxury brands who refused to see the value of eCommerce. “I’m fiercely analogue,” he admits. “We’re not about technology, we’re about the experience, so we’re more aligned with that old-fashion MD than you realise. But if you stick your head in the [sand], that’s flat-earth thinking.”

But he understands how luxury retailers can be wary of digital technology. “The reason some luxury brands don’t do eCommerce is because they don’t want a £5,000 handbag appearing in the post with your gas bill and your Amazon parcel.”

Chippindale says these luxury retailers would prefer to send a courier dressed up in a black suit, driving a flash car. “And they accept an eCommerce purchase would cost that company more than if the customer bought it in store.”

He describes how Holition is interested in physical retail – the mix of mobile, online and physical and how the three work together.

“Digital can get you a long way down the line,” he says. “But you can’t lose sight of the fact that it’s a real product at the end of the journey.”

But Chippindale describes how some brands get it wrong when they confuse the physical experiences using digital technologies. “Like virtual reality being used as an interior experience, where you walk through a store on the retailer’s website – the brand just fails to realise why people walk through a store.

“Websites are good for when you are sitting at your kitchen table – you can see lots of products really quickly. While physical stores are for exploration and discovery. They are a more social experience, feeling and touching and trying on,” he explains. “But some stores are exploring ways of being digital in a way which is not just picking up a website and putting it on a screen in store.”

But he’s not sure it will be the retailers who will completely reinvent the store. “Elon Musk is not a retailer and it was his idea to have car showrooms in Westfield – I don’t think a single car manufacturer would have come up with that idea. So I think the big ideas will come from new entrants into the industry because the retail industry is ripe for disruption.”

Evolving technology

Chippindale describes how it can be frustrating that brands expect technology to be delivered and packaged in a similar way to a marketing campaign. “They fail to appreciate that technology is something that starts and gets better,” he says. “Brands want it at the very best, but the first car, television and computer took time to perfect and get better. Technology takes time to mature and nurture.”

He points to drones. The retail industry is wondering whether they are the future of delivery, which Chippindale thinks they will play a part. “But think about them today and you think of food delivery robots which are getting much more attention from drunks jumping out of pubs at 11 o’clock at night,” he says.

“And self-driving cars – what’s going to happen when you can’t be bothered to park your car and you get out and they drive around contributing to traffic. But while you’re home they might make money from delivering packages,” he continues. “I find it interesting how technology joins together – you can’t look at it all in isolation.”