January 3, 2013, 3:57 PM

Traveling in style

(Page 2 of 2)

Bain's luxury sales figures bode well for brands like Tory Burch that sell shoes and handbags. For the first time, leather goods and shoes are the top-selling global luxury category, now comprising 27% of luxury sales, the consulting group says.

Be true to your brand

Tory Burch, which builds and manages all its web sites on Demandware Inc.'s e-commerce platform, designs all of its global sites in its New York City corporate office. "Tory [the brand's namesake and founder] has a very clear vision for our brand and the aesthetic is very specific so we design all of our sites," Berardelli says. "Our site is a mix of content and commerce and we will be localizing the content for each region as we evolve."

Italy-based Versace, which launched its first e-commerce site this fall selling to consumers in the United Kingdom, France and Italy, and then later added the United States, Spain, Belgium, Netherlands, Austria and Germany, says it manages the merchandising and marketing of its e-commerce sites in-house so that it can maintain control of its online image and sales strategy. However, German e-commerce vendor Netrada, which works with many luxury brands, is handling the e-commerce platform, logistics, order fulfillment and other operational aspects of Versace.com.

Each Versace site conveys a sense of rich luxury. Instead of displaying apparel on plain white mannequins, they are gold. The background of the site is taken from the black-and-white mosaic on Versace shop floors. And a My Versace area lets shoppers mix and match elegant and wild outfits.

Keeping the aesthetic of a high-end brand while also making sure the brand message resonates with global consumers can be a balancing act, Berardelli of Tory Burch says. Simply translating a site doesn't convey the brand's voice, she says, so it considers its translations a first draft, then staff tweak the copy to provide more meaning and cultural relevance.

There are other practical considerations, too. Tommy Bahama, for instance, which manages its e-commerce site in-house, spent nearly three years working with fit consultants to come up with an international sizing scale. The fit adjusts collars and neck openings and body length and width to fit with international sizing standards. Wood says it still offers U.S. sizing on its foreign sites in addition to the international fit because the brand has a loyal following with expats living around the world and also because many foreigners may have already purchased an item in one of the retailer's stores and know their U.S. size.

Always learning

One way Wood learns about foreign shoppers' preferences and questions is by talking with call center agents. At Tommy Bahama Guest Services, customer care representatives get direct feedback from customers through e-mails, calls and online reviews. The retailer employs several interpreters to translate messages sent in foreign languages.

Tommy Bahama also analyzes online orders to determine customer preferences for each market and region. These steps have helped Wood understand cultural nuances, for instance, that many Japanese shoppers want to pay with cash on delivery, Wood says. To meet that need, the retailer plans to add that option soon.

Wood also digs into his order management system to look at data, such as global return rates. That's how he noticed Japanese shoppers rarely return goods.

"In the U.S. a woman might order three of the same swimsuit knowing that she plans to return the two that don't fit," Wood says. "That doesn't happen in Japan." That can pose a problem because if the size was not what the shopper expected, the consumer likely won't return it or tell customer service. And, she probably won't buy again.

Wood says Tommy Bahama is working on this issue now. It has a store in Tokyo slated to open next year and it plans to train salespeople to focus on getting quality customer feedback. "The Japanese retail market is very sophisticated, so the salespeople are used to comprehensive training that teaches them how to engage customers in dialogue that results in meaningful information and answers," he says. "This is normal procedure in Japan and the work force there is used to a high level of training."

Digging deeply to find cultural nuances is the first step to successfully selling high-end brands abroad. Making changes to account for those nuances is the second. "It's just like anything we do in the digital landscape, says Berardelli of Tory Burch. "Launch, learn and evolve."

katie@verticalwebmedia.com

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