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To Be Or Not To Be (online, that is, believe it or not, sometimes still the question)

to be pic

Let’s wander a bit from financial services for a moment and go to the dark side of online retail commerce. It may be hard to believe in this day of the well-advanced digital revolution but there is a distinct category of retail to consumer vendors that still intentionally choose not to sell online. Perhaps even more astonishing, they continue to thrive. Who are these dinosaurs resisting the inevitable call to evolve or die? Only some of the highest end fashion and accessory names out there, such as Chanel (mostly), Celine and Rolex. The total list isn’t big, but it’s impressive.

No e-commerce found here

Take a company called Maison Goyard, for example, who have been selling its iconic luggage, bags and other accessories under the Goyard name since the mid-1800s and whose origins date back to 1792. Clients have included legendary style makers such as Coco Chanel. On its website, it clearly states “Goyard products are available exclusively at Goyard boutiques worldwide. Goyard does not engage in any kind of e-commerce.

Baby steps, and sometimes, giant leaps

Other luxury goods purveyors have made strides, big and not so big, to enter the brave new (not so much anymore world of e-commerce. Some of Chanel’s other brands, such as Eres, as well as Chanel branded smaller goods – think sunglasses, makeup and fragrances) can be found for sale on the Chanel site and other websites, such as Sephora, online. Hermes, manufacturer of some of the most sought after luxury goods anywhere, now sells all of its goods in its online store, with the notable exception of Kelly and Birkin bags, for which you still have to visit a store to purchase, or, more likely, just to get on the waiting list. Other haute couture houses have embraced the online world whole heartedly, with the venerable Givenchy offering an app in collaboration with Net-a-Porter to provide a comprehensive e-store shopping experience.

Why not online?

So what is the rationale for abstaining from online sales? Maintaining an air of exclusivity is obviously one of the primary reasons. These are brands with relatively limited bricks and mortar distribution, and restricting the online channel supports the aura of “hard to get.” Maintaining brand quality and control is another contributing factor, particularly with a burgeoning counterfeit industry for many of these goods. Finally, there is the experiential nature of shopping for the highest end goods and the multiple senses that luxury goods appeal to; from touch (ah, soft) to smell (hmm, leather) to visual (love that color!). Limiting the experience to a picture or even a video on a computer or phone can’t begin to convey the complexity of what you’re buying.

Financial services, take note

It remains to be seen how long these firms can resist the lure of the online sales opportunity. But for now, they unapologetically¬†and straightforwardly tell their potential customers that both the customers they serve and the goods they provide are just too special to engage in an online commerce “relationship.”¬† They see digital as a great way to begin the experience; you get a tease and a taste of what it might be like and lots of information, but you have to make an effort if you really want what you see. Higher end financial services brands, particularly in the wealth space, can learn a lesson from this. Too much focus on online offerings, such as robo-advisors and DIY, has made many fearful that they’re no longer relevant and competitive, infusing a tentative, almost apologetic tone into much of their communications, as well as a rush to provide every kind of online functionality possible. But, like a luxury brand, often the wealth management brand needs to be fully experienced in a personal way in order to see the significant value it brings. Our words of guidance to wealth managers? Channel your inner Chanel (or Prada or whatever your favorite brand is), not your inner supermarket or big box discount store. Those places are great for your everyday goods, but not for that singular, unforgettable experience that you’re going to treasure for decades or even longer.