The Luxury story in the face of Covid-19 (Part II)

“How can I be of assistance today, Sir?”

This typical front-of-store welcome has become synonymous with the luxury brand industry, setting the scene for the personal care and attention to follow. It suggests no request will be too much trouble and customer satisfaction is paramount to the company’s ethos.

VIP treatment; personal calls when a limited item is in stock; the one-to-one service where expert stylists help you pick out a whole new wardrobe: luxury brands have always been a step ahead when it comes to the personalised customer experience.

But what happens when these face-to-face services are no longer available to these brands?

In Part 2 of our Luxury series, we explore how businesses in this space have navigated the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and how digital is the key to their future (Read Part here).

Personal attention and experiences, digital style.

  • Virtual appointments

If the customers aren’t allowed in, or can’t make it to a physical store, what’s the solution? Bring the store to the customer.

While this has be done to some extent with digital platforms being an extension of the brick and mortar store, virtual appointments take this another step further.

During the early months of the pandemic and with physical stores forced to shut, many “switched-on” luxury brand retailers turned to appointment scheduling technology to give customers the chance to book appointments and talk to experts on the phone or on video.

In May, following its early lockdown home delivery success and ‘buy now pay later’ payment solutions with Redbox partner Klarna, Brompton Bicycles launched its Live In-Store Expert operation. This browser-based live video call service allowed customers to talk and connect with staff at physical retail stores.

Part of the brand’s past success was built on the in-store experience where customers were able to talk to knowledgeable staff who could help them find the right bike for their needs.

With thousands of pounds being spent on some two-wheeled machines, being able to see them in action, learn how quickly they can be folded for accessibility on the commute, or to understand frame size in relation to rider height, are hugely important factors.

The new Brompton initiative gave customers the chance to speak to and watch experts demonstrate all of the latest bikes, clothing and accessories, as well as get personal, tailored advice on the spot. Staff, meanwhile, were only able to hear customers, rather than see them, to protect their privacy.

Although production initially dropped as some suppliers shut down, initiatives such as this helped sales soar, with web traffic up by 62 per cent and five times as many online sales.

In June, after the UK’s first lockdown had ended but some restrictions were kept in place, luxury department store Selfridges launched its own personal shopping appointments for fashion or beauty, via video calls.

Digital services included virtual gift advice and Instagram beauty tutorials, while video-enabled personal shopping ensured ‘regular’ customers would still be able to connect further with the brand and receive the care and attention to which they were accustomed.

Global fashion brand Gucci began offering personalised virtual experiences for customers, giving them a virtual trip to a faux luxury store where staff livestream from a replica showroom and bring items to screen for them to look at.

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The Gucci virtual experience. Source :

Connection to these services vary from brand-to-brand. Customers can sign-up for virtual appointments through different channels such as social, chat, website, app, or switchboard, usually picking a time that suits them, sometimes with questions about what services they are interested in ahead of time. They will often receive a reminder in the form of text or email. When on their call, staff can supervise like they would in store, before offering assistance with their online order.


With customers clearly enjoying these digital interactions with their favourite luxury brands and companies spending large amounts of money on getting the technology and services right, expect them to continue after lockdown ends. While it won’t take away from the real face-to-face personal experiences and attention, many customers like the convenience of being able to make these connections from anywhere at any time. Luxury brands should take these ideas onboard and invest in the technology and training of staff to ensure they get it right – and are not left behind as the digital landscape continues to evolve at pace.


  • Thinking outside the box: apps, to red carpet treatment

Few sectors have been as hard hit as the travel industry since the pandemic started, with the UN predicting losses of up to £3.3trillion (€3.7 trillion) over the past year.

But luxury travel providers have been among the quickest to turn to digital or think outside the box in a bid to get things moving again.

Christian Clerc, president of The Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts says he has always stood by the philosophy that, “every interaction with a guest is an opportunity”.

But with real face-to-face connections becoming more difficult or even impossible in some countries, the company has ramped up its digital offerings and ensured customers have an even wider selection of choices to enhance their experiences.

Firstly, the company was quick to take note of the growing remote working trend and the obstacles facing customers who want short holidays. Guests who want to extend their stay to more than a month have been offered a host of additional benefits, as well as a designated concierge to ensure they are not only looked after, but stay as safe as possible.

The Four Seasons Mobile App and Chat replaces a real hotel guide and allows customers to keep physical interactions with staff to a minimum, giving them the ability to make and manage reservations, sort airport transfers, arrange room service and make housekeeping requests all from their phone.

If required, a new Four Seasons Private Jet Experience can take customers to their destination, with a full onboard team including chef and physician. For added peace of mind, the plane’s interior is equipped with a state-of-the-art hospital grade air filtration system that renews the cabin air every two to three minutes and removes almost 100percent of particles, bacteria and viruses.


The application of Four Seasons. Source :

The innovation and enterprise showed by the brand is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to a luxury experience.

Taking away the need for physical face-to-face communication through apps and digital means is the very minimum brands should be facilitating. Finding other solutions to go the extra mile and add real value for both loyal and new customers is more important than ever.


The evolving world of luxury content

The luxury market has long been associated with heritage, tradition and a certain mystique that helps create an aspirational appeal.

But 2020 was the year that the industry went mainstream with some of its content, as online gaming, virtual products and different social media strategies were explored.

Chinese consumers accounted for 90 percent of the global luxury market growth in 2019, according to Bain. But with the pandemic stopping the usual flow of foreign travel and slowing spending in China itself, luxury brands were quick to open up their market to different demographics.

Lockdowns and store closures around the world also forced brands to find different ways to showcase their products and market themselves.

Lucy Yeomans, former editor in chief of Harper’s Bazaar, launched gaming app Drest at the end of 2019, making players fashion editors. Gamers are given selections of outfits and set challenges such as dressing models with other players judging the look. Many of the clothes are also available to buy and luxury brands including Gucci, Stella McCartney and Prada have been involved.


Dutch start-up The Fabricant, artist Johanna Jaskowska and company Dapper Labs also sold a digital dress for $9,500 on the blockchain in 2019 – with the creators tailoring it for the buyer without the item ever being ‘physical.’

With the huge success and money involved in Esports, where online teams and athletes compete for millions and boast huge armies of followers, digital worlds are commanding and generating their own wealth.

Last year Gucci released its own platform to let users design virtual footwear and try them on using augmented reality, with the company believing that luxury fashion has to seamlessly integrate with the digital in order to evolve.

With over 2billion gamers worldwide, it comes as no surprise to find out that the fashion brand is even designing products with games and virtual realities in mind – with the thinking they could work as a marketing tool but also have value as digital goods on their own.

“The virtual world is creating its own economy,” Gucci CMO told Fast Company. “The worlds of fashion and gaming are colliding. We’re approaching gaming with a sense of experimentation, because this will put us in a good position to be ahead of the trends when they become ingrained.”

Louis Vuitton and Estee Lauder were among other major luxury brands to launch games to promote their goods and new launches.


Meanwhile, fashion outlets such as Prada and Saint Laurent were a few of many that explored streaming and content creation on social media channels aimed at younger audiences such as SnapChat and TikTok. Luxury online retailer Net-a-Porter also began connecting with customers via WhatsApp if they were considered an EIP – or Extremely Important Person. Personal shoppers from the company communicate with customers who make the grade and showcase new products over the messaging app.

All of these examples show the growing importance of connecting with customers through the myriad of channels they use on a day-to-day basis.

Many luxury brands understand that digital growth and innovation is vital.

The luxury industry – the key to survival

As summed up in Part I of this two-part series, the luxury sector is at a pivotal point in its evolution.

Before COVID-19, many brands were in the process of making major changes to their business strategies in light of the growing tech-savvy consumer.

While heritage and tradition are still vitally important ingredients to the industry, companies appreciate the need to adapt to multi-channel methods of communication and embrace the Millennial ‘mottos’ of convenience and sustainability.


The COVID-19 pandemic has forced them to accelerate these plans and look even more closely at their digital operations.

It is not enough for brands to survive and hope the world of lockdowns quickly fade away. To push on, brands must explore and invest in digital from inside and out, embrace technology and innovation and adjust their strategies to be prepared for all eventualities.

It is no longer enough to sell through online and physical stores, the successful luxury brands are looking into multiple digital channels – and new ways of making content that enhances consumer experiences in each.

From virtual appointments to apps and chat platforms, luxury brands must find ways to communicate and add value to the customer. Face-to-face personal experiences and assistance have gone digital and are likely to continue down this route long after the pandemic has been consigned to history.

Social media platforms were once just a means to communicate with customers, but have quickly become key avenues to sell on too. In the blink of an eye, even the ways of selling on these platforms is rapidly evolving.

Meanwhile, there are whole new worlds being created virtually where products that don’t exist in a physical sense are of value – with the platforms themselves becoming essential marketing tools to reach vast quantities of new consumers.

In all these examples, digital is the name of the game. Brands must not just pay lip-service to its importance, but embrace and explore every essence of its being to survive, thrive and prosper or be quickly left behind.

Connected health in Asia: Four thriving companies to follow

The adoption of digital in the health sector has seen exponential growth in Asia following the Covid-19 pandemic. Numerous innovations in this area had begun to emerge in recent years, in order to make healthcare more accessible in countries where Internet coverage is spreading ever further and rural areas have shortages of doctors. Digital can also be used to address other issues, such as the cost of services and taboos that remain widespread. From remote consultations combined with AI to testing robots and therapeutic applications, we look at some of the many connected health solutions that can be found across Asia. 


Four connected health solutions that caught our attention 

In China, Ping An Good Doctor is opening access to remote consultations 

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Remote consultation booth and medicine vending machine by Ping An Good Doctor in China – Source: AndroidPit 


In response to encouragement from Chinese policies to digitise healthcare services, in 2019, the banking and insurance group Ping An set up a remote consultation service that uses dedicated booths. Named Ping An Good Doctor, the service attracted 38 million euros of investment through the development of 29 partnerships with national industry giants (in the medical, banking, insurance, telephony, etc. sectors), in order to establish its connected health ecosystem1. 

 Patients enter what looks like a photo booth and describe their symptoms to a “virtual doctor”. Based on AI, the doctor establishes a diagnosis by analysing all of the data collected:  the patient’s voice, symptom descriptions and medical history. Remotely, a doctor approves the final diagnosis and prescribes medicines. Next to the booth, the patient can pay for and receive their medicine using the vending machine or place an order on the Good Doctor app. 

 In 2019, it already had more registered users than any other Chinese remote consultation platform. Between January and February 2020, at the beginning of the epidemic, it recorded ten times more registrations and nine times more consultations2. Consultations were then free for patients with a risk of infection by the virus. 


In Bangladesh, the app Maya Apa offers answers to health-related questions for free 


Launched in 2015, the app enables the population of Bangladesh to access a network of medical experts, covering a wide range of topics, of which 80% are related to health. The startup says that it answers 5000 questions per day and that 2 million users interacted with the app in December 2019 alone3 

Available in English, Bengali and local dialects, the service is free, with premium options, making it possible to receive an answer in just ten minutes. The artificial intelligence behind Maya Expert answers around 30% of questions asked by patients, with an accuracy rate of 90%, which enables the startup to greatly reduce its costs. The rest of the questions are handled by experts, who are approved following checks by the platform.  

For the remaining 70%, experts in the relevant topic answer in less than three hours. The app also offers an option including an instant messaging function, the ability to post attachments and voice notes to communicate. Anonymity is ensured, enabling individuals to keep their health issues secure and avoid stigmatisation in a society where many health-related topics remain taboo. 


In India, Wysa AI offers a digital therapy service

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Screenshot of the chatbot in the Wysa app – Source: PCMag 


The WHO estimates that an average of one in four individuals is affected by mental health issues at a given time in their lives4This is why, in 2017, the Indian startup Wysa AI decided to enter the connected health market by developing a virtual therapist. The application digitally promotes mental and emotional well-being, featuring the Wysa Well-being Coach, based on a penguin chatbot that is available 24/7. 

Users can access a library of audio content on personal development topics and the human therapist service (via messaging), all anonymously.  

In order to strengthen its algorithm and keep services up to dateWysa AI works in partnership with psychologists and therapists. 

Available in several languages, the service is not limited to India, as the app has been downloaded by 1.7 million people in 30 different countries, with a total of 100 million conversations recorded so far (40% of users are located in the United States, United Kingdom and India)5. While it was initially adopted by younger users (24-30 years old), Wysa has also managed to earn the trust of older users (35+ years old). 


In India, the Philippines and Myanmar, Forus Health is reducing the prices of ophthalmological and diabetes testing equipment 

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Source: Instagram @forus_health_imaging 



Diabetic retinopathy is a complication that affects half of people with type-2 diabetes.  

According to the WHO, 19% of the 422 million diabetic people around the world are located in India, a country that is facing a shortage of ophthalmological experts, with only 20,000 experts for a population of 1.3 billion6. 

Since 2018, the startup Forus Health, which specialises in the development of ophthalmological devices, has been developing 3Nethra, a device that is able to screen the illness at a very young age, in order to avoid future complications and reduce the mortality rate. By integrating AI and Microsoft Azure’s Cloud capacities, 3Nethra can screen for symptoms in patients in real-time. The AI scans the image instantly and eliminates the usual lengthy process of printing images for analysis to be carried out. Furthermore, its use requires no particular expertise and its price is affordable, making it accessible. 

The startup has already installed 2200 devices in 26 countries and affected 2.5 million lives7 



A selection of innovations to help fight the Covid-19 epidemic: 

The digital and technological agility of Asian countries, the involvement of tech giants and the support of governments have enabled new connected health innovations to emerge and help in the fight against Covid-19. The three following innovations caught our attention. 


The Alibaba algorithm that detects the coronavirus in 20 seconds 

Tech giant Alibaba has developed an algorithm to analyse CT scans. It can identify the virus in 20 just seconds, compared with 15 minutes for a doctor, with an accuracy rate of 96%. The algorithm was trained using data and scans of more than 5000 confirmed coronavirus cases and uses deep learning to study infection characteristics. The system is used at more than 26 hospitals and 100 healthcare establishments in China and contributed to diagnosing more than 30,000 cases in March8 


A robot that monitors the health condition of isolated patients in Singapore 

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The robot BeamPro at Alexandra hospital – Source: Alexandra Hospital 


The robot BeamPro was deployed in Alexandra hospital in Singapore in order to remotely monitor the health condition of isolated patients. A prototype of the robot was made three months before the beginning of the epidemic and it therefore saw its development significantly accelerated.  

It is fitted with a camera and screen, enabling nurses and doctors, who are visible by patients via video-conferencing, to observe them and ask questions. The robot’s movements are remotely controlled by a computer. 

A second version is already being developed and will enable patients to communicate with the robot in four different languages.  

In South Korea, AI and big data have enabled the development of test kits 

Seegene, a Korean company specialised in biotechnological molecules, began research to develop testing kits as early as January 2020. Thanks to AI and big data, in less than three weeks, the company was able to contribute to the development of the first prototypes. Without this technology, the company estimates that it would have taken two to three months to develop the same kit. 

In addition to the technology, the government’s swiftness in introducing relevant regulations, and the medical approval of the kits, in particular through private-public partnerships, also helped make large-scale production of the kits possible. The country was therefore able to launch screening operations in its population very early on.  




Technology, including digital and artificial intelligence in particular, is an essential asset to facilitate access to healthcare and speed up the development of solutions in the sector. Asia is once again at the forefront, due to the specific characteristics of its emerging countries (such as shortages of doctors in rural areas, accessibility needs and taboos), and, in mature countries, such as Singapore, China and South Korea, thanks to governmental support, which encourages the use of technology.    


PWAs: Apple's forbidden fruit?

In 2017, Gartner predicted that Progressive Web Apps (PWA) would replace 50% of native apps by 2020. While we are still some way from that figure, this forecast reflects just how much the concept put forward by Google in 2015 represented the future for many specialists. The adoption of PWAs by market players was only a matter of time, except for one company that is a major part of the digital landscape and likes to call the shots – Apple. 

They offer clear advantages for users as they attempt to bring together the best of both the web and stores, in order to provide an optimal, unrestricted experience. PWAs are also a fantastic opportunity for advertisers to optimise the ROI of digital projects, by concentrating their investments on a single channel. 


PWAs and Apple: the time is not yet ripe

The aim of PWAs is to provide an experience that is close to that offered by a native app downloaded from a store, but within a browser. What does this mean for users? No download requirement, installation of an icon on the home screen for immediate access, full-screen display for greater reading comfort, low-bandwidth connection or offline functionality for continuous use… In addition to all this, PWAs use native mobile functions, making it possible to use geolocation, mobile payment services and notifications, among other things, at least on most smartphones.   

The range of possibilities is narrowed with Apple’s iOS and Safari browser. When using a PWA on an iPhone, users may be faced with some limitations:  

  • There is no prompt for users to add the icon to their home screen, which is one of the main strengths of native apps, ensuring their visibility and fast access. It is still possible to get around this limitation manually, but the intention is not the same. 
  • It is not possible to open a link in Safari from a PWA. The absence of a smooth link between the various interfaces disrupts the journey and obstructs user navigation.  
  • Push notifications for the web are not supported, even though they represent one of the most powerful assets on mobile and help build user loyalty.  

And yet the approach promoted by Steve Jobs in 2007, when the first iPhone was announced, placed great emphasis on web apps. A few months later, in 2008, the App Store and its native applications were launched, achieving the success for which it is now famous.  


How to explain these limitations?

It is fair to ask why such a successful and well-known company as Apple does not seem to be living up to expectations when it comes to PWAs. I think it is safe to say that the problem is nothing to do with Apple’s skills or understanding of the market. Time and time again, the American multinational has demonstrated its ability to create new trends and uses, which are then rapidly picked up by its competitors.  

So how to explain this lack of initiative in relation to PWAs?  

A closed ecosystem

It is no secret that Apple’s ecosystem is closed to the outside world. Whether in terms of its devices, operating systems, software programs or accessories, the brand with the “bitten apple” logo leaves little room for sharing. By the way, if you have an iPhone with several browsers installed on it, you may have noticed that PWAs only work on Safari! 

This technology giant positions itself as a pioneer and not a follower. And what better way to maintain control and impose its standards than by building its own ecosystem? There is therefore a certain degree of incompatibility with an approach oriented to the open environment of the web. This philosophy contributes strongly to Apple’s image as a premium brand, enabling it to stand out among its main rivals, including Google, which has adopted a far more open strategy.  

Google: its best enemy

The term ‘Progressive Web App’ was created in 2015 by designer Frances Berriman and engineer Alex Russell, who are members of the Google Chrome team (and also husband and wife). Since then, the firm has maintained its efforts to promote PWAs. At the beginning of 2020, Google announced that it wanted to gradually phase out Chrome Apps (used by less than 1% of its users) and replace them with PWAs, such as Google Drive, Google Maps and Google Photos.  

Google is going much further with the popularisation of PWAs; since 2019, it has been possible to publish them directly via the Play Store. The App Store could not be much more different. Apple broadly rejects applications with features and functions that are mainly based on web technology, arguing that they are more suitable for Safari. Apple actually prefers to use the term ‘ HTML5 App’, rather than ‘Progressive Web App’. This attitude becomes more understandable with a closer look at what the App Store represents for Apple… 

The App Store: a good little earner

Many developers feel that Apple’s strategy is not web-oriented. The focus is placed firmly on the App Store, and with good reason. In 2019, it generated 50 billion dollars, with Apple taking a 30% commission on each payment and giving 70% to developers. It is not hard to imagine the astronomical sums involved! 

To put these figures into perspective, 99% of the mobile OS market is held by Apple and Google, leaving virtually nothing for their competitors. Of this 99%, while the iOS represents only 25%, the App Store’s revenue far exceeds that of the Play Store, which is less than 30 billion dollars, despite the fact that it holds 74% of the mobile OS market share. Apple focusses on a “premium” segment, which is more willing to part with its money.  


A closed ecosystem, a long-standing rivalry with Google and, lastly, a profitable store: these are the three main reasons for Apple’s reluctance to invest in PWAs. However, it looks very likely that PWAs will become a standard in the future, like responsive design, which is now standard for most websites. In terms of user experience, there are clear advantages compared with the “conventional” web.  

In my opinion, the number-one reason is the economic aspect and the App Store’s huge financial importance. Why should Apple redirect its efforts when everything is working so well? Some advertisers, such as Spotify, have taken advantage of the growth of PWAs to become less dependent on Apple and its 30% commission taken on in-app purchases, and they are not alone in doing so. While it may be some time before there are many PWAs in the Apple ecosystem, the foundations have already been laid. 

Luxury brands in Asia have reinvented themselves

Following a drop in sales of approximately 25% during the first quarter of 2020, brands in the luxury sector have decided to experiment with new methods to attract an online audience and build loyalty in the face of the health crisis. With online sales in the sector accounting for only 10% of total sales in 2019, according to McKinsey1, luxury brands have sped up their transition to digital.   

In Asia, China has been driving growth in the sector for several years, to the extent that Chinese consumers are set to represent 50% of the market by 2025, according to Bain & Company2. Hyper-connected Chinese consumers are therefore a core consideration. Digitisation of luxury brands is mainly happening through marketplaces, which are essential platforms in this country.  

With the pandemic, two underlying trends have emerged. On the one hand, brands have been led to use new channels, such as live streaming and online auctions. On the other, growth in second-hand purchases is encouraging them to rethink their products’ life cycles. Furthermore, some brands are already using blockchain technology to improve the traceability of their products and, therefore, the buying and reselling experience.   


Marketplaces: the emperors of China’s luxury sector 

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Image of’s 618 shopping festival. Source: 


Have you ever heard of the ‘618 Shopping Festival’ (618 stands for June 18th)? It is a sales period in China, like the now famous Singles’ Day. During the 2020 festival, luxury brands achieved the same sales in just half an hour as they did in one day the previous year, via the marketplace run by Chinese e-Commerce giant On the Tmall platform, operated by its competitor Alibaba, 178 luxury brands took part in the festival, which is double the number of brands that took part in the last Singles’ Day festival in November 20193 

More and more luxury brands are creating stores on these platforms, after having attempted to focus on a Direct-to-Consumer (D2C) strategy aimed at maintaining total control over their image and prices. Marketplaces have indisputably become essential, particularly during the crisis period. Alibaba and JD have created specialised platforms to attract luxury brands: Tmall Luxury Pavilion and TopLife respectively. Here, the brands have dedicated luxury spaces, where there is a guarantee that their products will not be displayed alongside general consumer products. These stores also offer total freedom to personalize their interfaces, content, prices, and so on.  

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Tmall launched its Luxury Pavilion platform in 2017 in order to attract luxury brands.  


Live streaming and online auctions: new boons for the luxury sector? 

Luxury brands have also begun to experiment with live streaming, which grew massively during the health crisis as a new sales channel. Louis Vuitton was the first international brand to try out live shopping on the Chinese platform XiaoHongShu (also known as RED or Little Red Book) on the 26th of March 2020. The company chose a famous actress and fashion influencer to carry out this one-hour session, which was viewed 880,000 times4. These two figures shared their advice about accessories and ready-to-wear in the summer 2020 collection.  

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Another example: in February, during the Paris Fashion Week, the company Lanvin broadcast its 2020 autumn-winter fashion show as a live streaming event on Secoo, a Chinese e-Commerce platform dedicated to luxury5. The audience was able to watch the show, which was commentated by a Paris-based Chinese influencer, using virtual reality headsets. The campaign was run in partnership with iQiyi, China’s answer to Netflix.    

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Many fashion shows around the world were cancelled due to the pandemic. In March, Shanghai Fashion Week linked up with Alibaba to broadcast the show exclusively online, on the tech giant’s dedicated platform, Taobao Live, making this Shanghai Fashion Week the first entirely digital fashion event. 


Last May, the Asian subsidiary of the auction house Phillips carried out a sale of contemporary art pieces in Hong Kong, alongside luxury jewellery and watches. This cross-category auction was a first6The health crisis obliged Phillips Asia to carry out this auction exclusively online, which also helped to attract younger generations. 90% of the lots were sold at the auction, with 56% of the buyers new to Phillips and 42% aged under 407 



Second-hand shopping and blockchain are forcing brands to rethink product lifecycles

The second-hand market is thriving in China, and elsewhere in Asia, and looks set to continue to expand after the crisis. Luxury brands will need to take into account the entire lifecycle of their products and rethink their distribution models in light of this new trend. Blockchain is the technology that could enable this change.  

Read our article on the growth of second-hand shopping in China 

The Hong Kong-based luxury brand Lane Crawford is a pioneer in this area, encouraging its community to donate clothes that it resells in order to raise money for charity organisations and sustainable projects. It lets customers know the date of the donation, how long the item was previously worn, and in which city, by simply scanning a QR code. What’s more, customers can access information about the environmental impact of their purchase: for each item, the amount of resources saved (water and CO2) is calculated and displayed following the product description. Lane Crawford does this via its own pop-up store, Luxaritywhich uses a platform built on the blockchain Ethereum.  

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The brand Lane Crawford enables second-hand buyers to see the life cycle of a clothing item


More recently, Southeast Asia’s leading second-hand luxury products platform, Reebonz, announced that it was working on a digital certificate with VeChain, a Singapore-based startup specialised in blockchain technology. The aim of this digital certificate is to enable customers to establish the origin of items bought. Since January 2019, all of the products in its inventory have a QR code that provides access to the product’s details, origin and transaction history. While the project is still in the pilot phase, 50,000 products have been linked with a digital certificate since December 2019. The system also offers other advantages: it will enable Reebonz to achieve economies of scale with its authentication service and customers to revoke the certificate in the event of a theft.  


As we have seen, digital is no longer optional for luxury brands. With the opportunities it offers in the areas of marketing and the circular economy, digital is an essential tool for brands to reinvent themselves and overcome the Covid-19 crisis.   


Graphic facilitation: capturing words in the air

Now more than ever before, with a constant flow of inputs, we need to record information that concerns us. Organisations face a tough challenge in the current work environment. And all it takes is an open window (Slack, Zoom, Teams, etc.) to pull our attention in a different direction. One method to address this issue (in addition to filtering and closing parasitic channels) is known as ‘graphic facilitation’, or notes augmented with drawings. It seems suspiciously simple.  

Facilitation 1


However, there is no doubting the results: drawings can be memorised three times more rapidly than text. Producing drawings yourself also increases this effect and they do not need to be “well executed” (see Ref. #1). By using the channels that our brains respond to best, you can capture people’s attention.  


Graphic facilitation covers several areas  

It can be divided into the following: 

  • Scribing, or visual recording, captures oral content by recording it live through writing and drawings; Facilitation 2




  • Sketchnoting means augmenting text notes with drawings, in an individual manner; Facilitation 3





  • Modelling aims to take data that is already known and structure it into a written and drawn document Facilitation 4




  • Talking and drawing involves making an oral presentation and sketchnoting at the same time. 

OK, but what is it for?  

Facilitation 5








We already have many tools at our disposal, including meetings, workshops, presentations, conferences and more. 

But using graphic facilitation is something different. The complexity of ideas to be expressed means we need to invent something new, while getting back to basics. We have all endured meetings that seem to go on forever, with too many details provided at the wrong time. Or workshops where, under the guise of encouraging participation, entire pads of post-its are stuck to the walls, or where the tedious reading of painstakingly written reports could have been avoided. None of the people trying to get this information across wanted these results. 


Graphic facilitation offers an approach that is both fun and provides structure. It enables us to engage the channels our brains respond to best, capture attention and provoke thought. Participation and the memorisation of information presented will naturally follow. 


Facilitation 7The universality of this practice is also its strength: you do not need to be a Da Vinci to do it. The drawing ability of a five-year-old is easily enough. I have met very few facilitators (if none at all!) who are designers as I am. They are agile coaches, project managers, developers or UX designers, for example. Actually doing it can be scary though. For me, as a graphic designer, the main barriers I had to overcome were to let go of my work and avoid being too demanding of myself. The rest is all about training and structure: once you have learnt how to write legibly, draw shapes that are simple and provide structure, and listen actively, the hard work is done.  


One of the essential parts of graphic facilitation is the ability to tell stories and, as you do it, you realise that anything can be used to do this: a story has a beginning, a middle and an end. The way in which we structure our words, our speeches and our presentations is no different. Once you identify the underlying hierarchy in any structured speech, applying simple images to it is child’s play. 


The resulting physical material becomes valuable, fun, organic and inspiring again (and it can be shared and re-explained).  


(Tempted? So why not come and try! A caring community) 

Facilitation 8


(And now/Some references/Visual food and entertainment) 


(see Ref. #2 #3 #4 #5 #6). 



#1 Association for Psychological Science (APS). (2018). For Learning, Drawing a Picture May Really Be Worth a Thousand Words. Found online, on the APS website at 

#2 @romaincouturier 

#3 @Jan_Gunter 

#4 @UnPictoParJour 

#5 playability_de 


Insights from Asia – Growing customer relations without a physical store

Customers purchase from brands, but they value and trust people more than the brands they buy from. This is why omnichannel marketing efforts are important as they can be used to help provide a consistent experience across all platforms and offer a personalized experience for each individual customer. This improves the overall customer experience (CX) and leads to increased customer loyalty. This article looks at what’s happening in the field of customer interaction in Asia and how this is affecting business strategies for retailers in the region. 



People are now online much more than before, working from home, attending school from home, catching up with friends via video calls from home and more. The pandemic has changed the way in which we interact. 

An article published in March 2020, by the Victoria Newsconfirmed that: overall Facebook messaging is up more than 50 per cent over the previous month in countries that have been hit the hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic. In those same locations, voice and video calls have more than doubled on Messenger and WhatsApp. 

As social media usage has increased, customers have started to notice a change in what they and others are posting during these uncertain timesPeople aren’t just on social media to share updates and read the news — they’re shopping too.  

Some major brands have allocated a budget to famous bloggers to increase their credibility on Instagram for example. And it’s this change that is making some bloggers in Asia into stars. 



Key Opinion Leader (KOL) marketing is now an international phenomenon and highly efficient in China; especially due to the increase in the use of live streaming.  A great example of this was given by the most famous KOL in cosmetics in China, Li Jiaqi, who sold 15,000 lipsticks in just 5 minutes during his live stream 

Sales are now a major part of social media platforms, such as Instagram, where accounts that meet the criteria to add swipe up links to their Instagram Stories have the option to be more versatile. Instagram swipe up is incredibly useful because it allows businesses to promote products, blog posts and sign up pages. These pages open right in the app for users to explore as well. When a swipe up link is added to a Story, viewers can simply tap on the arrow at the bottom of their screen or swipe up on the Story to access the link. 

The use of streaming has been demonstrated by many retailers in China – and an example can be seen on TAOBAO’s e-commerce platform. The idea is that because customers stay longer in the environment that they know, with people that they trust, brands can expect more sales. 

In the travel sector, Layla, a Chinese blogger on Sina Weibo, has created China’s first “Female Private Collection of Independent Travels” with 4.8 million loyal followers. She is helping to shape a new image of Chinese women as travelers with “Independence + Culture + Insight”. Her unique travel model is based around her tagline “In-depth travels by an independent female – do not follow fashion to explore the destination”. She has also created her own successful brand and is highly regarded as a travel KOL.  



One fundamental reason for the Chinese blogger’s success is the prevalent usage of mobile devices among the Chinese population. There is no age barrier for mobile penetration in China, enabling brands to maximize the potential e-commerce market value. Brands can reach everyone from 8 to 80 years old as potential followers and buyers, even though the young generation still has the main purchasing power. This demonstrates how e-commerce businesses can increase sales when a physical store is no more accessible. 



With this change in promotional methods, we are now seeing new bloggers creating their own brand and selling it exclusively online. However, it is important to remember that the quality of customer experience is not only related to online business. Some opticians in China for example have reported a sales increase with less customers, by scheduling a dedicated slot due to covid-19. These customers are no longer disturbed by other customers and have a dedicated professional to help them select the right product. Customers who book a slot, come to buy a product but expect a better customer experience. 


Following the lockdown experience, people have started to look for different ways to communicate, share ideas and do business. And one media that seems to be opening opportunities is that of video.  High quality and emotive content on video channels encourage people to like, follow, share, and interact.  


Such videos are much more likely to have a lasting impact and encourage conversations afterwards. Furthermore, online retailers are realizing that if their video content includes a narrative/subtitles/voiceover, users will be able to get information subconsciously – making it more relevant to each individual viewer. 

Retail in times of crisis: the moment to fully embrace technological innovations!

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic suddenly brought about major and long-lasting change to our consumption patterns. After a first wave that hit businesses hard and a further period of business closures, what lessons can be learned to ensure the continuity of retail activities? 

Faced with consumers concerned about their health, including some who are afraid to return to stores but are increasingly connected, businesses are looking to keep their customers engaged. New technologies, such as artificial intelligence, have been turned into tools to open up new opportunities. In France, since the start of the pandemic, average internet browsing time has risen sharply by 32% (Kameleoon, 2020), and e-commerce product sales have increased by 45.7% compared to the same period in 2019 (Fevad, 2020). 

Improving customer journey fluidity by providing an ever smoother experience in order to break down barriers between physical commerce and digital commerce is an absolute priority. This is clearly demonstrated by the fact that omnichannel brands saw growth of… 126%! (Fevad, 2020) 

Artificial intelligence is already conquering the e-commerce and retail sector, with improved customer experience spearheading this movement. AI and data multiplication open up a wide range of practically limitless possibilities to deploy new services and make for an even more immersive, pleasant and personalised consumer experience: this is a real positive in a lockdown situation.    


Personalising to better develop loyalty

Personalisation is another area worth exploring: 57% of users say they are disappointed by brands’ personalisation solutions and only 25% feel that brands provide a digital experience meeting their needs (Kameleoon, 2020). A customer (in lockdown or not), who spends more time online is also a customer who is more exposed to competition… In the current context, effective personalisation is essential to keep reaching customers in the right way and developing their loyalty.   

AI enables us to address this issue by providing very fine profile segmentation, combining data sets from different sources and the history of any previous interactions the customer had with the brand. At a time when users are more often online that in store, it is important to be able to attract them with the right products: algorithms have proved capable of sending the right message, at the right time, via the right channel, maximising the chances of conversion.  

Personalisation also plays its part, by recommending products in order to give the user a unique catalogue, as Cdiscount and Fnac each so successfully do. These recommendations must as much as possible match their centres of interest and expectations, boosting their engagement with the brand.  


Maintaining interaction using chatbots

Chatbots provide a fast and responsive solution to user Q&As. They analyse and interpret questions to give customers an appropriate, automated answer, meeting internet users’ needs for autonomy and immediacy, but also freeing up customer service staff, who are generally extremely in demand in these times of crisis.  

Some chatbots adopt an entirely different approach, particularly in the care and beauty sector. Brands ask (via Facebook Messenger and other instant messaging tools) about internet users’ morning routines, so as to recommend them products suiting their needs, as L’Oréal and Sephora each so successfully do. During lockdown, we developed new habits and new hobbies. Brands naturally need to understand these new behaviours using a service like this, which enables them to meet changing demand, but also show customers that they are listening, which strengthens their feeling of engagement with the brand.   

Chatbots may be the ideal solution: here are our tips to assess their suitability for your project 


Augmented reality to picture how something will look and eliminate purchasing process obstacles

Though online purchasing offers a good alternative, it also has its disadvantages, such as not being able to handle or try on products, for example to make sure they’re the right size. These decisive factors can act as obstacles in the purchasing process.  

While Galeries Lafayette introduced a video-based personal shopper service, other brands provide “V-commerce” services (V for virtual), such as virtual fitting rooms, which are genuine remote decision-making tools. The French start-up Veertus released a PWA in May, with which users virtually try on different outfits. And the Chrono24 app lets users virtually try on a watch at home, using an augmented reality system, just like Afflelou, which provides the same service for spectacle frames. 

> Our experts in innovation also identified a virtual store solution used by Nespresso at CES 2020. And why not take another look at their best discoveries? 


Despite the pandemic’s clear impact on retailers, the crisis has however served to expose their shortcomings. It is encouraging us to fully embrace innovation to develop more flexible, more connected services, which increase customer engagement, enrich their experience and eliminate obstacles in the absence of a physical connection during these uncertain times. 

Post Covid-19 energy industry players will need to reinvent their customer interaction

Keeping some 67 million people at home under lockdown for almost two months, the Covid-19 crisis has greatly changed France’s electricity consumption habits. For example, the peak, which was usually between 8 and 9 am, shifted to midday, when people have their lunch breaks at home. While overall electricity consumption dropped by 20% in France, there was a 4% rise in household consumption. The vast majority of industry players managed to adapt to these consumption changes, while having to suddenly adapt their work organisation. However, this crisis has created a deep and lasting modification of consumers’ needs. Their adoption of digital tools has been greatly sped up and their desire for more local consumption will very likely be carried forward into the coming months.  

Energy industry players must in turn adapt to this new consumption. In order to remain competitive, they must also reconsider their interaction with customers, providing more transparency about their products and redefining digital journeys to make them clearer and more efficient.  


Restructuring of products for greater transparency 

The Covid-19 crisis, debates surrounding continued international deliveries of goods that were far from essential, and the closure of Amazon France’s warehouses… All of this encouraged people in France to turn to local supply chains and made them more attentive than ever to the origin of their purchases. It will be no surprise if these habits, formed during the crisis, continued well after the lifting of the lockdown. And the energy industry is no exception. The app ‘Eco2mix’, produced by RTE, which provides clear information about electricity consumption and production, in particular its origin, saw usage peaks of more than 300% during the lockdown, for example. This reflects consumers’ appetite for greater transparency about where their electricity is coming from. 

This means it is very likely that guarantees of origin will soon be a key part of energy contracts and high up on the list of customers’ priorities. Green energy producers will need to restructure their products with this in mind and highlight such guarantees, in order to provide greater transparency. Some companies have seized the current situation as an opportunity to launch energy products entirely produced within France. This is the case of the private green electricity supplier Planète Oui, for example, which officially launched a 100%-produced-in-France biomethane product in May.  

There are now efficient and comprehensive online comparison tools available for consumers, such as the portal ‘’, and suppliers that fail to provide transparency and highlight their guarantees of origin are at risk of being rapidly overtaken by the competition, which is already fierce.  


Clear information at the core of the digital journey

Above all, this crisis has sped up growth in the use of digital technologies, as a forced march for some. The energy industry has already made the transition to digital, particularly in the area of grid management, which has been mainly digital for a number of years already. However, energy companies also need to develop their customer interaction, by designing a digital journey that is focussed on clear information and deploying a wide range of tools, to assist their users according to individual habits and navigation preferences. Energy suppliers’ initial contact with customers is mostly digital and they can ill afford to neglect this step. 


In order to define how initial contact and the digital journey are conducted, energy companies need to ask themselves two questions:  

  • What do I need to include in my products?  
  • How can I highlight these products and their content?

While we partially addressed the first question when discussing the issue of origin and guarantees, the second question has more to do with the choice of digital tools and contact channels to be created, in order to assist customers with their choice and consumption. Customers need easy access to this information, wherever they are and whatever device they are using (smartphone, laptop, etc.), as well as rapid support. The deployment of a chatbot or initial digital contact with a customer adviser, for example, can help visitors find answers to their questions without picking up the phone and be enough to convince them. 

The app EDF & Moi (EDF & Me) is a strikingly effective example of this. Launched a few years ago, the app plays a major role as a “control tower” for all of its users. The digital journey established offers immediate and clear visibility of individual customers’ consumption and bills, as well as various information to help them understand their consumption. Each item is rapidly accessible and explained, with the aim of answering users’ questions before they even think to ask them. EDF has added an advice module, which has helped it to create an efficient digital journey, bringing information and value through additional analysis. It is clearly an excellent means of retaining customers. 

This app is just one outstanding example, which can serve as a guide for companies that are prepared to review the interaction they offer their users.  

The top five new trends in unified commerce

Unified commerce represents a radical change in the way technology is shaping retail commerce, which is one of the most dynamic and forward-looking sectors. It has to be, because customers, as users of technology, continue to drive the revolution of retail with constantly changing expectations in terms of experience, service and promotional offers.

With unified commerce merging potentially disparate systems (front and back) into a single platform, technology is no longer an entity on its own: it is becoming integrated in the businesses of retailers, offering an agile system to provide efficient service in all channels.


1. A shopping centre where people can work, live and play

The shopping centre is being reborn as a town centre with local shops, all the more so due to the current health crisis.

Digital continues to reshuffle the cards, as new shopping centres will focus on interaction, convenience and experiences in terms of shopping. Concepts such as coworking and entertainment spaces put “experience” and the “work-live-play” trio at the heart of their strategies. They will replace the outmoded shopping centres of the twentieth-century.
Shopping centres that really manage to harness digital and put it at the centre of their strategy will become favoured destinations, in particular thanks to restaurants, theme bars and high-end coffee shops managed by big-name chefs, as well as the presence of offices, gyms and even schools. In short, shopping centres will become the new town centres.


2. Behaviour in shops will be directly linked to people’s profiles

Using facial recognition and GPS tracking alone is not enough to make a retailer omnichannel.
Physical retailers can bridge the gap between the collection of data online and people’s behaviour through the use of cameras, facial recognition, tracking, checkout (POS) data and analysis, such as Google Analytics. Just as e-commerce players can analyse the behaviour of customers on their websites, physical stores will use WiFi, sensors, RFID tags and various other means. The aim is of course to identify areas of high footfall within the store, abandoned (non-purchased) products, waiting times and even the movement of products between the shelves and fitting rooms.

From real-time merchandising to decision-making based on data related to the management of physical interactions and stock, the age of real-world data is here. Combined with web, mobile and social network data, the collection and analysis of in-person data brings brands closer to a truly 360-degree customer experience.

Amazon Go stores use “computer vision” to recognise faces and products, in order to offer a smooth purchasing experience, without having to go through a checkout. Along with browsing and mobile telephony data, stores are equipping themselves to make better, more personalised recommendations on all platforms. Retail Deep replaces loyalty cards with facial recognition, using in-store cameras equipped with AI, which send notifications and relevant recommendations to staff when known customers arrive. There is no more need for loyalty cards as customers are already identified by their faces. This Canadian startup has enjoyed success on the Chinese market where facial recognition is widely used.

Commerce 1


3. Consumers are beginning to sell their data and privacy

With the growth of privacy protection (GDPR), consumers will choose which brands can access their information. For decades now, consumers have been exchanging data for access (social media) and rewards (loyalty schemes). Consumers know that their data (such as in-store movements, online browsing and geolocation) are used. They are now prepared to negotiate for them. Brands will move from attempting to gather as much data as possible from their users to a more lucrative exchange.

As the volume of personal data increases and awareness of privacy protection grows, a new type of services and options is likely to be developed: the respect of privacy as an option will mean that consumers will ask brands to “pay” them in order to use their data. The challenge for brands will be to strike a balance between the acquisition, use and storage of data, and then maintain this balance. Apple’s credit card promises privacy: purchasing data will not be used for advertising purposes, sold to third parties or for any other purpose. Accessible only to owners of an iPhone, the Apple Card is also linked to a reward scheme in the form of cashback.

Commerce 2

Cashback with the Apple Card (source:


4. The delivery war

Fast and free delivery will no longer be an option for e-commerce.
Amazon, which introduced free delivery, then free delivery in two days, next-day delivery and now same-day delivery (Prime Now), will enable competing retailers to offer the same service by becoming their carrier.

2020 is a tipping point for “free and fast delivery”, as Amazon’s logistics and delivery operations are aimed at disrupting the standard delivery and postal service sector. The e-commerce giant will move from the status of client to competitor for practically all major transport companies. After postal services, UPS and FedEx, consumers can expect to see Amazon’s logo on parcel delivery vehicles.


5. Delivery in your car, garage and home

“Near to your home” will become “IN your home”. Retailers can now deliver into customers’ vehicles, homes and appliances… Following free delivery, and then two-day, one-day and same-day delivery, deliveries will be made directly into the boot of your car, your garage or even your fridge. As the delivery war grows fiercer, transport companies and retailers are looking to make deliveries smoother and faster by delivering directly into peoples’ homes and cars using remote access technology.

In addition to speed, these delivery methods are aimed at making shopping easier and safer (by avoiding ice cream melting or thawing, for example) and reducing package theft, which in turn can reduce the costs and worries related to delivery/receipt of high-value items, such as consumer electronics and jewellery. Walmart’s InHome Delivery service uses “smart-entry technology” and cameras to deliver orders directly into customers’ fridges. Deliveries can also be made into customers’ kitchens and garages.

Commerce 3


5G: the tree hiding the wood?

In order for 5G to be compatible with environmental challenges, we need to start moving towards digital restraint now. If we give it this objective before it is deployed, another kind of 5G is possible. 

It will be happening after all… After being delayed due to the Covid-19 crisis, bidding for 5G will begin in France in September. This technology will open up a new world of possibilities, thanks to unprecedented reduction in latency and a huge increase in bandwidth.  

With emerging concerns about the environmental effects of 5G, raised in particular by mayors recently elected in France, a public discussion about the issue is necessary and healthy. However, we must avoid making it a two-sided discussion, divided into those for and against it. It should rather enable civil society to express the kind of 5G it wishes to see, as the transition to 5G comes with awareness of the digital industry’s growing impact on the environment.   


Aiming for digital restraint  

The increasing number of relay antennas and the planned obsolescence of terminals brought about by 5G are causing opponents to ring the alarm bell. However, the strongest argument involves data usage: because it offers improved connectivity, 5G will increase our data consumption. This consumption increase may well have the largest impact on the environment. The equipment manufacturer Ericsson estimates that the average 5G network user will consume 200 GB of data per month in 2025, which is far greater than the 6.7 GB currently consumed by 4G users in France 

The discussion that has begun should not lead us to simply reject 5G out of hand, but rather to question our relationship with digital and find ways to optimise data consumption, in order to collectively achieve digital restraint. This is particularly true given that the ARCEP (France’s telecommunications regulator) has already observed an increase in the amount of data used by French citizens year on year.   

The idea of restraint, defined as ‘moderate behaviour’ or ‘self control’, is not well understood when it comes to digital technology. To draw a parallel with cars, motorways and powerful engines make it possible to drive at 125 mph, but this does not mean that it is a good idea to do so. In the same way that vehicle speed has been regulated for reasons of road safety, with the advent of 5G, legislators should think about regulating excessive data use for environmental reasons.  

Unfortunately, it is this issue of data use that is the furthest down the road and the main source of concerns. It is these new uses, though, that should be driving forward the solutions to help us bring our digital consumption back into balance. Faced with the climate emergency, it is absolutely necessary to maintain controlled energy use as a target for the deployment of 5G.  


Catalysing innovation to create the conditions for resilient use 

This target needs to be defined now. The slow schedule for deployment of 5G means stakeholders will have time to come up with innovations that support this societal project. Sébastien Soriano, President of the ARCEP is fully aligned with this view and explains that we “absolutely have the time to create the conditions needed for green 5G, green networks and green digital.”  

It is up to us – citizens, associations and companies – to express our expectations, as well as to put forward proposals and innovate to create resilient use of 5G. This objective should be shared by all and companies in particular. They have a singular responsibility in this discussion, as they will be the main users of this technology. They should move towards controlled energy use and integrate environmental considerations in each project: in return, this deep-seated transformation will enhance their ability to innovate.  

5G promises systemic transformation and it is exactly for this reason that it has the potential to meet environmental expectations. The transition to 5G is an invitation for us to think about the environmental effects of digital, but it should also encourage us to imagine what the digital of tomorrow could do for the environment. How about the environmental costs of remote working and the increasing number of videoconferences, for example? Our data consumption has significantly increased in this area, but it has been compensated for many times over by the reduction in travel. 

In the field of digital, voices are speaking out to promote eco-design and what is known as ‘green IT’. From the outset, IT systems need to be designed to be sustainable and less data hungry. Taking this idea further, we could also imagine “unplugging” energy-hungry systems (such as a data centre with low energy efficiency or a poorly optimised computer language), in order to replace them with more environmentally friendly systems. This reasoning is leading French policymakers to think about ending 2G and 3G.  

5G should not be deployed to the detriment of environmental protection, which is an absolute priority today. However, it is not incompatible with this requirement and can even be a source of solutions. The crucial thing will be to integrate environmental considerations as soon as it is deployed and to innovate in order to come up with virtuous uses.  


By Paul Camicas, E-Commerce Practice Manager at SQLI and Stephen Demange, UX & E-Commerce Consultancy Director at SQLI