BY MARK KEAST

According to the Luxury Institute, the continued maturation of e-commerce models and the potential irrelevancy of the fashion industry are several of the market trends at play that will help shape the luxury industry in 2020.

“Most luxury goods and services brands continue to operate as if they are still living in a world that is fairly predictable and moves at a reasonable pace,” says Milton Pedraza, CEO of the Luxury Institute. “They need to remember that they are dealing with the most educated, sophisticated, mobile, and demanding clients on the planet.

“Fortunately, the vast majority of affluent clients continue to evolve in their purpose and values toward a more humanistic, sustainable and equitable world. They are driving rapid change with their innovations, investments, and behaviours. The luxury brands that will succeed in the new roaring 20’s will match, or exceed, those values. They will become so agile that they can use their creativity and innovation to address the stated and unstated needs of the affluent, and society at large, in real time.”

The Luxury Institute, based in New York, conducted a crowdsourcing research project with its Global Luxury Expert Network (a growing network of high level and more experienced management representatives from dozens of luxury premium goods and services companies) at the end of 2019 to dive into an exploration of key trends that will reshape the luxury industry in 2020. Here are a few of those trends:

1. Chinese affluent consumers determine global luxury goods brand winners and losers

Chinese luxury consumers are diplomatically, yet unflinchingly, asserting their influence on luxury goods and services brands like never before. Confident in their intellectual, economic and cultural place in the world, Chinese urban elites are making their voices heard through their social media activities and purchasing decisions.

If 2019 was the year when Chinese consumers demanded respect, and no longer tolerated cultural luxury brand insensitivity, 2020 is the year where their sheer numbers, and unmatched sophistication, will command the ultimate respect. Collectively, they will determine which brands meet their standards of true compelling luxury in 2020 and will strongly influence which brands deserve the attention and the loyalty of the global luxury consumer.

2. California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) triggers US federal privacy legislation that leads to innovation in privacy and personalization, with luxury leading the way

While Europeans have led in consumer privacy protection, the tipping point for innovation in the personal data economy will be triggered by the California Consumer Privacy Act’s (CCPA) impact on the world’s largest free economy.

In order to standardize privacy laws, the US government will address privacy in 2020. At first, brands that are led by their conservative lawyers and short-sighted advisors, will assume, due to legislation, that less personal data will be shared. However, just as auto safety laws enabled greater distances at much faster speeds, data privacy legislation will accelerate the scope and velocity of personal data sharing, especially between trusted luxury goods and services brands and their consumers. There will be a slow build at first, as the world reluctantly recognizes that data is a personal asset whose substantial power can only be unleashed when individuals control and share their rich personal data with consent.

From there, look for a personal data economy gold rush as entrepreneurs and investors pile on and invent innovative new business models to help consumers aggregate, store, manage, mine, share, sell, and exchange their data. The evolution will take several years, but look for innovative luxury goods and services brands to begin the journey in 2020. This is due to the fact that luxury brands are among the most socially responsible on the planet, and they need to build long-term, deep, trusted relationships with affluent consumers. Look for this life-changing trend to radically transform the global economy in the 2020’s for the better.

3. Luxury retail recognizes that technology alone is not effective without emotional intelligence education and enhancing the employee experience

Luxury retail brands continued to focus on technology and analytics in 2019, enchanted with all the new AI toys from supply chain to in-store customer experience. Technology is definitely one critical element of success. However, the return on investment of technology remains elusive due to dire lack of integration with the human beings who use it daily. This is one major reason some top-tier luxury CEOs exited in 2019. Enamoured with technology rather than investing in their people, their financial results disintegrated. Many more will exit in 2020.

Luxury Institute field research and inquiries show that a growing number of brands now recognize that to retain their store talent, given low traffic, store closings, faster growth in e-commerce, and added laborious work to support omni-channel integration, they must rethink employee emotional intelligence education while creating store environments that make employees feel special too. Call centres and online teams will have to do the same. Look for many more brands to focus on emotional intelligence education and employee experience optimization projects in order to retain their best talent in 2020.

4. Luxury health and wellness evolve into luxury medicine

A great deal of the growth in the nascent premium health and wellness industry has been focused on basics such as exercise classes, personal training, yoga and meditation, massages and skincare treatments.

In 2020, look for new offerings that are rooted in luxury lifestyle medicine such as innovative diet concepts, effective nutraceuticals, medical treatments such as hyperbaric oxygen therapy, etc. While many have been around for some time, they are now being embraced and enhanced by hospitals and clinics and are finding new applications at scale.

With an aging population looking for solutions to deteriorating health, and a younger population looking to avoid the long-term effects of aging, look for the luxury health care industry to begin its meteoric growth in 2020. Coming right behind these are evidence-based drugs, treatments, and therapies that will have a more profound impact on health and wellness, and, finally, healthy life extension.

5. Online luxury marketplaces face their moment of truth

Uber, WeWork, Peloton and other digital pretenders triggered a major reality check in 2019 by demanding to be valued like software companies, despite the fact that they are simply selling commodity products or services. They face intense competition, poor economics, and razor-thin margins.

The online luxury marketplaces will face similar circumstances in 2020. They all sell the same products, face intense competition, have low-margin business models, depend on discounting luxury brands to acquire/retain customers, all while accumulating losses. The model is broken. Even mighty Amazon teaches us that were it not for its massively profitable server services business, its online retail business would be a low margin business, even at scale.

As the largest top-tier luxury brands complete their e-commerce maturation, and face their own challenges with sustainability, store rationalization, and other issues in 2020, expect them to de-emphasize luxury online marketplaces. Slowly but surely, the top brands will realize that they must control the customer relationship, optimize supply chains, and control pricing and distribution. Most online luxury marketplaces will have to come up with new and profitable growth opportunities, or face irrelevance. 2020 is the year when all luxury retail marketplaces will face the fact that business model is destiny.

6. Luxury goods consolidation becomes more surgical as the number of great acquisition targets dwindle

While luxury consolidation will continue, major buyers will become even more selective in 2020.

The brilliant acquisition of Tiffany & Co by LVMH has inspired the speculation that the luxury goods industry will continue to consolidate rapidly. However, this acquisition is a unique event. Few stellar luxury goods brands exist with strong control of their production, distribution, pricing, and customer relationships, and can command a price of 4X revenues. There are very few entities that can afford to pay that much in the luxury industry, and even fewer that have the confidence in their skills to make the investment pay.

American luxury retail groups have yet to demonstrate that they can grow their acquisitions profitably. Most of the independent candidates that are left are smaller brands whose earnings have stalled, and many have management teams that lack the skills to reinvent themselves in the new luxury world. The risk for buyers is acquiring brands that are beyond repair in this treacherous market. The risk of overpayment is huge.

Instead, look for smart global luxury goods buyers to diversify into faster-growing, higher-margin, futuristic luxury services. LVMH has diversified into hospitality with Belmond and Cheval Blanc, and Francois-Henri Pinault’s Groupe Artemis has nurtured Christie’s and Ponant skillfully. Health and wellness are examples of profitable, growing categories in which to diversify. There will be many new categories of luxury services where luxury groups can apply their customer relationship skills. We will see the smart money begin to diversify into these categories in 2020.

7. The business of fashion confronts irrelevancy head on

Fashion has always seen itself at the vanguard of all luxury goods and services categories. That has been the case until recently. However, fashion is still self-focused and product-centric, not customer-centric. In 2020, other luxury experiences such as technology, beauty, travel, gastronomy, wines and spirits, health and wellness are deemed by all generations, and especially the affluent, as far more important to invest their precious time and formidable purchasing power.

The fashion industry is confronting major issues such as inclusivity, radically changing consumer tastes, intense competition, massive discounting, overproduction, labor treatment, talent retention, and major sustainability challenges. With a few major exceptions, primarily within the brands that belong to the groups, most fashion brands, and their fashion media promoters, are seen as far less relevant by consumers.

In 2020, the long tail of luxury fashion brands must address the needs of affluent consumers head on. The empty and half-baked storytelling that fashion agencies invent to try to placate the demands of demanding consumers are no longer enough. Luxury fashion brands must reinvent their business models with a clear difference, and optimize their value proposition through compelling customer experiences and emotionally intelligent service that complement their innovative products in order to thrive in 2020.