LifestyleDr Amber Martin-Woodhead

The Luxury Flagship Store: Exclusivity and Experiential Retailing

In recent years, an incredible growing appetite for luxury consumption has arisen in the emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China (the BRIC economies) and more generally in Asia and the Middle East. Luxury retailers are responding to growing demand for their products in emerging markets through dramatic international store-expansion strategies. It is predicted that 85 percent of all new luxury retail stores will be opening in emerging markets over the coming decade.

The Luxury Flagship Store

One way of achieving a strong geographical presence, in the wake of complex geographical expansion, is through the symbolic and authoritative presence of the flagship store, which acts as the material expression of the brand, showcasing the entire brand story under one roof. Flagships are therefore used as a key entry-to-market strategy in emerging markets in the early stages of luxury retailer's business development and as a method of gaining direct entry into, and demonstrating commitment to, foreign markets.

Prestige and exclusivity

The territorial claim of the flagship is reproduced through the imposing nature of the size of flagship stores which are intentionally larger than their non-flagship counterparts to show their premier status. Whilst their location in prestigious retail sites luxury serves to increase exclusivity and prestige.

Notions of exclusivity, rarity and expense are emphasised further throughout the retailing tactics employed to encase the products for sale with auratic like qualities. This is achieved through the display of products as 'treasures' displayed behind glass, in sleek cabinets, placed delicately on pedestals and lit directly - echoing the artistic tradition of exhibition space, emphasising the sacredness of the products and ultimately the brand.

Experiential retailing

Consumers in flagship stores can expect to be met with a consumption experience intended to epitomise the company ethos and immerse the consumer in a complete branded experience, thus imprinting the consumer experience, not just the product. It is in this way that luxury retailers expand the notion of luxury as being above and beyond ownership to encompass the sensory experience of luxury.

This manifests itself as a form of immersive experiential retailing that extends to create an all-encompassing brand lifestyle experience far beyond the mere purchase of fashion items. For example, the flagship Chanel store in Tokyo has its own restaurant that is intended to evoke the elegance of Coco Chanel. At the Dolce & Gabbana flagship store in London there is a traditional Sicilian barber where male customers can have a shave and a haircut. Kenzo in Paris offer a massage service and in Cartier's Paris flagship store customers can design their own made to order perfumes. These offerings are designed to create luxury, hedonistic, pleasurable, multisensory consumption experiences that enable consumers to interact with, experience and 'touch' the brand. 

These physical examples of brand experience and exclusivity embedded in the flagship store, are difficult to replicate on a virtual platform online. Therefore, despite the rise of extensive online retailing, the flagship store remains as a crucial medium for communicating brand messages and asserting retailer dominance in an ever increasing virtual retailscape. The maintenance of their physical auratic power is increasingly important as luxury retailers continue to compete in global markets, particularly in emerging economies and in new luxury markets where the symbolic resonance of the brand may not yet be well established. It is in these conditions of global expansion and competition that luxury retailers must maintain their brand dominance and enchantment.

This is article is based on the book chapter written by Professor Louise Crewe, University of Nottingham and Dr Amber Martin-Woodhead - titled 'Looking at luxury: consuming luxury fashion in global cities' in the 'Handbook on Wealth and the Super-Rich'.  If you'd like to know more about the sector and/or our Life & Style Practice please contact Michelle.Coombes@2cv.com and Chris.Bates@2cv.com.