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- 23 Dec 2010
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When the Improbable Is Also Profitable


Oscar de la Renta’s CEO, Alex Bolen, explains why e-commerce works for the most unlikely of products and how social media serves the fashion brand’s designers and merchandisers

2680_alexbolen_mediumBecause today’s luxury goods consumers are present across numerous channels, being there for them wherever they may be is a crucial aspect of business to get right, says Alex Bolen, Oscar de la Renta’s chief executive – and the man responsible for the fashion brand’s foray into e-commerce and social media.

“Our presence online has suggested to me that consumers are very quickly adjusting their behaviour to new modes of shopping and we need to really be out at the forefront of it. We have had many surprise anecdotes from having our brand online, anything from a $50,000 chinchilla coat sale through our website to completing a sale for a bridal dress via Twitter.”

For many luxury fashion brands, e-commerce has still not yet eclipsed the performance of physical stores but a very significant consumer appetite is present.

 Our customer has taught us that there are moments where she will want to spend hours in a store shopping and there are moments where it’s a quick impulsive purchase 

“When we first began thinking about e-commerce three to four years ago I was very sceptical that our brand would not fare well as, at that time, we were not particularly optimized in products that don’t have size requirements. Our bread and butter product is a $4 – 5,000 cocktail dress which is very fit intensive, in fact the perfectly fitted garment is an important part of our brand and this is something that seemed to me didn’t jive well with an online shopping experience.”

“I was wrong about that. Surprisingly we have had a very good reaction to our fit intensive products online. What we found in retrospect is that customers will order two different sizes and keep one of them.”

“Our customer has taught us that there are moments where she will want to spend hours in a store shopping and there are moments where it’s a quick impulsive purchase – as a luxury brand it’s important to us that we are present wherever our customer is.”

According to Bolen, e-commerce currently drives only 10% of the luxury fashion brand but it is growing very quickly. In a relatively short period of time, he forecasts to become the brand’s most prolific door.

One of the ways that the brand is extending its outreach to drive customers back to the site is through social media. Oscar de la Renta has taken a very creative approach to emerging media platforms such as creating a unique online personality for the brand on Twitter called OscarPRgirl. The brand uses Twitter as a channel to provide unique insight into the world of Oscar de la Renta and to engage with entirely new audiences as well supporting the interests of existing ones.

“We want to broaden our array of services to our customers as much as possible and services include consuming content. Everyone who goes to is a potential shopper – maybe they are a shopper today maybe they are a shopper in six months. As a brand we need to figure out a way to engage them and we need to offer services for wherever that person may stand on the potential customer spectrum.”

“As a brand, we want to augment the initiatives online started by OscarPRgirl and speak more about what we are doing by explaining what our brand is about in more than just 140 characters. This means we want to extend our communications to areas such as rich video content and audio content.”

For a luxury brand like Oscar de la Renta, social media is proving to be much more than just a PR tool but one that is feeding business insights about the brand back to the company. “For Oscar de la Renta, social media has provided us with information on what our customers think, what they need, what they want and what they expect of us. From our jewellery offerings, accessories, scarves, etc. we have made many merchandising choices [and] many design choices based on feedback we got online.”

“I am a big believer that you have to listen to your customers, and the online world has given us a new way to listen to our customers and we have learned to position ourselves based on what we hear.”