We are talking about Luisa Via Roma, commonly known as an online store and a successful one at that. Of course, there are also those who associate the name with the concept store in Florence, a family run business since the 1930s. From a traditional store to an e-commerce, there are few as successful as LUISAVIAROMA.COM, and it is Andrea Panconesi, grandson of Luisa Jaquin, who is the man behind the brand
LUISAVIAROMA.COM is often used as a case study in terms of format and strategy for a successful online retailer.
How do you manage the concept store, websites and all the different types of services? Something you mentioned that was interesting was the format and technology, that you like to provide something completely different.
Technology is the tool, the component that allows you to enjoy the shopping experience. However, it’s only one part of the platform. The strategy, not the technology, is what helps you develop the format.
Could you talk to us about the history? At what point did you consider launching LUISAVIAROMA.COM?
The e-commerce began in 1999. At the time, Google was this big, data platform and everybody was using Yahoo. It was very complicated and very few people understood what the Internet was about. I started using the Internet, with my phone, in 1995, and had no idea. Fortunately, I was able to come up with a solution based on the input of a person I was working with. I discovered how to solve our largest problem, which was how to keep in touch with foreign customers.
In Florence, there are a lot of Americans, Germans, English, French, etc. Clients who would come once a year to visit their children who studied here or on vacation for the spring season, and then again the following year. Each time they visited we would provide them with catalogues and photographs of the new collections so they could order over the phone or by mail. You can imagine how excited I was when I realized we had an opportunity to create a website, to show everybody everything at the same time.
The website began as a private service reserved for customers with a password –more like a membership.
At the time, your store already had a very strong VIP client base?
Yes, of course. The store opened in the 1930s and is now in its third generation. This is the reason why, when we launched the e-commerce, our customers where those who physically came into the store. The website began as a private service reserved for customers with a password –more like a membership. You had to be a client of the store in order to be given access to our website abroad. It stayed like this for about three or four years before we began to develop the technology and information. The next step was to open it up to everybody, provide a system where the sales assistants could access the online store, which is directly connected to our warehouse. The idea was to coordinate between the online store and concept store to keep them at the same pace. This proved to be extremely important in terms of future development.
We needed to educate our clients on how to navigate the web, because many didn’t know how to.
At what time did this happen?
It was 2004/2005 when we launched the service to the public. We needed to educate our clients on how to navigate the web, because many didn’t know how to.
You tried to transform their mindset?
Yes, we work to educate our clients in store about how to order their size with the system online. This way, the next time they want to do it, from home or from somewhere else, they know how to. Today, there are a number of clients who find the website extremely convenient. They are able to use the website because we taught them how.
Is it for this reason that you think the store should be more of a showcase.
Absolutely. The concept store is extremely important and we are very careful when it comes to merchandising and layout. Everybody comes to see our windows, and we continue to put so much effort into them for this reason. For example, we have had artists come and customize the window. It is our business card, even more so than the website, because the store has a reputation, it’s what we are known for. These days things are changing, we are known more for our online presence. In spite of this, we do still have customers from Australia, Japan, Hong Kong and all around the world visit Florence and say ‘Oh, let’s go see Luisa Via Roma’.
Naturally, the website is more famous now. The new generation know more about the website than the store.
It’s true. My son is 16 hates going shopping in stores, he doesn’t want to waste his time and doesn’t want shop assistants giving him suggestions. You know, when you enter a store, there is always someone who thinks they known more than you do, giving you their opinion even if you don’t ask for it.
As I said before, it’s not the technology that makes the difference, it’s the formula, the workmanship and the organization of the company that makes it different.
Nowadays, an increasing number of fashion brands are launching their own online store. How do you see this competition?
Yes, the world is very big and is expanding, and so is the market. Many brands have taken advantage of this opportunity and are launching their own online stores. As I said before, it’s not the technology that makes the difference, it’s the formula, the workmanship and the organization of the company that makes it different. I am used to buying and selecting, as are the people who have worked for me for the past 20,30,40 years. We know exactly what to choose and what our clients want. They want a curated selection of the best designers, they don’t want to see everything. If they wanted that they would go to the brand’s website. To start with, they want to see the best pieces from the top collections Secondly, they want to see our whole selection for the season, not only what is available now. Because I am so passionate about fashion, I want to take control of my own wardrobe every season. I want to see online what I saw on the runway six months ago. Even if I have to wait one or two months, I always make sure I’m buying the right things.
So you put everything on the web?
Yes, from the very beginning. Currently we have 30,000 different items on our website, including menswear, womenswear and childrenswear. They are all a part of our selection. This is something that nobody is capable of doing because our way of working is completely different.
So they can pre-order?
Yes, it’s a big part of our business. We are the only company that does this. Many of our clients want everything and want it now. Because our selection includes a lot of limited edition and special items are clients are willing to wait. Many of them also like to do their shopping all at once and buy for the whole season.
The plan isn’t to open 100 stores in the future or to only limit things to digital. The plan is to bring the two elements together.
The fashion industry has under gone a lot of big changes over the past few years, from physical stores and e-commerce to pop-up stores. In what ways are customers’ needs changing?
To start with, we need to foresee the needs of our customers. We can’t wait for them to ask, our job is to be prepared and already have what they are looking for. Secondly, in the future I see that the relationship between the physical and the digital will continue to evolve. We started with the website 10 years ago and at the same time began educating our clients about how to utilize the digital aspect in store. The plan isn’t to open 100 stores in the future or to only limit things to digital. The plan is to bring the two elements together. On the physical side, we combine art, music and fashion with magazines who shoot and collaborate with us. Once this is done we mirror it on a digital level. At least 15% of our visitors arrive this way, many of them new customers. This has also helped us to established a lot of exclusive and high-profile content, which is vital.
On our end, we are providing content – content that hopefully attracts people.
You have been working with fashion bloggers and social media for a long time. Are you quite restrictive with your content, or are you flexible? Since it’s directly related to the image of your brand, do you start a project and then find the blogger or do you see them as a contributor?
I think there are so many different types [of bloggers]. Some are content providers, others are platforms and others are big and small businesses. There are so many, it seems to change every day. There is always something new or somebody who has a new idea of how we can promote sales. That’s the fantastic thing. On our end, we are providing content – content that hopefully attracts people. Some people work based on hype, but it’s not stable, it’s a waste of time.
Why and how did you come up with the idea of working with bloggers?
It came about by chance, like everything else – our website began because I didn’t want to travel the world watching shows and buying 8 months out of the year, my children were young and I wanted to stay with them. I didn’t want to retire and the shop was already running itself, so what could I do? I hired a series of engineers and taught them about fashion, which was a foreign concept for them. We started in 2010, with a big party to celebrate the 10 year anniversary of the online store and invited our friends ,bloggers, magazines and clients. It was January, so we decorated the store with the new collections so all of the bloggers and magazine could see them in person for the first time. They were excited to see what they had seen on the runway 6 months ago and started taking photos. Overall, there was a really positive response, so we decided to do it again.
If you play by the rules and do things the correct way sooner or later results will come.
So it was a big party to celebrate the 10 year anniversary, it wasn’t planned at all?
Exactly, it wasn’t planned. Every success we have had has been based on emotion, on chance. It just happens, it’s not planned. I don’t like to plan things, I like to make things happen and live my life. If you play by the rules and do things the correct way sooner or later results will come.
Originally published: Numéro China Issue 52
Editor: Karchun Leung