Luxury Retail Leaders Discuss Brand Identity and Client Relationships
On April 25, the Georgetown Retail & Luxury Association (GRLA) and the McDonough School of Business Stanton Distinguished Leaders Series hosted the third annual Global Luxury Summit on the challenges, achievements, and future of e-commerce, with a keynote speech from style icon Aerin Lauder and a panel discussion with online retail executives Andrew Brooks, Jocelyn Gailliot, and Olga Vidisheva. Senior Anthony Fadil (B’17) moderated the panel in his final event as president of GRLA.
Drawing from personal experiences in online retail, the executives addressed the importance of an authentic brand identity and how to foster a fruitful client relationship online. Each panelist, as well as Lauder, launched their ventures within the last five years.
Andrew Brooks, a Forbes 2017 30 Under 30 Retail honoree, started the luxury accessory retail brand VIANEL in 2013, after being unable to find a stylish card holder. Jocelyn Gailliot, CEO of Tuckernuck, pioneered the first online retailer that focused on all-American prep style in 2012. The third panelist was a Forbes 2015 30 Under 30 Retail honoree, Olga Vidisheva, who launched Shoptiques in 2012 with the vision of connecting small boutiques to clients across the world.
Lauder — whose keynote was lauded as “inspiring” by the audience during the Q&A period — established the luxury lifestyle brand AERIN in 2012 with products ranging from fragrance to home decor. Lauder described her brand mission as “bringing beauty to lives of women everywhere, and every place they touch.”
This commitment to beauty is reminiscent of another well-known Lauder. Estée Lauder, Aerin’s grandmother, was a pioneer in beauty products. As eponym for the renowned Estée Lauder Companies, Estée was known for personally applying products on prospective consumers, and “knew how to grab [the consumer’s] full attention,” her granddaughter said.
“Growing up, I would watch Estée connect with people and talk passionately about her products,” said Lauder. It was one of Estée’s goals for her children and grandchildren to grow up and “shepherd the pursuit of beauty to new wonders.” Lauder also learned from Estée “the courage to take risks, to think outside the box, and the importance of taking the time to know and interact with your consumer.” Lauder used the same pillars to build her brand AERIN.
While reflecting on their experiences with their brands, Lauder and the panelists highlighted important components to building brands for e-commerce — authenticity and putting the client first.
“It’s very important to have a point of difference and be authentic,” said Lauder, noting that “consumers are savvier than ever… they know when something is authentic.” As clients buy into the lifestyle of a brand, the brand must be “a reflection of you… it has the be the best it can possibly be” to not let the customer down, she added.
Tuckernuck’s Gailliot heralded authenticity as the way for clients to “build trust in a lifestyle.”
In an industry dominated by retail giants, authenticity helps smaller brands stand out. As a means of conveying the authenticity of a brand, the client-patron relationship becomes even more important.
Brooks remarked that “the key for e-commerce is to have some type of relationship with the customer.” In today’s digital age, technology and social media can serve as tools to better serve the client. Lauder pointed out that “much in the same way that Estée used to apply makeup on her customers… platforms like Instagram allow you to have this one-on-one connection with consumers at scale” by showcasing the brand’s lifestyle. Since launching its Instagram account, AERIN’s web traffic has grown five-fold.
Having a relationship with the client is beneficial to the brand, Vidisheva said. Customers “are the best advocates of what they want and what’s coming… they’ll tell you what you need to expand to.”
In the opening of her keynote, Lauder commended the sharp-looking students in the audience, recalling that she had been in their shoes not so long ago. They might be students today, but many will pursue careers in e-commerce and shape the future of the industry, she said.
— Theo Symonds