There was once a belief amongst some fashion houses that internet trading would damage their brand value. But while much of the industry has been resisting e-commerce for the last 15 years, many high-end retailers are now finding the platform inescapable. Earlier this year, luxury holding company PPR signed a deal with internet mail order retailer Yoox to manage mono-brand online stores for luxury designers such as Saint Laurent, Sergio Rossi and Alexander McQueen. And as premium brands move towards a clicks and mortar approach to business, HR departments will need to learn to adapt to keep ahead of the curve.

At one time it was questionable whether customers would buy in to the luxury retail experience without plush dressing rooms, the mandatory glass of champagne and purchases gift wrapped in satin ribbons. But changes in lifestyle mean that online shopping is now an attractive prospect for cash-rich time-poor professionals. And as quality brands inevitably shift their focus towards online sales, HR directors will be tasked with the challenge of managing organisational structures within the e-commerce business model, and ensuring that their talent is educated to ensure consistency across the retail platforms.

It is imperative that the employer brand is protected throughout the transition to multi-channel retailer. The core ethos of the company should remain intact and the workplace culture should not be compromised. As organisations evolve, it is easy for key employee messages to be lost in the noise or overlooked. But by focusing on cultivating the atmosphere that has led to previous growth and successes, HR departments can best ensure on-going staff satisfaction, attraction and retention.

It may be challenging to adapt to a change in organisational structures and truly understand the functions within them. But everyone involved in marketing high-end fashion in the virtual world should portray a consistent message of luxury and desirability despite the intangible nature of the medium. It is the HR department’s responsibility to fully understand the incoming roles and where they fit within the business’s common objectives. It is only through doing this that HR professionals are able to offer new recruits the on-going help and support they need to not only add value to the business, but also to realise their own potential.

Online retail operations are often fast paced with an international perspective. But high levels of customer service should be consistently met, and all employees – from online merchandisers to technical support staff – should undergo sufficient training to ensure this is achievable. In a web-based sales environment even those behind the scenes are on the frontline. And key USPs of the in-store experience should be mirrored online to ensure that consumer’s expectations are met.

This is an exciting time for luxury retail. And experienced and ambitious HR managers with a keen interest in e-commerce will find increasing opportunities for career progression. We can’t ignore the rise in online consumers seeking out premium products and superior service. Only the stores that are able to cater to changing consumer needs will thrive – and HR professionals who are able to maintain their brand’s equity through careful talent management can help ensure its longevity. 

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