Luxury customer experience expectations can differ globally, and brands need to keep up

Americans love personalized service, Europeans just want it quickly and seamlessly, and in Asia and the Middle East, being ultra-attentive will get you far.
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· 4 min read

A consumer who walks into a luxury retail boutique looking to spend thousands of $$$ on a bag or a piece of clothing comes in with certain expectations that go beyond good quality and fit.

But there is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to global customer experience expectations.

In the US, for example, a customer may value a certain type of experience that customers in Europe or Asia might find unnecessary or useless. For a luxury retailer, knowing these differences is vital when entering an international market, especially if it’s a Western luxury brand entering an Eastern market, Katie Thomas, lead of Kearney’s internal think tank the Kearney Consumer Institute, told Retail Brew.

“You cannot sleep on the nuances of the local market, and what consumers are looking for there…how they shop, how they learn about new brands, what kind of products they actually want, what their lifestyle looks like—that could impact the assortment of what’s in that store or their custom products for certain markets,” she said.

Sonnet Frisbie, lead analyst for EMEA at Morning Consult, agreed, noting that while Americans value “extreme convenience,” where “efficiency and speed is part of American luxury,” in parts of the Middle East, “luxury may mean opulence, attentiveness, and a surfeit of time,” she told Retail Brew in an email, adding that while Westerners may expect to quietly browse products in a store, in the Middle East, they might be offered beverages, presented with several options, and engaged in extended conversations.

“For people from those cultures, a lack of attentiveness and engagement in a shopping experience may be seen as a deficit of status,” she said. “These kinds of cultural differences are really important to understand in any market, but especially for luxury brands who are, in some sense, selling an experience.”

Let’s get personal: These “ultra-personal” experiences are also common in parts of Asia, like India, where consumers are “WhatsApp-savvy” and luxury brands leverage that to maintain a close relationship with their customers, Swarooprani Muralidhar, director of research at Coresight Research’s India office, told Retail Brew over email.

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“They love to feel indulged and accorded their money’s worth—not just through the product they buy, but with the attention and care they receive from the sales staff, which customers tend to believe is reflective of the brand, or creates the brand experience for them,” she explained.

For Le Mill, a Mumbai-based multi-brand luxury retailer, WhatsApp accounted for 90% of its total sales when its store was closed during the pandemic and is a channel the brand continues to use even today as part of what founder Cecilia Morelli calls “high-end clienteling.”

“That includes anything from knowing when your customer is going on holiday, to sending clothes to her home and being willing to not have the clothes in the physical store for a couple of days so she has the luxury of trying them on,” Morelli previously told Retail Brew.

When in Europe: While you might think anyone would appreciate an attentive, personalized customer experience, you might also consider looking at Europe, where customers seem to want something else.

For Katia Berlin, VP of strategy and business transformation at Canada-based luxury outerwear brand Mackage, a key difference in selling through its Paris store versus the US or Canada, is that customers don’t want to feel smothered by the salesperson.

“In Paris, you don’t want your salesperson following you, but if you have a question, they want the answers, and if you don’t have the answers, you may have potentially lost [the sale],” she told Retail Brew. “So there, they have high expectations of product knowledge.”

But while there may be differences in customer experiences depending on where a brand is operating in the world, one expectation remains the same: seamlessness in both digital and physical customer experiences.

It’s something Mackage has focused on with its stores in Canada, the US, and Paris.

“They have the same experience from whether they call customer service, whether they speak to somebody in stores, or whether they’re online, and quick and easy,” Berlin said. “They don’t feel that they’re touching different channels. It’s a full end-to-end experience.”

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Retail Brew delivers the latest retail industry news and insights surrounding marketing, DTC, and e-commerce to keep leaders and decision-makers up to date.