Leading luxury into the digital world

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Have you ever walked into a luxury boutique and seen someone glued to the phone or taking multiple photos of the merchandise?

That was what made Sarment, a luxury lifestyle service provider, decide it was time to change the luxury game.

Chief executive Quentin Chiarugi says, “Everywhere you go in Asia, people are constantly on their mobile phones – even while they are in the most luxurious boutiques. Asians clearly want a different shopping experience and, four years ago, there was no single model that gave them digital access across all the luxury genres. Something new had to be created to cater to this need.”

The time was ripe for a digital disruption.

As CEO of what was then a luxury company active in providing premium products and exclusive services in a traditional business model, Mr Chiarugi and the company’s founder, Bertrand Faure Beaulieu, immediately took steps to migrate Sarment’s physical marketplace onto a digital platform.

The challenge: how to become the ultimate intermediary between luxury brands and high-end consumers.

“We were already the link between luxury brands and very high-profile individual clients. We just needed to translate this interaction into a protected online environment that was trusted by both sides,” he explains.

Since its inception in 2012, Sarment had built-up a large network of high-net-worth customers who want more than just another new luxury product.

“It wasn’t just about buying something new anymore. We saw that our clients wanted a whole experience around their purchase. This is where our concept of total and constant service around a product emerged. It meant a whole new definition of service.”

Sarment’s new digital platform combines a luxury marketplace together with exclusive personal services on a mobile app.

Mr Chiarugi points out that, in the current luxury landscape, online e-tailers do not offer personal services; and while there are many hundreds of so-called “concierge services” out there, none of them offers access to e-commerce marketplaces.

While Sarment had always offered its clientele both fine products and personal services, it had reached a point where the company could only handle so many in-person interactions given the very high service standards it wanted to maintain.

“The demand for personal services, in particular, has grown so dramatically in the last two years and technology was the only way forward. Going digital and automating as much of the interaction process as possible would enable Sarment to scale our business model to meet this booming demand, as well as give our clients a sustainable solution for on-demand access.

“We already had the service talent and all the necessary operations were in place. The trick was to circumvent all the industry barriers by creating a platform that could be flexible enough to adapt itself and evolve with both our clients and industry trends.”

Sarment works with luxury partners such as top-drawer fashion brands, five-star hotels, luxury carmakers, fine dining restaurants, art galleries and more. “Ambassadors” are constantly curating the platform’s offerings, providing specialist advice in all the consumer categories, and giving clients privileged access to luxury partners. Built over decades of relationships, this modus operandi is what makes Sarment’s proposition unique.

How has this been migrated onto a digital platform?

“Because of our closeness to the luxury brand partners, we identified their universal need to reach customers in a highly-controlled environment. These are companies that are very protective of their branding and reputation. The customers, meanwhile, wanted better service and are willing to share personal data with the right service provider in order to get an elevated experience.”

Sarment’s mobile app was, therefore, designed as a secure, personal gateway to the luxury world. It started investing seriously into artificial intelligence technology in 2016 and will roll out its digital offerings across the major Asian markets this year.

Says Mr Chiarugi: “If you are going to evolve your business model to meet the challenges of the new era, you cannot afford to skimp on tech investment. We are investing heavily but prudently to ensure our transformation stays relevant in the long term. Technology has raised very deep questions in our industry and, unless we tackle these with our best resources, we will not be able to sustain our existence.

“The luxury industry is extremely complex because it is heavily dependent on human interactions and the personal touch. Technological advancements, such as AI or blockchain, will pull the luxury industry into the new era and take security and personalisation to whole new levels.”

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