Spotlight on Women in Retail: Lanita Layton, Luxury and Brand Consultant

Lanita Layton has spent over two decades in the retail industry and she’s no stranger to the preconceived notions about what it means to work in retail.

“I was up against this several times over the years, more than several, where people would say, ‘Oh, you're just in retail,’” she said. “The best you can do about that is don't say too much and just prove how important it is. It's done very well for me and for many, many other people, too”

A luxury retail and brand consultant, Layton has mastered the art of helping brands capture the magic of a luxury shopping experience and being able to offer that to all their customers both in-store and online.

“The customer is really savvy. They’re incredibly demanding for all the right reasons. The demands have shifted from I know I want a pretty dress or a beautiful suit to give me the story,” she said. “It's about the storytelling, it's about the authenticity of the brand. It's about the overall experience - if they don't feel that they're getting the best experience, you won't see them again.”

Cultivating the customer-brand relationship and that incomparable shopping experience be it in-store or digitally is what ensures the customer keeps coming back for more. Because of the emphasis on the overall experience, when it comes to luxury, retailers have not been quite as quick to shift towards digital retail spaces, Layton explained.

“I don't think you can get away from the physical experience of brick and mortar,” she said. “You don't see the same sort of percentage of business online for luxury that you do with other brands and other tiers in the marketplace.”

However, this doesn’t mean that some retailers haven’t been able to pivot their strategy to meet the needs of our increasingly digitized world. COVID-19 especially has served as a major push to go digital for luxury brands simply because sanitary restrictions meant the temporary shutdown of non-essential services and retailers in a lot of cases, particularly in Canada.

“It's accelerated tremendously over the past few years,” Layton explained. “Certainly, COVID impacted greatly and accelerated online business even more, so as we know, it was a necessity for many of these brands at that point.”

While many smaller businesses and retailers saw their time come to an end during the pandemic and as the average consumer took a financial hit as a result, luxury retail didn’t see the same kind of decline in their customer base as most other retailers.

“However we feel about it, the top one percent actually gained during the pandemic,” said Layton. “They’re doing just fine for the most part, so that's certainly impacted luxury in a good way. If you could have that relationship continuing with the customer, for example curbside pickup, that business was still very, very strong and will continue to be strong.”

Not only has the means of delivering the shopping experience itself been adapted to better suit our needs. Many brands have turned to innovative ways of advertising their products and selling the luxury fantasy.

“Balenciaga with a 3D billboard, that was absolutely outstanding,” she said. “You know, you're seeing now NFTs coming about, where did that come from? In no time at all, and Dolce Gabbana just had a record breaking NFT. You know, the world is changing so quickly, and the luxury world is embracing it.”

Another thing the luxury world is embracing? Gen Z, of course.

“What was really important and continues to be now, is the Gen Z and millennial, for example,” she explained. “It's how do you make [luxury] accessible for them? This is where, actually, payment methods have become an important piece of it.”

A number of brands have introduced “buy now, pay later” options allowing consumers to purchase products and pay over a period of time, typically four payments over eight weeks. Options like Afterpay, Klarna, Sezzle and PayBright offer consumers the option to offset the upfront cost of a luxury item, making it easier to pull the trigger on that big ticket item they’ve been after.

In addition to new ways of paying, brands are also diving into the sort of “entry level,” lower price-point items that give consumers a taste of what it feels like to by luxury and will keep them coming back for more. Think baseball caps and scarves and limited edition drops in collaboration with other brands, like the Supreme Oreos.

It's a brand experience, always keeping the brand top of mind and how you start to develop that relationship,” she said. “Somebody can say, ‘Look, I have a piece of Dolce Gabbana’ with chocolates, or the ‘Supreme’ Oreos.”

Making sure the customer is centered in every facet of the shopping experience through these various channels is Layton’s idea of the ideal future of luxury retail.

“In an ideal world, it would be a 360 approach to the customer experience all the way through from the beginning piece with the research, the investigation, the selection, the retention,” she explained. “An everything, all the way through circular approach, connecting all the pieces together. Whether it's digital, whether it's in the store, the experience needs to be the same. It's got to be this delight for the customer--a wow experience, no matter how you're interacting with this brand.”

Layton was able to share some of these ideas and more earlier on this semester, when she presented to the Master of Management in Retailing students on luxury. Students were fortunate enough to have her visit and make herself available for questions, which is a vital part of the student experience as it allows the students to make connections between real world examples and the course material as well as ask questions to further their understanding of a concept.

MMR Program

Learn more about the McGill Master of Management in Retailing Program


The Future of Retail

The Future of Retail

The MMR program has been made possible thanks to generous donations from Aldo Bensadoun, and is offered in partnership with the Bensadoun School of Retail Management.

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