Hermès is not a luxury brand

We own a lot of Hermès. Bags, sneakers, lots of beautiful scarves. We have a full Balcons du Guadalquivir set of china (it was wedding gift). I have some of their cuff links, ties. I've bought those enamel bracelets as a gift. The more I think about it, the more we've bought or received as gifts. It's hard to go wrong with those orange boxes as a gift for my wife. Those Twily scarves... John Lobb chelsea boots (they're owned by Hermès). I estimate we own a few tens of thousands of Euros of Hermès stuff.

And yet, when I walk into an Hermès boutique, they make me feel like crap. Maybe it's because I'm wearing jeans and sneakers. Maybe it's because they hire to maximize snootiness. Maybe in retail once you work at Hermès, you've made it and you get to look down on everybody, including prospective customers.

It's a consistent brand experience. It's been the same in their store in St Tropez to their store in Houston. From their boutique in "the German Hamptons" Sylt (probably the worst) to the one at New Bond and Conduit in London. They suck at making me feel welcome.

I used to think this was a "CRM" problem. They didn't know who I was. I mean, once you see how much Hermès stuff I own, you'd realize I was a high-value returning customer. Ideally if I walked into the store, they'd realize that and drop the attitude. And you know, once you give them your address and tell them about your interest in a Birken or whatever else they artificially limit access to that year, they do kowtow to the cash.

But on reflection, that's the problem. The entire customer experience is contrary to the brand. Hermès wants to stand for craftsmanship and for beauty. And what they end up standing for is the subordination of the human to money. Instead of beauty, it's just... ugly.


A brand that is built on the unrelenting reference to deference to the sublime fails at the very moment where it has the potential to share that feeling with people. Instead it says: you are nothing.

Interbrand ranks Hermès at #32 with a brand value at $14 billion. As the world becomes more aware and more conscious, I'm short folks like Hermès unless they wake up to what's happening with consumers. Because this isn't a 1% or not issue. It's a broad, fundamental change in how consumers think about luxury.

It's becoming less about status signaling. Less about artificial exclusivity. Less about a big fat H on the belt. And much more about the core product and its surrounding services, transparency, purpose, environmental consciousness, inclusion, tolerance, optimism, ...

Lean Luxe wrote about the definition of modern luxury early last year. Part of that is rethinking the brand as a holistic customer experience. It's an equal relationship that is built with the customer. A brand is a conversation between people, not a half hour of being shouted at in a sensory deprivation chamber and then sold something because of a perceived feeling of lack.

So I'm sorry for picking on Hermès in particular. But even relative to folks like Louis Vuitton or Chanel, their customer experience has always been particularly horrible. And I'm happy that we're getting to a place where that's no longer seen as acceptable and where "luxury" is being redefined by digitally-native, vertically-integrated brands (DNVBs).

If you're working for Hermès and you'd like to build a better brand, come talk to us (max@sunstone.eu will find me). 
5 responses
Nice post. You could say something similar for lots of brands. Most sales associates don't even greet me when I walk in.
I agree... felt a bit bad for picking on Hermès in particular. But for me the experience there has always been the biggest contrast to what they purport to be. Follow-up was here: http://blog.maxniederhofer.com/hermes-is-a-luxu...
Sorry you didn't feel the love Max, but luxury brands don't cater to "high-value returning customer". They cater those “those who know”, who understand the subtleties, appreciate the craft, revel in the myth. The others (among whom "high value returning customers" such as yourself and half the Saudi Royal family) will follow by imitation. For more on that http://bit.ly/2IO9rAX
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