Interview on digital disruption in luxury

Demystifying Digital in Luxury


Kai Schmidhuber has top executive digital experience in four multinational corporations, including Henkel, DHL, Fraport and L’OREAL for which he has ignited as Chief Digital Officer the cross-brand digital transformation of the company, focusing on e-commerce, digital customer relationships, big data analytics and innovation. As the acting chairman of one of the largest marketing clubs in Germany, Kai Schmidhuber is also a multiple founder, consultant and speaker. We are proud to announce Kai as one of the keynote speakers at the upcoming TREND event that will take place on Thursday the 4th of April at the Ace hotel.

His mantra?

With change comes opportunity.

1. Kai, tell us a bit more about your background as Chief Digital Officer in the world’s beauty leader in retail & luxury. What’s your approach to digital.

KS: If I’ve learned anything in the past 15 years, it’s that I don’t want too much at once and really approach every topic from the basics. Sometimes I’m the spoilsport. What I have also taken with me is that I don’t want to use a template – every company is different, everyone needs their own approach to digital transformation. But what I would like is for us to move from best practice to a stronger culture of fails and errors. If we make mistakes even more visible, we and others have the chance to learn from them – and also to gain an understanding of the fact that not everything must and can function immediately and perfectly.

2. You are very much known for your opinion demystification approach to digital – can you explain what does it consist of?

KS: My personal mission is to really demystify all aspects of digitalisation. There are so many magicians and PowerPoint jugglers running around with Buzzword cannons – they are disturbing the digital transformation in companies because they make it a secret science and want to establish nonsensical expertise through constructed complexity. I say: away with it. I mediate digital transformation like my grandmother does a cake recipe. Ingredients, instructions and a few tips from REAL, personal experience to succeed.

3. Do you think that digitalisation in luxury could be a “black hole investment”? And why?

KS: Not at all! If I have the need to get from A to B, there are basically different options available to me. I can go by car and for that, I can rent a car. I can also buy a car. Or I can use the bicycle because I want to do something for my health at the same time.
That’s the way it is with digitalisation in luxury. The trend is towards the Bentley when perhaps a lively small car can do the job. In some cases, the more fun-oriented skateboard might be the best solution. Because luxury is not about having the most expensive but having the best.

4. How would you advise board members and executives about weighing up digital investment options?

KS: My immediate advice: do not form a digital strategy. Do not make digital investments for the sake of digital. You only need one strategy – and that is your business strategy, fully focused on the customer. I think that a sustainably correct decision, that both reflects customer needs and boosts business, requires full transparency of options and alternatives. And this transparency simply does not exist today. The provider landscape of consulting and technology solutions is an oligopoly. My second advice would be to reach out for support in solving this information deficit. This is often where I come into play.

5. What does luxury have in common across industries when it comes to digital?

The greatest common feature – and at the same time the greatest threat – is that luxury goods are no longer real luxury goods in times of internet and e-commerce. At least not in the conventional sense of “high street”. I can get them anywhere today. They become comparable. And there are crooks who have developed a very lucrative grey market business here, eroding prices and brands at the same time. This requires good, clear answers in digital space. No matter which industry you are in.

6. In brief, could you summarise what will you be discussing at the upcoming TREND Digital Disruption Luxury Fashion in April 2019?

I will give an honest, unvarnished look behind the scenes of the digitalisation of luxury goods in various industries. Not based on research, but on my own personal experience as a senior executive. It won’t be a “best practice” show, but an honest and authentic presentation on big fails and valuable lessons learned.