Imagine luggage that weighs itself, charges your phone, opens via fingerprint, and tells you exactly where it is at all times. This is no fantasy — it’s Pluggage, the latest invention more than two years in the making by French luggage maker Delsey.
“Millennials want to be in control and connected with other people and their luggage,” said Guenther Trieb, the group CEO of Delsey who calls Pluggage “the first super connected luggage for super connected millennials.” Since showcasing the prototype at CES 2015, the company has been crowdsourcing opinions on the top features that Pluggage will launch with, through a voting mechanism on their website.
Celebrating their 70th anniversary this year, Delsey has been constantly driving innovation from its Parisian headquarters. The company started out producing camera bags, and evolved with travellers’ needs as train, ship and air travel came along.
In 1970, Delsey created the first hardside luggage, and later introduced the first luggage on wheels. A more recent innovation is an ultra secure zipper that thwarts potential thieves from getting into your bag. Today, the company has over 45 active patents, 20 of which are related to design.
Over a coffee at Cafe Gray Deluxe in Hong Kong, Trieb shared with us the latest trends in luggage, the role of e-commerce in retail and the key to balancing online and offline sales.
Retail in Asia (RiA): How important is Asia and the China market to you?
Guenther Trieb (GT): Ten years ago, our business was basically in two countries: France and the US. Today, we have a business which is about 30% Europe, 30% US and 30% Asia. Since I started in 2013, this is the fourth year of double digit growth on a global scale. Asia is our youngest region with a turnover of 70 million, and we have very strong growth in China.
RiA: What is the role of e-commerce for Delsey?
GT: It’s huge. E-commerce is the biggest dynamic we currently see. Five years ago, we were selling mostly through one channel: wholesale in department stores. Now, we are a multi-channel brand, particularly in Asia, where we started about five years ago.
Now we have added some of our own retailing, brand stores, and most importantly we have added e-commerce. In China, we are selling thru Tmall and JD.com and I believe we are still scratching the surface.
RiA: How has the luggage industry changed in the past few years?
GT: When I started with Delsey in January 2013, one of my first visits was here in Hong Kong and 80% of our business was basically soft, black boring boxes, and 20% of it was hardside. Today, it has flipped.
In Hong Kong, 80% of our business is hardside with great designs and many colours. This is a much faster change than we’ve seen anywhere else. Europe is behind that with a 60/40 split and behind them is the US.
RiA: How is Delsey keeping up with the trends?
GT: Innovation is not only with products but with shopping too. E-commerce is clearly for younger people and the majority of them are women, from what we can see. A trend that we are really excited about is — we are launching a complete range of backpacks, which is probably the biggest trend we’ve seen recently.
From business to leisure, we have a line that is clearly for females, one for males, and a neutral one. We’ve always had luggage in Europe, but this was really developed here for Chinese millennials and we will launch it on Tmall. It’s our first launch where we go straight onto e-commerce, as it’s where the shoppers are.
RiA: Do you see brand stores phasing out?
GT: In Hong Kong, we closed two stores that used to be primarily for Chinese consumers. We saw a slower footfall, so we closed them and opened a new store at the airport instead, which became our bestseller right away. Now, we are opening in Macau at The Parisian.
We still see double digit growth in HK and in China. E-commerce is not necessarily fighting retail. I’m very convinced that if we do it well, it will help because your retail footprint is a good basis to build awareness, marketing and to learn about consumers. E-commerce reaches a much broader audience. The trick is to not focus on exactly the same products on e-commerce that you have in your stores.
RiA: What are the next trends in luggage?
GT: Lighter products — this is actually where our EU business is most developed. A big part of traveling in Europe are on budget airlines like Ryanair and EasyJet, who were the first to charge for overweight luggage, so weight is a huge trend.
I also believe there is a trend towards more casual products and different functionalities. Like today with luggage or backpacks, it’s assumed that people will bring a laptop, iPad and smartphone with them. People will want to recharge, organise and connect these items, and products will have to adapt to those needs.