A few weeks ago luxury fashion brand Chanel announced to the world the launch of its ecommerce platform, becoming the latest premium brand to embark on an online sales strategy.

In the past, such brands have maintained a niche business model built around ‘exclusivity’ and an ‘aspirational lifestyle’ that was intended to be unattainable by the masses. Like season sales, online shopping was, and is still, very much perceived to have the ability to devalue brands. In an industry where exclusivity means everything, broadening accessibility is usually something to be avoided. We only have to look at Burberry in the early noughties when it was garishly worn by ‘chavs’ all over England which had serious consequences on the brand in the years to follow.

But at a time when economic conditions continue to remain uncertain and as many fashion labels have suffered a sharp decline in sales, brands like Chanel have reconsidered their sales and digital marketing strategies, turning their interests towards the internet and social media platforms which present strong growth opportunities. These alternatives are also viewed favourably as the effectiveness of traditional glossy print advertising is questioned and the resonance it was once considered to have on consumers continues to flail.

Chanel is not the first luxury brand to yield to such pressures, (Louis Vuitton and Hermes have already led the way), nor will it be the last, but the decision for what is arguably the most sophisticated fashion house in the world to open an online sales platform may represent a new era for luxury brands.

Elite brands have always rationalised exclusivity through a customer’s sensory experience. It’s not just the quality and design of a product that is symbolic of a brand’s heritage; seeing and touching, as well as customisation, store atmosphere and personal service all translate into a premium experience. With such strong values to consider, recreating a brand’s presence online is more than a small task.

Burberry has done this with remarkable success. By engaging consumers with its Twitter account, Facebook page, and its most recent campaign – theArt of the Trench’ – the brand continued to reach even greater heights by experimenting with technology in an effort to captivate young, affluent ‘Millennials’.

Earlier this year Burberry gave the fashion world what’s been described as a ‘technological makeover’ as it streamed its London Fashion Week show in 3D to five cities around the world which could be viewed live online by fashionistas everywhere. The effect it had on the colours, fabrics and textures of the clothes invited the audience to become part of the experience. Such digital initiatives contributed to the brand’s sales increase and it is now reported that the online channel has now surpassed sales in many flagship stores.

I think that opening an online platform is a good move for Chanel. Starting off by selling its fragrances online and potentially including its fashion accessories range later in the year, the platform helps keep the brand in-line with the competition. However, I doubt that it will go as far as making its handbags available as they continue to remain key to the brand and could damage Chanel’s brand equity and image of exclusivity if they were made widely available.