So The Rich Are Different

They spend more online. Here's how to find--and keep--wealthy Web surfers

From Robin Leach's grandiloquent descriptions, we learn that lifestyles of the rich and famous are supposed to overflow with champagne. But millionaires, it turns out, are more technology hogs than caviar fanatics. North America's wealthiest consumers--people with assets of $1 million or more--are more active Internet users than we common folk. Some 56% of affluent households, about 2.3 million, are online, vs. 43% of the general population, according to Forrester Research Inc. And these high rollers are not just sending e-mail. Rich cybernauts are 13% more likely than the rest of us to buy online. Says Forrester's Ekaterina Walsh: "They are Web addicts."

Well, then, it's time e-businesses gave the wealthy what they want. In a Forrester survey of banks, nearly half conceded their online offerings failed to meet the expectations of big customers. Similarly, many luxury retailers still won't sell online. This foot-dragging makes little sense when the millionaire shopper is an e-tailer's dream--a modern-day Croesus with a Web fetish.

Take 48-year-old Barry Mayo, who sold a group of radio stations called Broadcasting Partners Inc. for $245 million in 1995. Computer-illiterate at the time, he took PC classes--and got hooked. Now, both his downtown apartment and suburban home are wired. And rather than stop by Virgin music stores, he now logs on to to buy CDs. "The Internet has changed my modus operandi," Mayo says.

Connecting with the super-rich isn't hard. The key: impeccable service. Affluent consumers have neither time nor patience for incompetence. A site should download images quickly and be easy to navigate, says Jeanne B. Daniel, CEO of online luxury jeweler Adornis strives to deliver products the next day, and happily accepts returns. "The standards of the affluent are higher all around," she says.

No doubt, that's true for Claude Sheer, whose standards are as high as his eight-figure net worth. A partner in the investment firm Barn Ventures, he prefers Web merchants that excel at basics. He shops at the high-end home furnishings site because he knows he will get just what he sees online. By contrast, Sheer struggled to buy a chair through, which did not have the product he wanted. "That's not a place I would go twice," he fumes. Another complaint: shabby graphics. Says Sheer, "The ability to look at a product has to improve."

Above all, goods have to be available online. Luxury retailers seem intoxicated by their own cachet. Versace's site features two sensuous blonde models and the brand name in bold. That's it. warns visitors they can't buy on its site. "If you're not making it possible for affluent users to buy online, you're making a huge mistake," Walsh warns.

To win over the wealthy--or any--consumer, retailers must create a seamless experience between the store and the site. At Gap Inc., shoppers can return items bought online to a brick-and-mortar store. Likewise, if a store is out of stock, sales reps direct shoppers to the Web. More than champagne and caviar, that kind of service is a sure bet to lure any millionaire.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.