Since its inception, e-commerce has been a difficult nut to crack. When it was growing fast and taking market share, from offline, it was easy to justify spending vast sums laying the foundations for something that you will reap the benefit of later on.
Today, the luxury market is contracting, so trying to grow, whether offline or online, is particular hard, at this moment in time, especially when you're not in control of the choice of products.
Luxury fashion was slow to get fully behind e-commerce and only now are the brands giving it the attention and respect it deserves. The reasons for the change being companies like Net-a-porter and matchesfashion.com having pioneered this area and shown the riches to be made and also being able to communicate with a future consumer and grow a direct database.
Publishing house, Condé Nast, has just launched its e-commerce offering in the form of style.com This has been coming for the past couple of years and has been put back and put back and then, it surprised me, two weeks ago, by appearing on my Twitter timeline. A reported £75 million has been spent - The Times - and with over 100 employees - The FT - this is a big commitment.
There’s always room for something different/good or both, in any form of retail and the idea to combine trusted editorial with shopping is a good one, especially in a tastemaker environment like this. It makes sense.
Unfortunately, the launch site looks nothing different from a luxury site from 10 years ago. The choice is limited and being run on affiliates - which means they earn a commission on each sale - all the items are distributed from various sellers at different costs in different locations. It’s going to be a nightmare for Condé Nast to deal with returns. They want the money, but don’t want to get their hands dirty. Don't we all?!
The biggest surprise is, where is all the editorial? People have tried shoppable magazines before, they don’t work. That’s fine. But, use the budget and teams of Vogue and GQ and give me the best of the season’s images and shoots and if there’s only one shoppable product, then so be it. It’s the magic that people buy into. It’s the world that these magazines live in.
It feels as though the editors aren’t playing ball and have washed their hands of it. It probably doesn't help that style.com is based in Camden and the magazines are over in Hanover Square.
After the delayed launch, the launch now feels rushed. I think they would have been better off keeping style.com as it was - runway reports and party pictures - to keep the traffic up and instead, now, they have to cannibalise digital advertising, which is hard to generate money from at the best of times, in order to push shoppers over to the site from the magazines' individual websites.
It launched with free shipping on orders over £350, very generous! Now, it’s free shipping and returns on all orders. Clearly taking some feedback. (Mr Porter had the same issue when it launched). It has only launched in the UK, atm, and there is nothing on there you can’t get anywhere else. It's interesting too that Condé Nast invested in FarFetch.com, another high-fashion portal, and is, now, technically a competitor. Maybe the two will merge?
I think style.com is too little, too late. They’ll spend the next 18 months finding out that this business model is particularly hard to make money from, while blowing millions and millions of pounds. They'll be lucky is they ever make a profit. This could be the Ocado of fashion! In hindsight, it would have been better to have had a chat with Natalie Massenet about 15 years ago.