You can be too late to the party, even if you’re Vogue

Fashion publishing ecommerce. The race is on, but who’s coming out a top and who’s a pair of bottoms?

The convergence of media and technology has turned marketing on its head. Virtually everything has moved online. Where I buy my clothes… online, most of my shoes… online, and pretty much everything else… ONLINE. As a result, selling products online has quickly developed into a way magazines and newspapers can prop up falling ad revenues, but is it as easy as it sounds? Can everyone simply become an e-shop and start selling?

The link between retail and publishing has always been strong, but it is fast becoming unbreakable and the lines even more blurred, as retailers become publishers and publishers move into retail. Editors are leaving magazines for fashion platforms, and retail brands are continuing to develop their own editorial style.

I LOVE LOVE LOVE Vogue. But in the light of recent developments, I will start by reluctantly mentioning Condé Nast’s ill-fated attempt at entering the cutthroat world of ecommerce (apologies if this is still a sore topic for anyone reading this, it is very much so for me). Condé Nast, the fashion publisher behind Vogue, Tatler and GQ recently announced that its endeavours to go solo with online shopping site Style.com had unfortunately fallen short of the hemline.

Giphy.com

The project was expected to be hugely successful, or else why would they have gone full steam ahead and pumped £78.3m into it?! (I know right, think of what you could do with all that dollar!!!). It was tagged as one of the brand’s most significant ventures; fashion fans could shop across the site, while those browsing Condé Nast properties such as Vogue.co.uk and GQ.co.uk would be directed to products they’ve just read about, ‘a shopping experience inspired by the world’s best magazines’. And on glossy paper, it sounded superb and to some extent, still does.

But how did one of the world’s most incredible fashion brands get it wrong?

Cracks appeared from the offset, with a delayed launch and failure to secure the industry’s ‘big fashion dogs’, for fear the influence Style.com could wield over the luxury brands’ collections. Put plainly, these labels didn’t want to risk their distribution models when they didn’t need to. But without names like Valentino and Gucci, as previously promised, people were naturally going to shop elsewhere.

There are several reasons for the downfall of Style.com and I could look further at the intricacies of these, however many have stated that the real lesson to take from this is simply not to be too late to the party… or as some have said, ‘everyone’s already had their fun and quite frankly, the party’s over’. This was arguably the biggest faux pas when launching Style.com, they didn’t get anything particularly wrong but by the time they launched in 2016 the competition was already streaks ahead.

Competing with the likes of Net-a-Porter was never going to be an easy feat. The established online fashion retailer launched back in 2000 (I was only six and growing up in Cornwall, so I probably hadn’t even seen a computer by this point). It was a time when people were starting to lose trust in the internet; the dot-com bubble had burst, making it an incredibly bold move to launch, but as Vogue has so well highlighted, you have to be bold or you’ll pretty quickly plummet to the bottom of the laundry pile.

Founder Natalie Massenet saw an opportunity, went for it, and boy did it pay off. In a world when women only brought clothes they had seen, touched or tried on, she brought us “internet shopping” and created “a magazine for the 21st century — a hybrid between a store and a magazine that is delivered digitally.”

Natalie Massenet, myciin.com

Net-a-Porter has grown into one of the world’s most beloved online luxury fashion destinations, with expansion into the US and Asia. The company quickly realised the value of having editorial content too (helped by Massenet’s publishing background), she told the London Evening Standard “people always say to me you have really worked hard to redefine retail, but the reality is, I wanted to redefine magazines”. So in 2014 Net-a-Porter took the fight back to the stands and released its own glossy print mag; Porter, to rival the likes of Vogue. It’s all about offering more than just a product in this industry, and Porter was closely followed by the launch of its discount site The Outnet and Mr Porter for men. Is there anything they didn’t think of? I am registering the domain Pet-A-Porter if not already taken, FYI.

Not only has Net-a-Porter always been miles ahead digitally, but they are celebrated globally for their unrivalled customer care. It’s all about THE BOX. Every purchase comes gift wrapped in one of its iconic black boxes with it’s perfectly tied grosgrain ribbon. It’s a no brainer, they have always kept customers at the forefront of everything they do, and this is arguably their biggest not-so-secret to success.

THE BOX

In July 2015 the equally giant Italian outlet for luxury goods, Yoox, bought Net-a-Porter. This expanded their range of luxury brands profoundly, but also lead to the sudden shock departure of Massenet (let’s just go say it was a ‘clash of strong personalities’ for the founder and Yoox boss Federico Marchetti… too many crocs and all that.)

Online retailer ASOS has also seen phenomenal growth having launched at the same time as Net-a-Porter back in 2000. If Net-a-Porter is Vogue, then ASOS is Grazia, and 2009 saw them double their sales to dress an incredible 2.2m 16–35 year olds! I could go on and on, with the likes of Matches Fashion and Munich’s Mytheresa all up there with the best of them.

But the real pioneer and the one we all need to watch is Farfetch. Not a retailer, not a publisher, but an incredible cross breed and owner of both things. Farfetch has its very own unique business model, and for those not already aware of the online platform, then I would suggest having a quick search now. RIGHT NOW. I’ll wait.

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Hopefully you didn’t get too side-tracked and spend a zillion pounds? This online retailer offers the world’s largest selection of luxury designer fashion, linking more than 700 exclusive boutiques and 200 brands across 40 countries, plus worldwide delivery. While Net-a-Porter runs its own logistics and has warehouses full of clothing that buyers have selected, Farfetch makes its money through the 25–30% cut of sales it takes from the brands and boutiques it has partnered with. It doesn’t need to own vans and warehouses or even stock, which makes it easier to adapt to fast-paced fashion. It has been described by many as the Deliveroo of luxury fashion. Deliverluxe.

Founded back in 2008 by Portuguese fashion entrepreneur Jose Neves, who combined his skills as a software engineer and footwear designer to create Farfetch. It’s most surprising feat came earlier this year when the brand secured Massenet following her shock departure from Net-a-Porter. And even Condé Nast has jumped on board. Unlike Style.com, Farfetch will commercialise the publishers own content at the same time as providing access to its rapidly-expanding network of boutiques.

And to top it off, just this month it was announced that the company had won a multimillion pound investment from China’s biggest retailer JD.com. So just ten years down the line from its rather humble beginnings as a small upstart, Farfetch has secured itself one of the most impressive boards of global fashion directors and is rumoured to be plotting a £3.9 billion public listing! It’s hard to predict what’s next for the site, but look out world, cos these guys are unstoppable.

giphy.com

The reality is that it is the retailers who are winning at this game, and the success of those retail brands shows that they are adept at becoming publishers in their own right.

So, an open question: which publishers are actually doing this stuff well, at a meaningful level? Are there any noteworthy examples of publishers becoming retailers? Perhaps not many that have pumped as much money into it as Condé Nast, but many publishers do now operate third-party stores on their sites and take a cut. Others have a different strategy. Take women’s title Marie Claire, which has partnered with Ocado to launch Fabled by Marie Claire, a physical store located in central London and an e-tail offer selling over 12,000 beauty and wellness products from brands such as Chanel, Clinique and Yves Saint Laurent.

Perhaps this isn’t really a race at all, and each player has their own part to play in the growing market. There may not be a one-winner-takes-all model when it comes to fashion, because after all “fashion is about individuality and taste” quoted Neves, “there may never be a company that ticks all the boxes for everyone.”

Farfetch certainly looks set to take centre stage for the time being, with 2000 boutiques predicted to sign up to the brand. But even they aren’t without their own criticisms, with risks of tension between the brands and boutiques on the site rising as well as some issues with pricing in different parts of the world. Nobody is perfect though, are they?

Net-a-Porter will hire at least 100 more IT experts over the next two years; as it opens its very own tech hub in the UK, the Italian boss plans to invest £440m in technology, warehouses and delivery systems in a bid to double the business by 2020.

In Massenet’s instagram post announcing her departure from Net-a-Porter, she quoted “When I first thought about selling fashion online, the world was just waking up the possibility. Today we expect access to everything, anytime, anywhere”, before then adding “If I were to start an ecommerce company today — I would do it very differently”. Could she be ready to set up shop again, we’ll have to wait and see…