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Industry Apr 26, 2013 3 min read

Online Flagships

Barely an eyelid was batted in 2000, when e-commerce players ASOS and Net-a-Porter first launched, but the success of these two retail giants has made them household names. However...

  • Victoria Beckham
  • Proenza Schouler

Barely an eyelid was batted in 2000, when e-commerce players ASOS and Net-a-Porter first launched, but the success of these two retail giants has made them household names. However, as these pure play retailers publicly gained momentum, the rest of the fashion world was slower to tap into online opportunities. Retailers got in on the action around 5 years ago, but it’s only in the last year that brands are finally realising the potential of their own online flagship.

Gone are the days of product being merchandised and priced against company guidelines, this is an opportunity to sell directly to their consumer at a global level, with complete control. Not only does online generate a pool of rich data, but it allows for testing and immediate, localised responses to consumer actions; if version A of the weekly newsletter saw a better conversion in a specific region, a brand can adjust their visual merchandising for that market accordingly.

Despite Net-a-Porter’s success, online has presented challenges for high end brands – where traditionally so much of the luxury purchase has been influenced by the consumer’s experience in-store. Recent months have seen a number of premium brands address this disconnect, launching upgraded and cleverly merchandised websites.

In March, Victoria Beckham unveiled a revamped site with e-commerce functionality. With around 20% of the company’s business attributed to online sales through other retailer’s websites, their case for e-tail was strong.

It’s hard not to be impressed – the site is slick and minimal, a perfect reflection of the brand through the designer’s eyes. It’s tuned into the customer needs, giving visitors the option to either ‘Shop’ or ‘Look’. The ‘Look’ part gives insight into VB’s world with all social media outputs. Head to the ‘Shop’ and you have access to the Victoria Beckham ICON line (exclusively sold here, with limited production runs). The site also offers same day delivery to New York and London, with sales associates readily available by phone for any queries. It’s an experience all about personalisation, with the weekly newsletter feeling like a note from VB, herself.

As one of fashion’s most sought after labels, Proenza Schouler has invested a lot of time and money in rebranding with a focus on their online growth. The accumulation of all this was the relaunch of their website, which is to form their biggest sales channel. Their online store represents a huge digital overhaul, focusing on increasing online offering and shipping internationally. They’ve excelled with the huge product offering now available direct from Proenza Schouler, with 147 offerings of the PS1 bag alone. Other than Barneys, this is the largest online selection available and with the ability to reach consumers globally.

The recent launch of H&M Group’s spin-off brand, & Other Stories was surrounded by online hype, using teaser videos to help create buzz. With 10 flagship stores aligned to open across Europe in the coming year, their focus has now shifted to their online offering, positioning their e-commerce site as their global flagship. The customer had the option to pre-shop the collections online ahead of the bricks and mortar launch, by signing up for the newsletter. It looks like H&M could have struck gold creating the perfect buzz with styles selling out fast both online and instore, creating a modern brand that has tapped into the digital era.

Recent launches aside, debate continues on whether the web is right for luxury. Chanel, for example, have a huge online presence but have dismissed ideas of e-commerce, reasoning that it is not a true reflection of the brand and does not cater to their customer’s needs. Yet Burberry have set the bar in ensuring brand integrity and understanding consumer needs in the luxury market.

Why leave it to wholesalers to tell your story (potentially badly!), when an online flagship gives a brand ultimate control? E-tail is the most direct way to ensure a brand’s messaging and consumer experience online, testing new markets is efficient and low-risk, and the ability to personalise the experience for the customer reinforces brand loyalty.