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15-12-2005
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NYTimes article on Net-a-Porter.com
Point, Click and Strut By CATHY HORYN

THE failure of online luxury shopping five years ago was so dramatic that it was easy to deny its potential, which was a little like condemning the history of aviation to 12 seconds at Kitty Hawk. The amount of money spent on sites, and the fact that it was spent by public companies, compounded the suspicion that people would not buy luxury goods online. The creators of boo.com dumped a reported $150 million into their site before closing it down in 2001, and LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton spent even more to introduce eluxury.com.

Last year, however, a little-known company in England called Net-a-Porter.com turned a profit selling things like $1,500 Chloé bags and $2,000 Marc Jacobs dresses. Started in 2000 by Natalie Massenet, a former fashion editor, with $1.3 million, Net-a-Porter.com had sales in the first half of this year of $16 million, an increase of 71 percent over the same period a year ago. It sells the top designer brands at full price, chosen by Ms. Massenet and her buyers, who include a former Chanel executive, and if you live in London, you can get your clothes - pressed and wrapped - the same day. If you live in New York or Singapore, you generally have to wait 48 hours.
Christian Louboutin recalls first seeing Net-a-Porter's distinctive black boxes arriving at his friend Daphne Guinness's house in London. "They were all packaged like presents," he said. Today, two years later, Mr. Louboutin sells his sling-backs and pumps on the site. And whereas a store like Bergdorf Goodman might order 35 or 40 pairs of a style, Net-a-Porter, he said, "orders hundreds."

Net-a-Porter is not the only multibrand site to survive the luxury dot-com bust; there is neimanmarcus.com and eluxury.com, as well as vivre.com, and sites like Ashford and Yoox that offer discounted designer merchandise. But Net-a-Porter is the only site that apparently saw that if it positioned itself as a fashion authority - which is the only way a stylish woman like Ms. Massenet, who once worked for W and Tatler, could position herself - consumers would see the site that way as well. And designers would feel more comfortable selling Ms. Massenet their clothes and accessories, a key demerit when Internet investors first tried to sell the idea of online luxury shopping.

"I think the fashion industry was slightly put off by people they didn't know," said Ms. Massenet, 40, the daughter of a former model and a movie publicity agent, who was born in Los Angeles and raised in Paris. "They were presented with things like 20-gatefold color brochures."

Still, she remembers the fall of 2000 as "a terrifying time," with little money to buy collections and the media hype around companies like boo.com stirring hope and then disillusionment. "I thought I had a Post-it on my forehead that said, 'Be nice to this girl,' " Ms. Massenet said with a laugh.

Her fashion and social contacts helped; among the first to sign up were Tamara Mellon, the owner of Jimmy Choo, and Matthew Williamson, who gave her stock on consignment. Christopher Bailey, the designer at Burberry, was another early supporter, and the site, in turn, has given that British brand an enormous window for its hard-to-find Prorsum runway collections.

Her big break came, though, around 2002 when Ralph Toledano, the chief executive of Chloé, agreed to let her buy accessories. The designer Phoebe Philo had come out with the $1,000 Bracelet bag. "We bought 50 of them," Ms. Massenet said. "Within three weeks we had a waiting list of 2,000 people. We knew we were on to something." Today Net-a-Porter is the official online store for Chloé, with a link on the Chloé site.

The industry has taken notice too. "I think they do an excellent job," said Brendan Hoffman, the chief executive of Neiman Marcus Direct, which operates the Neiman site as well as Bergdorf Goodman's. "Natalie is very engaging and probably spent a lot of time working with her resources in Europe to educate them about what the Web can do."

Emilia Fanjul, a fashion publicist in New York, said young clients routinely ask that Ms. Massenet and her chief buyer, Sojin Lee, a former executive at Chanel and Bottega Veneta, be at their shows. "They're all dying to be on that site," Ms. Fanjul said. One client it picked up is Tibi, a cute line of separates also carried at Linda Dresner.

Almost perversely, by simply focusing on the looks that Ms. Massenet and Ms. Lee think young women want to buy - Roberto Cavalli is the latest addition to their list of some 100 brands - Net-a-Porter seems to have emerged as an industry pacesetter.

Forrester, an Internet research company based in Cambridge, Mass., said in a report last month that Net-a-Porter had helped people overcome initial skepticism about selling luxury goods online. It added that the retail climate in Europe is changing so rapidly that the percentage of online consumers for apparel and accessories has increased from 5 percent to 16 percent in the last 18 months, to 40 million Europeans. It predicts that the number there will increase to 73 million people in 2009.

This pattern is also reflected at Net-a-Porter, which does 60 percent of its business outside Britain and gets 2,500 new customers each month. "Our biggest growth area is in the Middle East," Ms. Massenet said. Significantly, Net-a-Porter, unlike Neiman Marcus and other brick-and-mortar stores, is not restricted by distribution agreements with fashion houses. It can sell anywhere in the world. (Of course, depending on the country you live in, you may have to pay an extra charge for duty. A $1,000 jacket, say, would have an added charge of about 11 percent for shipping and duty.)

Until now, online merchants have been in a duck-and-cover mode, according to Patti Freeman Evans, a retail analyst at Jupiter Research in New York. Their main concern has been survival, just figuring out how to be useful and profitable with the technologies available. "We will see more experimentation in the next five years, the sense of creating an experience that's different from what everyone else is doing," Ms. Freeman Evans said. She added that by 2009 online apparel sales in the United States would overtake those for computers and electronics, reaching about $14 billion.

Although much of that gain will come from mainstream retailers like Lands' End and J. C. Penney, designers can't afford to be blasé about online shopping. Kathy Kalesti, the vice president of Narciso Rodriguez, which sells to Net-a-Porter, notes the powerful efficiency of sites like neimanmarcus.com. "They sell 80 to 90 percent of our clothes at full price," she said. That is sometimes a higher percentage than in a store.

Ms. Massenet still has a wish list of labels - Balenciaga, Lanvin, Yves Saint Laurent - and is close to snagging some of them. The site already has Stella McCartney and Alexander McQueen, which, like YSL and Balenciaga, are owned by Gucci Group. Last week, at a luxury-goods conference in Dubai, Ms. Lee, who spoke in Ms. Massenet's absence (she is expecting her second child), saw Robert Polet, the chief executive of Gucci. Asked if he seemed receptive to selling the other brands on the site, Ms. Lee laughed and said, "I think my presentation was my pitch."

A minor criticism of the site is that the design may not be as inspiring as it could be, and Ms. Freeman Evans says that some of its jargon, like "atelier" and "salon," would be confusing to anyone but a fashionista. A new design is planned for early next year, said Robin Harvey, the art director who revamped the British edition of Condé Nast Traveler, and who has been working with Ms. Massenet. In the meantime they have come out with something incredibly compelling: a black notebook, bound like a Moleskine, that combines editorial point of view (key looks, Top 10 lists) with a catalog of all the clothes and accessories Net-a-Porter has ordered for next spring.

"I flipped over it," Rose Marie Bravo, the chief executive of Burberry, said. "It perfectly encapsulates the season." Designed to serve as an interface with the site, the Notes, as the $45 book is called, has the double surprise of feeling like an old-fashioned diary in your hand.

Either way, it seems to point to the future of the enhanced shopping experience.

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15-12-2005
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two things really bug me on this site:
terrible styling and the heavy duty&shipping.

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15-12-2005
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Meg
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^
agreed. I actually think they are going to have to start to do something about the shipping costs (duty isn't really their fault...but they could include it in their US prices)....from what i've noticed it's really starting to put people off.

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15-12-2005
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^it doesn't make sense to me that the duty is not returned when the products are returned. I'll never buy anything from them unless I'm sure that I'll keep the products or it's on deep discount which rarely happens on NAP.

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15-12-2005
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Caffeine
^it doesn't make sense to me that the duty is not returned when the products are returned. I'll never buy anything from them unless I'm sure that I'll keep the products or it's on deep discount which rarely happens on NAP.
Same here. I have no be sure that I'll keep it and that it's no where to be found in the US. Thats a good point about refunding duties with returns, I wonder why they dont do that.

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15-12-2005
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agree caffeine.. styling and lack of duty return really icks me..
but what can you do.. when something can only be found through them, or its more convenient..?

i find that they also price some of their items higher..

and their NAP notebook is just the fashion features that they no longer have on their site.. (even though i have to admit i ordered one out of curiosity..)

the article was a little gushy and biased, i feel..

but one thing is, they have great customer service and impress me every time! the return time is quite fair..plus i love to keep their lovely boxes. it feels like i'm getting a present each time.


Last edited by Pinky*; 15-12-2005 at 05:19 PM.
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16-12-2005
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Meg
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yes I agree pinky. I like Cathy Horyn but the article was quite 'gushy'. Their presentation really is immaculate though. I think their 'notes' is a bit crap though really.....thats odd that you can't get duty back when you return items.....how strange....

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17-12-2005
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Meg
yes I agree pinky. I like Cathy Horyn but the article was quite 'gushy'. Their presentation really is immaculate though. I think their 'notes' is a bit crap though really.....thats odd that you can't get duty back when you return items.....how strange....
It's not odd that you do not get duty paid back. It is a tax levied by the government of the country/state..whatever! in to which the goods have been shipped. It's a tax levied on an import a state which is not reversible. If you return the goods the government doesn't give you back your tax dollars. It's nothing to do with the company selling the item - I am sure they - Net-a-Porter - would prefer if their customers did not have to pay these duties at all because it certainly puts a lot of people off shopping at their site.

However, if you are returning an item in exchange for another Net-a-Porter should state on the shipping document of the replacement item that the goods contained within are returns and in theory you should not have to pay import duties again on this new item. I hope NAP does this otherwise it's really mean.

I have seen stuff that I'd like to buy on NAP but have always hesitated - I like to check the garment / bag, etc... not only fits or is to my taste but is in tip top condition. You know no little pulls, scratches, etc..

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17-12-2005
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yeah...i was gonna say...
duty is a charge by the government...
it has nothing to do with the sale of the garment...
it is about transporting it out of the country...

OT...what is vivre.com?...and ashford?......

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17-12-2005
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Hey, I just want to add what my husband's just told me. In theory if you return some goods that you have been charged import taxes on you could claim your tax back from the government but in practice this could prove a bureaucratic nightmare!!

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19-12-2005
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I love netaporter, but havent bought from there because duty is so high. I guess I am not there target audience, where price doesnt matter.

Loved the article so much, thanks!

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19-12-2005
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I Net-A-Porter, the buyers are fabulous, always picking out the best key pieces. The styling is terrible though. I live in London, so it's same-day delivery, it's great for a quick fashion fix.

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20-12-2005
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Quote:
Originally Posted by softgrey
yeah...i was gonna say...
duty is a charge by the government...
it has nothing to do with the sale of the garment...
it is about transporting it out of the country...

OT...what is vivre.com?...and ashford?......
Ashford is popular for selling discounted luxury brand watches and sunglasses. They also sell bags and even diamonds now.

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