Why Net-a-porter Still Rules the Roost as the Best Women’s High End fashion E-tailer, a look at Net-a-porter.com and Farfech.com

Natalie Massenet launched Net-a-porter, an online, high-end women’s fashion e-tail site in 2000 at the height of the dot com bubble (Wiseman, 2010). Her skeptics were many, most advised against it (Wiseman, 2010).  Would women buy luxury fashion without the experience of handling it, viewing it in person, and trying it on? Add to the mix that Net-a-porter sells designer clothing with designer clothing price tags. For instance, a Gucci dress retails for $3,400. Despite the common wisdom, Massenet found financial backers and became profitable in 2004 (Wiseman, 2010). The average order value at Net-a-porter is 500 pounds or $828.65 U.S dollars (Wiseman, 2010). Today Massenet no longer has a difficult time convincing luxe brands to be sold on Net-a-porter. In fact, brands are clamoring to be featured, including heavy hitters such as Stella McCartney, Yves Saint Laurent, and Alexander Wang (Wiseman, 2010). These brands along with several others have created exclusive capsule collections for the site (Wiseman, 2010). Being on Net-a-porter is now viewed as a means of expanding the customer base and enhancing the brand’s credibility and appeal by being associated with the website.  Being featured on the site is, in effect, brand enhancing (Wiseman, 2010). Net- a-porter is a dot com success story and has inspired a slew of competing sites including: Matches Fashion, Farfetch, Mytheresa, and Shopbop among others. These sites even mimic the look and feel of Net-a-porter. In this paper I’ll examine what makes Net-a-porter so successful as well as why the others are still lagging a bit behind. I’ll be comparing Net-a-porter to Farfetch.

Farfetch.com is a London based luxury e-tailer, they have partnered with small boutiques from around the globe and up and coming designers to offer small boutiques and emerging designers much needed e-tail exposure (Tschorn, 2013).  Jose Neves launched Farfetch in 2008 with the idea to offer small designers exposure, improve their visibility on the web by key search word optimization, and access volume discounts for buyers (Tschorn, 2013). Neves realized that the companies that were growing were the ones that were able to market themselves online (Tschorn, 2013). The venture is paying off, in 2013 Farfetch was on target to reach $200 million in sales and Conde Naste publishing invested 20 million dollars in the company (Tschorn, 2013). The site breaks it’s clothing and accessories down into three categories, Luxe- well established designers such as Alexander McQueen that carry a hefty price tag, Lab- more experimental clothing by up and coming designers such as Rick Owens, and Contemporary- casual clothing and premium denim such as Seven for all Mankind (Tschorn, 2013). In this way, they cover a number of buyers and price ranges although the items are all classified as high-end clothing. Farfetch is offering the experience of a well-curated boutique and allowing that experience to anyone, anywhere in the world. The founder of Farfetch, Jose Neves, explains that what differentiates his site from Net-a-porter is the breadth of product; he stocks 35,o00 items while Net-a-porter stocks about 15,000 (Griffith, 2013). While Net-a-porter is well curated, it is done with a similar voice but Farfetch pulls from a variety of sources acting more like a community (Griffith, 2013).

In this paper I’ll be examining the target market of the two sites, which I believe is fairly similar. In addition, I’ll examine the visual design of the two sites, particularly the use of whitespace, and rollover techniques employed by each site that show the garment being worn and uniquely styled (Boone, 2013). I’ll also examine how the websites gain and maintain the viewers attention by creating supplemental materials such as online magazines created to showcase the products the sites offer (Boone 2013).

Who is the Target Market?

But first and foremost, who are these sites geared towards? Who is their buyer? Women.  According to Net-a-porter, 99% of their visitors are women (Net-a-porter, 2011). Although Farfetch offers men’s clothing, Alexa reports that women visitors are substantially overrepresented (Alexa, 2014). I believe women are the target demographic of both sites. According to Alexa, the global view ranking of the sites is 4, 491 for Farfetch while Net-a-porter is ranked at 2,640 (Alexa, 2014). The ranking is based on a scale where 1 would be the most popular and so forth, the lower the view ranking, the more popular the site. Net-a-porter enjoys slightly more page views per visitor at 6.57 as opposed to 4.97 (Alexa, 2014). The average visitor spends 4 minutes and 19 seconds on Net-a-porter and 4 minutes and forty-eight seconds on Farfetch (Alexa, 2014). Females are the primary viewers of both sites (Alexa, 2014). The viewers of the sites have at least a college degree and most have a graduate degree; site viewing is primarily from work followed by home (Alexa, 2014). Both sites have large viewerships in Japan, the U.S., and the U.K (Alexa, 2014). Net-a-porter enjoys more visits in every country particularly the U.S. and the U.K (Alexa, 2014). Net-a-porter also enjoys more views from European countries such as France, Germany, Spain, and Italy (Alexa, 2014). Farfetch is viewed in Canada; there was no information for the viewing of Net-a-porter in Canada (Alexa, 2014). In 2012 Farfetch reported having 56,000 customers in over 100 countries (Griffith, 2012).

Net-a-porter created a media packet for potential advertisers in 2011, in it they report that over 5 million women visit the Net-a-porter site each month to peruse the site, read their branded content and shop (Net-a-porter 2011). Net-a-porter defines their customer profile as a woman average age 33 (Net-a-porter 2011). There is a 53% chance that she is married or living with a partner and a 33% chance that she has children (Net-a-porter 2011). Likely professions for this woman include: CEO, senior executive, lawyer, medical practitioner, media or fashion director (Net-a-porter 2011). The Net-a-porter customer goes on vacation an average of 11.5 times per year (Net-a-porter 2011). Her household income is £170,600 or $284,902 U.S. dollars (Net-a-porter 2011). She annually spends £13,400 or $22,378 U.S. dollars on luxury fashion and £1,224 or $2,044 U.S. dollars on cosmetics and treatments per year (Net-a-porter, 2011). In 2011, Net-a-porter claimed to have 1.3million users in the U.S., 878,000 users in the U.K., and 5 million users globally (Net-a-porter 2011).

I believe the target markets for Net-a-porter and Farfetch are similar. Both companies offer luxury clothing that can be shipped around the globe. Both websites are fashion forward. The target demographic is a working professional woman in her mid- thirties to early forties. She often views the web site from work. She purchases clothing for her professional life and for her active social life. She also travels quite frequently for pleasure. Professional clothing, cocktail attire, formal attire, and vacation attire comprise a large percentage of the offerings from both websites. She is upper middle class and may have children, but it is more likely that she does not. Both sites carry aspirational brands; they target a demographic that is also aspirational. She is ambitious, status conscious, well educated, and image conscious. Her appearance is very important to her; she spends quite a bit of resources on it. She has most likely delayed having children in order to attain professional success. She very likely lives in an urban environment or a suburb outside a large city. She considers herself and her friends to be sophisticated. She very likely uses social media.

Visual Design, the use of Whitespace

Both Net-a-porter and Farfetch display a tremendous amount of product on each web page, but yet neither site appears cluttered. This is accomplished by an effective use of whitespace. But what is whitespace? In her article, Whitespace in Web Design: What It Is and Why You Should Use It, Gisele Muller defines whitespace as, “… the space between graphics, columns, images, text, margins and other elements. It is the space left untouched in order to smooth things out and transform a page into something elegant.”(Muller, 2012). Muller goes on to point out that whitespace is often, “…associated with elegance and sophistication since it is a way to organize text, organize elements and guide users attention to certain elements.” (Muller, 2012).Both Farfetch and Net-a-porter have limited their use of color to black and white, allowing the garments to pop on the screen. Jon Elvin, editor of Glamour magazine states that Net-a-porter is “… pitch perfect in the way the site has always looked and the quality of the merchandise.” (Wiseman, 2010). Using a black and white background allows the merchandise to be the focal point of both sites. Notice the whitespace employed by both sites between merchandise, this allows the viewer’s eye time to relax between items (Muller, 2012). In his article, Whitespace, Mark Boulton states that whitespace is important for brand positioning and that, “Designers use whitespace to create a feeling of sophistication and elegance for upscale brands. Coupled with a sensitive use of typography and photography, generous white space is seen all over luxury markets.”(Boulton, 2007). In essence, the message is that more white space denotes luxury (Boulton, 2007). Both Net-a-porter and Farfetch make good use of whitespace. Both websites have black navigation panels. The predominant color of the page is white. Both websites have the option of showing 60 or all items of clothing. They are arranged in rows of three items. Both sites have significant white space in between the items. This allows the garments, which are often brightly colored and made in luxurious fabrics to pop off the page. When one rolls the mouse over the garment a model appears dressed in an outfit showcasing the garment or accessory. The abundant use of whitespace is one of the most striking things about the two websites. Please view the two links below to see how whitespace is utilized.

http://www.net-a-porter.com/Shop/Whats-New?cm_sp=topnav-whats-new-thisweek&level3Filter=&pn=1&npp=view_all&image_view=product&dScroll=0

 http://www.farfetch.com/shopping/women/newin/items.aspx?oby=4#ps=1&pv=60&oby=4

Visual Design- The use of Rollover

One of the most important aspects of both sites is the use of the rollover to display a model, photographed from the neck down, to showcase the clothing offered on the site. These rollovers utilize other products from the site to show a completely styled look. The rollover is one of the most important facets of both websites. The styling of the clothing is critical, the women who purchase from Farfetch and Net-a-porter spend a lot of time and energy researching women’s fashion. It is an enjoyable pastime. Lucy Yeomans, the editor of Harper’s Bazaar, states that Natalie Massenet, creator of Net-a-porter, “…does everything with such style and wit, and everywhere you can feel her own love of shopping. She understands the importance of process.” Both sites are for women who love shopping and take it quite seriously. By showing expertly styled looks the site is developing valuable content for the customer and giving it away for free. It is a means of engaging the customer. The women who visit the site are interested in fashion and probably read Women’s fashion magazines. Both Net-a-porter and Farfetch are giving the customer thousands of images of pulled together and styled looks just like a fashion magazine. But, they are doing it for free. In addition they are building credibility with the buyer and creating a brand affinity for the website. This is precisely what David Meerman Scott is advocating in, The New Rules of Advertising and P.R. Net-a-porter even goes one step further offering video options for each item. In a short video, the model walks and turns in the clothes demonstrating the movement of the garment and allowing the customer to view the outfit from numerous angles. I think this is one of the biggest advantages of the Net-a-porter site. Although the time and effort that goes into creating these videos must be substantial, it helps make the online experience similar to trying something on in a dressing room. The choice of both sites to photograph the model from the neck down, omitting a face, allows the consumer to imagine herself in the clothing more readily. There is no face, so the model could be anyone. You cannot determine her age, hair color, eye color, etc.

 Another thing that you notice when visiting both sites and examining the rollovers is that many of the outfits feature blazers, pencil skirts, suits, blouses, briefcases, etc. In essence, items that a professional workingwoman needs. There are also items for vacation and dresses and suits in luxe fabrics for going out. Net-a-porter frequently shows bathing suits and cover-ups during the Winter months. This is inline with the target demographic. This site is geared towards a woman who enjoys travel and has the resources to do so. She also has a robust social life that necessitates a wardrobe separate from her work wardrobe. Please view the following links to see how each site uses rollovers.

http://www.farfetch.com/shopping/women/clothing-1/items.aspx#ps=1&pv=60&oby=5

 http://www.net-a-porter.com/Shop/Clothing?cm_sp=topnav-clothing-allclothing&level3Filter=&pn=1&npp=60&image_view=product&dScroll=0

 Gaining Customer Attention – The Online Magazine

 The landing page of each site manages to gain and maintain the visitor’s attention by providing interesting, relevant, and entertaining information that points out what is new to the buyer (Boone, 2013). Both Net-a-porter and Farfetch created online magazines that are featured on the landing page of each site. These magazines have articles that highlight products the sites offer. Net-a-porter’s online magazine is much more robust and interactive. It often features a celebrity or a famous model on the cover and profiles them. It also has videos with makeup tutorials, lifestyle tips, and fashion content. It covers cultural topics such as books, films, music, travel and popular culture (Net-a-porter 2011). Massenet, founder of Net-a-porter states, “… I created a magazine for the 21st century, a hybrid between a store and a magazine that was delivered digitally.” (Wiseman, 2010). In it’s promotional packet Net-a-porter explains that they produce 52 magazines a year, so one nearly every week (Net-a-porter 2011).  

In creating these online magazines both Net-a-porter and Farfetch are creating free and engaging content for visitors. They feature the products and very much resemble a Woman’s fashion magazine. They go a step beyond a paper magazine by being interactive and allowing the viewer to purchase the products by clicking on them. These magazines are created with the target demographic in mind- she is a busy career professional with a strong interest in fashion. While Farfetch does a nice job, Net-a-porter’s magazine is really impressive. Please view the links below to view the online magazines these sites have made available to visitors.

http://www.farfetch.com/

http://www.net-a-porter.com/

Conclusion

In considering the two sites, it is no wonder that Net-a-porter has nearly double the traffic. Net-a-porter has also been around for much longer than Farfetch allowing them more time to build a brand. While both sites are visually appealing with their use of whitespace and the rollover techniques employed, Net-a-porter goes a step beyond by utilizing video for nearly every clothing item. They also create how to videos for makeup application and clothing styling tips. In addition, the online magazine that Net-a-porter creates weekly has excellent and diverse content to engage consumers. Farfetch is a very good site, but Net-a-porter is more innovative and offers a more robust experience to customers. For these reasons, I believe that Net-a-porter comes out on top when comparing the two.

References Cited

Analytics for any Website. (2014) Retrieved March 29, 2014 from

http://www.alexa.com/siteinfo/net-a-porter.com

http://www.alexa.com/siteinfo/farfetch.com

Boone, Gloria. (2013). Evaluating Websites. Retrieved from

http://infoacrs.com/nm/evaluatingwebsites.html

Boulton, Mark. (2007, Jan. 9). Whitespace. Retrieved from

http://alistapart.com/article/whitespace

Griffith, Gabriella. (2012, Jan. 16). Q&A: CEO of London Fashion retailer farfetch.com, which just raised 18 million. Retrieved from

http://www.londonlovesbusiness.com/entrepreneurs/fast-growing-businesses-and-sme/qa-ceo-of-london-fashion-retailer-farfetchcom-which-just-raised-18m/1499.article

Muller, Gisele. (2012, Nov. 6). Whitespace in Web Design: What It Is and Why You Should Use It. Treehouse Blog. Retrieved from

http://blog.teamtreehouse.com/white-space-in-web-design-what-it-is-and-why-you-should-use-it

Net-a-porter Media information. (2011) Retrieved from

https://www.net-a-porter.com/nap/content/2011/images/pdfs/net-a-porter_media_information.pdf

Scott, David Meerman. (2013). The New Rules of Marketing & PR, Fourth Edition.

Tschorn, Adam. (2013, Sep. 1). Farfetch is ready to raise it’s U.S. profile. The La Times. Retrieved from

http://articles.latimes.com/2013/sep/01/image/la-ig-0901-farfetch-20130901

Wiseman, Eve. (2010, July 10). One-click wonder: the rise of Net-a-porter. The Guardian, Observer Magazine, p.40.

Patagonia’s vibrant online presence

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Patagonia sells high end men, women, and children’s outdoor gear for all seasons. Because it is performance gear, Patagonia has a vested interest in sharing the stories of the men and women who use their gear. They accomplish this quite well with their online blog, The Cleanest Line, which describes itself as a:

Weblog for the employees, friends and customers of the outdoor clothing company Patagonia. Visit Patagonia.com to see what we do.

The topics are as diverse as the company’s product selection. Some posts highlight specific sports such as rock climbing, awe inspiring geographical locations, environmental causes and pursuits, and gifted athletes, and this is just the beginning. Each post can be shared on Twitter and Facebook. The Twitter shares are somewhat low, but the Facebook shares number in the low to high hundreds. This is quite a feat, when you look at a lot of company’s blogs, the content is not regularly updated, or it was for a while and then comes to a sudden stop, as though the employee responsible for the blog has left the company to pursue other opportunities. Creating fresh and relevant content is a challenging task, but consistency pays off. By loosing the controls of their blog, and allowing customers to post, Patagonia has created a great blog, with diverse voices and content. Other companies would do well to follow their lead, after all, 634 Facebook shares can be a pretty powerful marketing tool.

Patagonia’s website is just as eclectic and inspiring as their blog. It contains gorgeous photos of awe inspiring locations and features athletes and their accomplishments; many are quite remarkable. All of these stories do feature the Patagonia’s products but quite subtly. The company is highlighting what can be accomplished with their gear but is providing inspiration and exciting content first and foremost.

Patagonia also employs search marketing techniques. All of my searches for outdoor gear or athletic equipment included the company within the top search results. All  and all, this points to a company with a clear and concise marketing strategy. While creating great content can be time consuming it can help position you as an aspirational and trusted brand and build fierce brand loyalty in customers, though I doubt I need to tell the folks over at Patagonia this.

 

DiGiorno does it again, great examples of PR online

Having an active and robust Twitter feed is a goal of many companies and DiGiorno Pizza exemplifies a company that has been able to do just that. The pizza brand has several things going for it. For one, they sell pizza. Pizza is a product often associated with fun, it is much beloved, and easily associated with staying in and watching movies or the hottest TV program with friends and family. DiGiorno regularly capitalizes on this fact. Whether it is live tweeting the reboot of The Sound of Music or engaging with the Oscars. The brand writes in a casual and humorous manner and engages with the latest craze of the day.

Take for instance their Tweets during the 2014 Oscars, when host Ellen Degeneres had pizza delivered to the show. Another example of the brand making good use of their Twitter feed is when they came under fire for their ties with a Wisconsin dairy farm that had recently been exposed for abusing it’s cows. DiGiorno has cut ties with the farm and responded with personal tweets to all those who voiced their disapproval on the brand’s Twitter account. Read about it here.

Thus showing how empowering a smart in house Twitter user as opposed to an automated bot can bring a brand accolades during times of fun, and win back trust during a crisis.

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Ineffective Web Design

It is increasingly difficult to find examples of bad web design, design tools have improved significantly and there is an abundance of talented web designers a company can hire. There are a plethora of ineffective web sites though. Often these sites don’t take into account the user’s intention for visiting the site and facilitating in the easiest way possible for them to perform the tasks that they are there to do. One example of this that received a lot of press is the HealthCare.gov. Although many of the bugs have been fixed, many people did not want to login and create a profile when they were simply perusing the site for informational purposes. I have found that asking people for too much information, too early is a mistake. Navigation issues were also widely reported. In addition, the site was not able to handle the number of visitors, thus pushing back the enrollment date for the health insurance program. Designers and Developers should have anticipated these concerns.

Another example of ineffective web design is The Vanessa Noel Hotel in Nantucket, while I love the hotel, this site is slow to load and when one clicks on the link for information about room options- they only include a picture of one room. All the rooms at the hotel are quite different looking, and this could cause problems with dissatisfied customers. While the press page is a nice idea, it is also slow to load and the articles are not sized properly so that they can be read on the web. That said, the layout is nice, and there is a great use of white space. I also enjoyed the font styling.

The Diffusion of Internet Technology in Developing Countries

The diffusion of Internet Technology in Developing Countries is noticeably slower. This is due to a number of factors including: wealth, education, the infrastructure that allows broadband access, governmental priorities, and governmental policies regarding freedom of expression. One way that many people in developing countries are accessing the internet is through cell phones and smart phones. Companies will be wise to ensure that their company web pages and online stores are well designed for mobile technology. Developing countries offer rich and fertile markets that U.S. companies are eager to access but it is important to consider web access in these countries and the methods for web access that are widely available.

Developing for mobile devices is crucial but so is creating content that is relevant to the population. Teaching coding to students will allow for web content that is relevant and in the language of the intended audience. Language barriers exist and will continue to. If there is a lack of relevant content for those living in developing countries, diffusion is likely to continue at a slow pace. However, if some in those countries learn basic HTML and can create content in that country’s language, the internet’s appeal increases greatly. I found this article from Mashable, Why the Web is Useless in Developing Countries- And How to Fix It, to be particularly enlightening. 

 

The World Wide Web vs. The Copyright

Legal and governmental change are slow, the Web moves at a frantic pace and this is the crux of our problem. U.S. copyright laws have been unable to keep pace with the Internet. U.S. copyright law does not specifically address the publication of works created online. This has led to a confusion as to whether web sourced material is copyrighted or not. This ambiguity leads to a lot of legal gray area. Most people on the Web do not intentionally violate copyright law, they are simply uninformed about the specifics and particulars of it. With so much information being publicly available on the web, many people assume that they have the right to use or reproduce this information, when in fact they may not. Most works on the web are self published by well-meaning individuals however they are operating on their own accord with no legal department behind them to help navigate the ins and outs of copyright law and unwitting infringement. One of the best ways to prevent infringing on copyrighted material is to understand the copyright law and keep this in mind as you create new content. Source materials whenever possible. Push politicians for clearer or more concise guidelines for web content.

Creative Commons is a nonprofit group devoted to copyright issues and the Web. They provide user-friendly copyright licenses that allow the public to use your information under the conditions of your choosing, or in their words, “some rights reserved”. I often use their site when I am trying to determine if my web behavior is up to snuff legally. For more information please visit their site, Creative Commons.

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