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.
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.
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.
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.
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