Getting the guys to play
Fact: men love the internet. They love the internet because it is the giver of online gaming, the bringer of news, views, useless facts, sports trivia, conspiracy theories and other stuff that shall not be named. Men love the internet because it is the go-to place for music, movies and needless but essential gadgets like the new Foreman grill.
Curiously, men aren't as keen as women when it comes to online clothes or luxury goods shopping. Most men profess a dislike of shopping in the real world and don't seem too enamoured of the virtual option either.
This supposed aversion is behind the dearth of luxury goods e-tailers for men.
There are of course, a few long-established luxury men's retailers such as the Britain-based www.oki-ni.com and France's www.studiohomme.com. Oki-ni, established in 2001, has created a particularly significant, if still very niche, mark with specific eponymous special edition ranges in collaboration with the likes of adidas Originals, Levis and Paul Smith. But the first movers in the online luxury men's retail market have yet to reach a mainstream audience.
However, 2011 will be the year that men finally embrace online luxury shopping, if we are to believe the hype coming from some retail giants. Global luxury sales are picking up again after the financial crisis, and men's luxury sales are growing faster than women's, albeit from a smaller base.
There is huge potential for men's luxury sales, particularly in China where internet penetration continues to deepen and average incomes increase.
Leading the charge is www.mrporter.com, a spin-off of the hugely successful luxury women's retailer Net-a-Porter. Mr Porter, launched to much fanfare in February, takes a defiantly fresh and independent approach to luxury men's retailing, spearheaded by editor-in-chief Jeremy Langmead, a former editor of Esquire and Wallpaper*.
Langmead first established what puts men off luxury retailing. He's done away with celebrity fashion, must-haves and expansive product ranges common in women's retailing. Mr Porter focuses on styles that inspire doctors, builders, musicians, that is, real men, with classic sartorial suggestions rather than hard sells on fads.
The website is uncluttered and restrained, with a more broadsheet newspaper feel than glossy magazine and there is a noticeable amount of white space; an approach perhaps inspired by pioneer websites like oki-ni.
Crucially, Mr Porter has a selectively narrow list of brands, with 80 at launch, playing on the theory that less is definitely more for male shoppers. Further, Mr Porter differentiates itself from the likes of of oki-ni and Studio Homme with its editorial content, including a built-in magazine, The Journal, as well as Web 2 interactivity with potential customers through twitter, YouTube and Facebook.
The Gilt Groupe, which made its name with online limited time, or 'flash', sales of luxury products, has announced plans to launch its first men's luxury website this summer as an extension to its already successful www.giltman.com flash-sales site. Gilt has hired a former high-end men's magazine editor, Tyler Thoreson, and is likely to adopt the editorial approach of Mr Porter.
Another significant launch at the end of 2010, French company www.ca-reste-entre-nous.com made its debut with an English-language version of the site expected this year.
All these companies are hoping that a new approach to men's luxury retailing will finally establish the men's online sales market. Whether or not Mr Porter changes the game is a moot point, but its bold, editorial-led approach is likely to be a template for the future.