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Fashion

How luxury fashion e-commerce site Matchesfashion.com plans to make online and offline buying seamless

Matchesfashion.com describes its soon-to-open bricks-and-mortar operation as the website brought to life. The six-floor concept space in London’s Mayfair will include retail, an events space and three floors of private shopping suites

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 07 August, 2018, 12:01am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 07 August, 2018, 6:15pm

After experiencing incredible growth online, e-commerce retailers such as Amazon, Alibaba and digital brands such as Warby Parker have recently begun opening bricks-and-mortar stores.

These are not your average shops, however, but retail experiments to disrupt the way we shop as these digital companies try to figure out how to let customers switch seamlessly between online and offline and thus become truly “omnichannel” – a buzzy concept that all retail CEOs have on their mind these days.

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In the luxury sphere, the need to create a special experience in physical stores is even more pressing. While brands such as Burberry have tried in the past to incorporate technology in their boutiques, it has not always worked the way they envisioned it.

Farfetch, a luxury fashion marketplace, has long been talking about its “store of the future”, especially after acquiring London boutique Browns, but we have yet to see what that really entails.

Matchesfashion.com, which started as a physical store in London in 1987 and is now a competitor to e-commerce sites such as Net-a-Porter, is getting in on the act with the opening of Carlos Place, a six-storey space in the heart of London’s Mayfair.

The way the team at Matchesfashion.com sees it, Carlos Place is the company’s website brought to life. While you may be able to purchase clothes and accessories, you’re more likely to attend a talk with a designer, take part in a yoga class or enjoy a meal at one of several pop-up restaurants on the top floor.

It’s all designed to create a sense of community and to further cement the strong point of view of Matchesfashion.com, a company that, in the words of CEO Ulric Jerome, “is not just a retailer that distributes brands but an actual brand”.

As Jerome explains when we meet at The Shard in south London, where the company has its headquarters, the idea of opening Carlos Place had been germinating for a while. He and his team had just wrapped up a series of events in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Paris.

Its clients, who could sign up online to attend one of them, enjoyed these experiences, but through social media the company was able to reach over 43 million other people, amplifying their message and turning what could have been mere customer events into global activations.

“We don’t believe that the future of retail is technology that’s too in your face and you don’t interact with. I don’t like the word ‘store of the future’. For us it’s just our vision of retail and commerce and luxury,” says Jerome.

“Two floors of retail, two floors of private shopping and the top floor is content creation, where you can have gallerists or museum curators talking or a designer being interviewed or a book signing. So you create exclusive content like a podcast and anyone in the world can attend by signing up on the site, even if you’re a student or just travelling to London.”

With Carlos Place, Matchesfashion.com is bringing events, media and shopping under one roof, furthering its commitment to blend content with commerce, which has always set it and other pioneering online retailers such as Net-a-Porter apart as go-to digital destinations for luxury shopping.

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So how does Matchesfashion.com plan to compete in an environment where even mass players such as Amazon are making forays into fashion?

“I love Amazon. I just had a baby so I use it a lot. They’re a great company, but luxury requires a different kind of treatment. It takes one-to-one relationships, and you can’t do that at that massive scale. You need an element of storytelling and experience,” says Jerome.

“You can’t become Matches overnight, and our customers are coming to us because we’re the opposite of a department store or a marketplace [and offer] that proximity and storytelling and curation. Amazon is making a push on mainstream fashion, but it’s very different.”

Matchesfashion.com also stands out among its competitors for the way it has managed to make online shopping warm and intimate, whether it’s the signature marbled boxes in which purchases are delivered (which have become collectible Instagram fodder) or its well curated and never overwhelming selection of niche labels mixed with high-end brands.

Last year Matchesfashion.com had a US$384 million turnover and was acquired by investment fund Apax Partners. Jerome attributes the recent fast growth of the company to the laser-like focus of all its departments, from buying to merchandising and marketing, on inspiring its loyal – and very international – client base.

“We do 82 per cent of our business outside of the UK, and the US is our number one market since last year,” Jerome says. “Asia-Pacific is very strategic for us, especially Hong Kong, Australia, Korea, Singapore. A lot of the countries where we are in Asia are very successful. In Hong Kong, for instance, we do 87 per cent of our business with existing customers. The retention rate is great so we’ve created a loyal clientele in Hong Kong, where we opened our first office outside of the UK.”

Buying director Natalie Kingham, who has done more than anyone to build Matchesfashion.com’s reputation as the go-to retailer for directional fashion, said that when she first started she was often asked how she approached buying for such a diverse clientele.

“I never think in terms of regions but what the most fashionable women in the world are going to wear,” she says. “People with great taste have great taste, no matter where they’re from. The internet makes the world a lot smaller. You can shop so many small brands no matter where you are in the world. I keep our edit really tight.”

Carlos Place is a significant investment from a digital player such as Matchesfashion.com, and the industry will certainly be watching to see if the company can crack the code and find a solution to the woes plaguing physical retail.

The space will launch in September with a takeover by Prada, which will bring its Milanese patisserie Marchesi to London, followed by collaborations with designers including Richard Quinn and wellness companies such as Paris’ Maisie Cafe (“residencies” will last about two weeks before something new pops up).

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“The entire organisation is driven by the idea of inspiring people,” says Jerome. “We want to be the most personal luxury experience in the world. Everything has to feel personal, and Carlos Place is a good example of being personal and yet at scale.”