Porter: Purchasing Power with Panache

If you've heard of shopping websites like The Outnet (a sister site), the Gilt Group or the most recently launched Moda Operandi,  you have Net-A-Porter's creator and founder, Natalie Massenet to thank.  In 2000, she created the luxury shopping website for women's fashion at a time when many didn't think the business model would succeed, shortly following the bursting of the internet bubble.  But, undeterred, Ms. Massenet forged ahead bringing the luxury shopping experience to women everywhere.

With the financial backing of Swiss-based luxury conglomerate, Groupe Richmont, Net-A-Porter with its headquarters in London, opened their metaphorical doors to customers worldwide.  Be it geographically unable, time crunched or intimidated by walking through the doors of a luxury brand,  shoppers could visit the website at their leisure and shop with impunity for $5000 dresses or $700 shoes.  At a time when the majority of online shopping was reserved for bargain hunting, with sites like eBay, and most luxury goods companies were anti-internet, Net-A-Porter put its stamp on a new shopping experience.

In Fall 2008, the site broke new ground once again, when it not only ran the Halston runway show online, but provided customers the opportunity to purchase two top pieces from the show the very next day.  Next up was Alexander McQueen.  Through the website, the elaborate designer offered pre-registered customers the opportunity to view the private runway show, but also order eight looks from the Resort collections two months before they were available anywhere else.  What was once reserved for celebrity clients was now being brought to the masses, totally changing not only online shopping purchasing habits, but the shopping experience as we know it today.

Elevating the experience further, Net-A-Porter offers an editorial element as well as a weekly online magazine.  Why is this relevant? It provides the consumer with an in-store shopping feel by suggesting other pieces that you may like or showing a look book of how pieces can be worn together, simulating an in-store retailer offering a helping hand. Earlier this year, the site launched another multi-media portal, Net-A-Porter TV with video content exclusive to the site.

Last year, Ms. Massenet sold more shares to Groupe Richemont, giving them a majority stake in the company.  At the time of sale, the company was valued at roughly $569 million, giving Ms. Massenet $76 million, $24 million of which she will reinvest into the company.

Such was the genesis of the aptly titled Mr. Porter. Mr. Porter is to men what Net-A-Porter is to women, but to a greater degree.  See, most men do not enjoy the in-store shopping experience.  They enter the store, knowing what they want to purchase, and want to do so with ease and without clutter.  To this end, Mr. Porter will offer a limited number of brands, 80 for now, compared to the 350 offered on its sister site.  And akin to the women's site, Mr. Porter will offer editorial pieces as well, including the weekly magazine and Behind the Brand, a look at certain brands. While the appearance at Net-A-Porter is more glossy mag, this layout is more newsprint, black & white, clean.

While it all sounds promising, and noting all of the difference, I still wondered if it would really work? I mean, how many men will sit at home and shop online? It will work and here's why.

With the luxury brand market on the up-and-up, posting an increase in sales by 10% in 2010, men's spending in this category rose 42% compared to women's 28% increase.  To that end, the share of monies that men spent on luxury goods since 2007 is up 81% to women's 57%.  Oh, and ladies if you want your man to dress the part, be sure to use the word "style" rather than the word "fashion" which research shows is less male friendly and to them indicates trendy, rather than classic.

Before the launching in 2000 and 2011 respectively, the only option for purchasing luxury goods was through a storefront.  With online style and fashion purveyors, the luxury goods playing field has been flattened, making everything available at 3am in Mongolia if desired.  It's the ease of sale, the editorial details that simulate an in-store shopping experience and the almost instant gratification (same day delivery in New York & London, 24-hours elsewhere) that have made these sites so well received. It is said that "imitation is the highest form of flattery," and while many sites are following closely in her footsteps, it is Ms. Massenet who has truly forged her own path