A few weeks ago I was invited to the UK launch of Vente-privee.com, a new members-only online discount designer club that has been doing very well in France, Spain, Germany and Italy. My first thought on receiving the invitation was ‘hmmm’ but I was tempted by macaroons and champagne at Sketch. The way Vente-privee.com works is you sign up for membership and for each sale, you receive an e-invitation 48 hours in advance. Each sale lasts a mere 48-72 hours and once the sale ends, the merchandise is no longer visible on the site.
On watching the presentation I kept thinking, ‘who shops like this?’. I am really not an online shopper. I never think ‘I need a new top, let’s have a look online and see what’s out there’, simply because it would take forever. The choice is literally endless and in any case, I like the retail experience. I like browsing, touching and even sniffing things (leather wallets, yum!). I like guessing the prices and getting a buzz when I see something’s unexpectedly reduced. I rarely shop in the sales because I expect them to be full of crap. And yet these discount shopping clubs are booming.
According to this article in The Wall Street Journal, people have become tired of greedy shopping. Spending hundreds on an It bag, shoe or even a coat is somehow not so chic any more but getting the cachet of a designer piece at a hugely marked-down price is still appealing. A digital marketing agency has noticed that interest in discount retail sites is on the up. Blog postings and online ‘buzz’ about discounters such as BlueFly.com are increasing, while breathless raves about merchandise featured on Netaporter.com has taken a dip. In fact, Netaporter’s response to this is to introduce Theoutnet.com, an outlet and sample-sale priced sister site that is pencilled to launch by the end of the year. And Asos.com recently launched discount site Asos Red with up to 70% off international brand names (and there are some good brands there – April 77 jeans at £35 anyone?).
So what about these clubs, why not just shop on BlueFly or Asos Red? Credit crunch or no credit crunch, people like an element of one-upmanship. Online shopping clubs aren’t available to everyone, you have to make the effort to sign up and the ‘club’ tag gives it an edge of prestige and exclusivity – your membership has to be approved or you have to be recommended. Fashionconfidential.com was originally set up for cash-rich, time-poor businesswomen but is now just as viable for fashion addicts who don’t have as much disposable income as they had a year or two ago. Members get a heads-up on all the best London samples sales (think Valentino and Chloe for starters) as well as exclusive and generous discounts on brands like Anya Hindmarch, Jaeger and Agent Provocateur.
What all this goes to prove is that even though people are spending less, they are still a long way from giving up the shopping habit completely. Money may be tighter but the lust for new clothes hasn’t waned – the challenge is finding fresh ways to satisfy that lust while keeping within our ever-decreasing budgets.