Online shopping

The online denim bonanza

Holy Moly, May was certainly the month of the denim online launch. In the space of a week, I experienced interesting initiatives from Net-a-Porter, My-Wardrobe and Oasis. All are after the tidy profits generated by denim fit knowledge. Let’s face it, trying jeans on is no fun, so why not make the consumer’s life easier?

How are these brands doing it?

Firstly, Net-a-porter invited a bunch of bloggers and online press to a very slick denim presentation at Net-a-Porter HQ. Did I mention NAP have moved to snazzy new offices at Westfield? Oh. My. The place is straight out of a Hollywood fash-buster. Giant glossy black doors open onto a vast but vast reception area with shiny computer screens opposite an impossibly chic seating area. Beyond that is an all-glass meeting room, then the presentation area which was spot-lit to the max (think Annie Leibovitz Vogue shoot). This was where we were shown the various jeans and denim-wear that make up the newly launched Net-a-Porter Denim Boutique.

Following an in-depth presentation from buying director, Holli Rogers and denim and casualwear buyer, Ben Matthews, we played with jeans and were sized up by the all-knowing customer service team. I was lucky enough to get global customer care manager, Helen Baynes who had me down as a perfect candidate for the J Brand 7/8ths and duly ordered me a pair. After more jeans chat with fellow bloggers, I sniffed around the offices. Upping the fabulosity factor even further, I spied giant glass chandeliers above the desks, triple-height windows with views overlooking west London and get this, the Net-a-Porter library which has custom fitted floor-to-ceiling shelves and bowler hats hanging like mobiles. Insania.

You can expect the same level of exceptional service from the denim boutique as the rest of Net-a-Porter. On the site, denim is separated into as many different categories as you can think of, so whichever way you care to shop (by fit, silhouette, wash, fabric etc), you’ll find that category. There is also a whole page on how to measure up for jeans. And should you have any questions, you can contact the denim experts by phone or email, it’s all designed to be super-easy and painless. Two things I found out that I didn’t know: The Victoria Beckham jeans are actually *gasp* really nice and are made in her ready-to-wear atelier (as they should be at £200+ a pop) and Samsung sells a washing machine with a denim cycle. See, I told you these guys know everything. In fact, I so enjoyed chatting to denim guru Ben, that I sent him even more questions afterwards.

Here’s my mini-questionnaire:
Disneyrollergirl: What’s the best way to wash and dry jeans?
Ben Matthews: Wash with a mild detergent on a cool cycle, inside out and on their own. This will help preserve their colour and prevent any shrinkage. Never tumble dry denim and keep out of direct sunlight to help prevent fading.

DRG: What’s going to be the next all-encompassing jeans shape (after the skinny)?
BM: It’s a cropped kick flare jean called the Gigi by J Brand that hits just above the ankle before flaring out slightly. This style is super-flattering on all body shapes. Also look out for the tight bell bottom, a new take on the original bell bottom style – it’s a sharper cut.

DRG: I know you don’t sell menswear but what are your favourite men’s jeans and why?
BM: I find it so hard to choose from the vast range of brands out there but I would say my top three brands are Acne, Ksubi & Levi’s.

DRG: Can you suggest a classic hero jean for the following?
BM: A slim cut jean in a darker wash will help elongate the leg. Go for the mid-rise cropped skinny from Current Elliot.

BM: Swap loose-fitting jeans for a figure-enhancing slim fit with flare. J Brand’s mid-rise boot cut offer an ultra form-flattering finish.

Short and fat*
Petite and curvy girls should also go for the figure-flattering J Brand 7/8th as their slightly cropped finish and slim fit work well for this body shape. [EXCLUSIVE ALERT!] For AW10, we are introducing a dedicated petite range of denim which will include styles from brands such as Notify, so stay tuned.

Days later, My-Wardrobe hosted a two-day pop-up ‘denim bar’ for men in Carnaby Street, home to denim stores by Pepe, Diesel, Replay, Lee and Levi’s. This was also to celebrate the launch of their online denim shop, although My-Wardrobe insist theirs was meant to launch six months ago. Their site has added value with its My-TV videos that feature moving models and expert fit tips.

The aim of the pop-up bar was to introduce My-Wardrobe to men in a relaxed setting, letting them try on jeans, experience the site and (hopefully) get them comfortable with ordering their denim brands online – and keep coming back.

Finally, Oasis introduced their Denim Online Fit Guide with a charming little video. Accompanying the video is the fit guide which gives in-depth information on their best-selling styles for summer.

Selling jeans online isn’t that easy as apparently denim doesn’t show up well on screen, so the best styles to sell are the ones with lots of detail. That said, most customers want classic styles, so these helpful fit guides and hand-holding videos are timely. There is definitely money to be made from selling denim online – once the customer knows which jeans to buy. And by the way, the Net-a-Porter experts got it just right, I am now a J Brand convert.

*my words, he used ‘petite’ and ‘curvy’, I prefer to call a spade a spade…

And now for something completely different

If 2009 was the year of the pop-up shop, then 2010 is set to be the year of the concept store. In the UK (OK, London), Dover Street Market and The Shop at Bluebird first set the tone, Liberty followed suit with its personal touches and now Anthropologie has raised the bar further. Couturelab, the online luxury portal recently opened its beautiful concept store on Davies Street, an outlet that is just as compelling as its online counterpart. Meanwhile, Darkroom (above) has just opened in Lambs Conduit Street selling under-the-radar fashion alongside interiors with in-store exhibitions a major focus.

Come January, Harvey Nichols London’s newly spruced-up fourth floor is set to be the next big buzz. It will have a concept store feel with a frequently evolving product mix including exclusive and limited edition collections, a Lanvin ‘supermarket of luxury’ curated by Alber himself and a buy-it-or-regret-it collection of vintage magazines (ooh), furniture (aah) and books (I’ll take ’em all).

The keyword for concept stores seems to be ‘edit’. It’s all about the precise mix of labels and the perfect ratio between new, vintage and limited edition. I think the other key point is to keep things changing constantly. Every time I visit a store I want to discover a surprise, something that wasn’t there before. It’s all part of the experience, otherwise why brave the crowds when I can shop online anytime and pretty much anywhere?
By the way, the concept store trend isn’t limited to London. There is a major luxury concept store arriving in Manchester in February 2010. Hervia, the company responsible for eight of Vivienne Westwood’s standalone stores is behind Hervia Bazaar, an impressive-sounding retail space and etail site. Designers slated for the store include Comme Des Garcons, Sibling, Zero+Maria Cornejo, Rick Owens and Gareth Pugh alongside lesser-known names such as shoesmiths Michael Lewis and Atlanta Weller.

Exciting, no? Watch this space for further updates…

If anything converts me to online shopping, this may be it

A few weeks ago I did some work with an online retailer. In the course of my work, the subject of online shopping came up and my colleague was aghast when I told her I don’t shop online. It’s true, I don’t. Apart from the odd book from Amazon – which by the time you’ve factored in delivery charges isn’t that much cheaper than the high street – I do all my shopping in bricks-and-mortar stores. I prefer the in-store experience and when it comes to clothes shopping I want to know I can return them with no hassle. It’s also why I feel happier buying from department stores rather than ‘no refunds’ boutiques. But news reaches me today of a new initiative from ASOS called ASOS Premier. For £24.95 a year you get free next day or ‘nominated day’ delivery and free returns which are collected from your house! Now, forgive me if this is common practice with online retailers but I’ve never heard of it and I think it’s bloody genius. I was so gobsmacked, I had to get someone to check that I’d read the blurb properly and got the right end of the stick. This is something that would seriously make me rethink my ‘no online shopping’ stance. It means you can order the item you want in a couple of different sizes, try them on at home playing dress-up with all your other things, then return the non-fitting item without hauling your ass down to the post office and paying for the privilege. Duh, they should have done this years ago!

At this week’s Fashion Summit, one of the main messages coming across was the importance of customer service. When business is tough, a good product, a good price and good customer service will see you through. If anyone knows how to succeed in online retail it’s ASOS and we all know that they are doing very well with product and price. It’s great to see customer service being addressed like this, let’s see if others follow suit.