By  on August 27, 2009

TOKYO — A new luxury e-commerce site is launching here as online sales gain momentum in Japan., a new invitation-only Web site, goes live today with an inaugural sales event dedicated to Longchamp. Owned and managed by a group of French nationals, the Web site will sell lifestyle products ranging from Prada eyewear to packages at luxury hotels and cars from Peugeot. Initially the site will be limited to Japanese users, but the company plans to launch Glamour-sales in both China and South Korea next year.

During each brand-specific 48-hour sale, the site will feature a brief film to showcase the products and encapsulate the brand’s essence. For example, Japanese model Hinano Yoshikawa is featured in the Longchamp film, a live-action fashion shoot of her posing sensually with the French company’s handbags. The site will also feature information about each brand’s history, an online catalogue and blogs, which members can use to interact with one another.

“I think it’s quite fun to try and change a bit the distribution in Japan,” Glamour-sales’ chief executive officer Guillaume Davin said on the sidelines of a presentation here Tuesday. “The plan is to develop [the site] for Japan, and then export it to Asia. But the first priority is to make it a success in Japan.”

Davin, a former senior vice president of sales and marketing at Louis Vuitton Japan, declined to disclose a sales forecast for the new site,but said 60 brands have already committed to the project. He stressed that each company or fashion house offering products on the site will have full control over pricing and presentation.

“We provide the stage and the screen and they do what they want.” Davin explained, estimating that apparel and accessories will make up about 50 percent of the product mix sold through the site. Hospitality packages, gourmet food and other items will make up the rest. The site will offer discounts on fashion merchandise when the respective season is over but it’s not trying to lure shoppers with bargains, he explained.

“We are trying to become an official partner on the Web for quality brands,” Davin said.

Alain Soulas and Olivier Chouvet, two of the founders of Emotion, a pan-Asian events management and public relations group, are Glamour-sales’ founding investors.The two entrepreneurs and their business partner, Isabelle Chouvet, sold Emotion to France’s Publicis Groupe in 2006, but all three still work for the promotions company. Olivier Chouvet is also Glamour-sales’ president for Asia Pacific and will directly oversee the launch in South Korea. Soulas is a sleeping partner.

Traditionally, online retailing has been slow to take hold in Japan, where consumers place a high premium on the shopping experience and knowledgeable sales staff. But there is evidence that is starting to change — even against the backdrop of a stagnant market for luxury goods. McKinsey & Co. this year issued a report highlighting the importance of online retail as a new way to reach out to consumers.

The consultancy estimated that online sales of apparel and cosmetics in Japan, excluding transactions by mobile phone, totaled $6.1 billion in 2008, up about 42 percent from 2006 levels.

“E-commerce will play a meaningful role in luxury goods in Japan,” the McKinsey analysts said in their report. “Apparel and cosmetics are already among the fastest-growing categories in online sales in Japan. Although Japan accounts for only about 10 percent of the global online luxury-goods market today, the percentage will almost certainly grow steadily in the near future.”

Retailers are increasingly aware of the potential of e-commerce. A few of Japan’s department stores claim their online stores are among their top five sales points, McKinsey wrote. However, the consultancy warned that department stores need to do a better job attracting customers beyond their local geographic base rather than cannibalize sales at their existing stores.

Meanwhile, last May, U.S.-based discount luxury retailer Gilt Groupe Inc. launched a Japanese version of its site, which now counts more than 200,000 members. Gilt has a model very similar to Glamour-sales, with a members-only site that sells products with the support of luxury brands.

The site is gunning to reach sales of 50 billion yen, or $508.7 million, in five years, said Alexis Maybank, Gilt’s chief strategy officer, at the time of the launch.

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