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NEW YORK — Move over, consumers. Fashion’s B2B sector is having a moment online.
The fashion world’s digital focus is expanding beyond the confines of the style-conscious shopper to the B2B category, via a handful of Web sites catering to the forces driving the retail industry.
This story first appeared in the July 17, 2012 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Designers, brands and retailers have used the Internet to deliver interactive commerce and editorialized experiences, as well as satiate a consumer desire for deeper brand engagement — but a select group is now creating more sophisticated experiences online for a B2B audience. Web sites such as Fragments, ShopToko, Fashion GPS, The Runthrough, Editd and The IdeaLists are making strides to streamline sample trafficking, discover talent and make the wholesale discovering, buying and information-gathering processes easier and more efficient.
“There’s market space for B2B-oriented platforms, but they’re only going to be adopted if they add value to a retail professional’s job and are expertly designed,” said Macala Wright, digital marketing consultant, founder and chief executive officer of Why This Way and editor in chief of FashionablyMarketing.me. She calls this a natural next step for the businesses that have spent the past several years watching fashion brands and retailers make digital advances. Wright also cites the economic climate as a contributor to the rise of trade-based Web sites, noting that many companies no longer have the boundless resources to travel to Europe, Asia and the U.S. to seek and source new product.
SoHo-based jewelry showroom and retailer Fragments unveiled a new Web site today at fragments-showroom.com, bolstering its once strictly e-commerce portal to include a password-protected portion for wholesale, retail and brand partners. It will feature designers the firm represents, highlights from current and future collections and wholesale prices.
According to founder and ceo Janet Goldman, buyers and store owners can view, consider and review product in their own time. She calls this B2B component of Fragment’s digital flagship an extension of its existing customer service.
“It’s about communicating better with our customers and since they’re not traveling as often, we’re bringing the showroom to them. It’s all about giving an education; the more information we give them access to, the better our business will be,” Goldman told WWD.
A wholesale commerce option might be added in the future, but for the moment, Goldman still wants buyers to have the personal experience of interacting with sales reps and vice versa — viewing the online experience as an in-depth preview to upcoming collections, designer inspirations and more.
Fragments will also promote the private-label product it has designed and manufactured for nearly two decades for leading retailers such as Neiman Marcus Inc., Gap Inc. and Armani Exchange. On occasion, showroom designers collaborate with the private-label team — called the Design Workshop — on larger-scale diffusion lines, but this information has never been accessible online. A new Design Workshop portion of the site will exist for Fragments to showcase its private-label work, and Goldman hopes to “attract new business and simultaneously provide a new resource for our existing accounts.”
ShopToko, which launched late last month, looks to service independent retailers within a B2B e-commerce platform. Billed as a “boutique wholesaler with no minimums” that sells current to two-months-out product, ceo Liza Deyrmenjian and chief operating officer Katherine Danesi wanted to make it easier for boutiques to buy and deliver new product to customers by minimizing financial risk.
So far, more than 2,000 retailers are registered at shoptoko.com, with about 100 brands being sold on the site. The password-protected platform (retailers need to fill out a profile, supply tax identification and wait for verification before placing an order) offers free membership for brands and retailers, with ShopToko taking a transaction fee on sales. Deyrmenjian contends that its process is different than an ordering solution because transactions are filtered through the back end and each brand receives an individual order even though the independent retailer has only one invoice.
“Within the B2B space, ShopToko has the ability to vie for that consumer at the wholesale level for the retailer more immediately,” Deyrmenjian said, explaining that if a customer gives a retailer information about what they want in-season, the store now has the ability to participate in a fast-turn cycle. “With the digital world bombarding the consumer, brick-and-mortar is still the hot spot to shop. They need the tools to make them more resourceful, more efficient and more profitable.”
It’s a symbiotic relationship for brand and retailer. For the former, the tool can help find new doors without any up-front costs, especially locations where the brand might have little to no presence. For the latter, ShopToko is a platform to discover products retailers might never have been exposed to otherwise.
The site is also in talks to partner with a trade show to serve as an online solution to events produced in cities around the country. As an online counterpart to a physical show, ShopToko could feature the brands that will present at a given show two weeks prior to, as well as during and two weeks after, the actual event.
Wright predicts that this is a direction many B2B commerce models will adopt in the near future, noting that although trade shows such as Magic and Pitti Uomo have started to create digital extensions of their physical events, they are still in their earliest stages.
“They’ve [trade shows] not been able to create experiences that allow buyers to shop designers or tailor a retailer’s preferences of what they’re looking to buy to create a relevant recommendation engine. It’s allowed online services that help professionals do their jobs via online services to succeed,” Wright said.
Last July, The Runthrough made its debut — becoming the first Web site to digitize the often tedious sample trafficking process that occurs between publications and brands. Former editors themselves, founders Meggan Crum and Mandy Tang wanted to streamline the process so members of the press could go to one destination to view and pull any of the samples they want — from multiple brands. The two conceptualized and executed therunthrough.com as a one-stop shop for brands to showcase their product and for editors to discover products from emerging and established designers.
The platform went from 17 brand partners at launch to more than 60 — Fenton/Fallon, Kara Ross, Made Her Think and Pamela Love among them — and boasts more than 200 members of the media (editors and stylists included) that use the site.
“There is momentum in the B2B space. Things are happening, and people are really looking at what opportunities there are to solve problems. It’s similar to when brands realized that everyone needs an e-commerce site,” cofounder and ceo Crum said. “A lot of brands are realizing that there are major needs for digital tools and anything that can streamline the behind-the-scenes process. Everyone has so much to do that there just aren’t enough people or hours in the day to do it all.”
She predicts a radical change in the buying process due to emerging B2B solutions that allow one to make wholesale purchases without traveling.
Fragments, ShopToko and The Runthrough might be making headway as far as navigating a still-nascent category, but Fashion GPS is arguably the pioneer of B2B digital platforms industry-wide.
Founded in 2006, it counts IMG and the CFDA as industry partners and is used by clients such as Marc Jacobs, DKNY, Chanel, Dior, Jimmy Choo, Victoria’s Secret and public relations firms like KCD, HL Group, Starworks Group, Bismarck Phillips, C&M Media, LaForce + Stevens and Paul Wilmot Communications.
The site has become the go-to for sending and receiving digital fashion week invites, but offering a seamless fashion week RSVP process with the click of a button via the site’s GPS Radar is hardly the only service provided. Other features include digital check-in and mobile seating apps for fashion shows, Web and mobile-based sample trafficking, event planning, inventory management and virtual lookbooks and press image galleries.
“I wanted to create a platform for the fashion industry that made complicated tasks like sample tracking easy,” founder and ceo Edwin Mullon said. “When I experienced the pure joy that the first Fashion GPS platform brought to interns when making a delivery or being able to track a lost sample, this motivated me to investigate this further.”
In the past year, the company’s client roster has more than doubled and it maintains operations in New York, London, Paris and Australia.
Editd, a London-based company founded in 2009 by Geoff Watts and Julia Fowler, produces data and analysis in real time for the fashion industry. Their ethos is that brands, retailers and suppliers need factual, tangible data to make impactful business decisions via current consumer purchasing habits.
Available on a monthly subscription basis, users can scour editd.com for market intelligence, with applications tailored for merchandisers, buyers, designers, traders and marketers. According to Watts and Fowler, Editd — which monitors more than 10 million product stockkeeping units and up to 12 million opinions daily — provides three key services.
The first is commercial in nature, meaning that the site has the ability to track a product’s every move once it hits the retail floor. Users can learn when and if the item sells out, if it goes on sale or even when it’s restocked. The second service is social, as Editd has a richly visual, searchable database that contains more than 600 million opinions tracked from tastemakers and influencers plucked from every social media platform imaginable. Lastly, on a creative scale, the site provides qualitative reports and visual analysis based on runway shows, forecasts, street style and trade shows.
“It’s a really interesting time. There are many, many more [B2B solutions] coming to prominence, and within the venture capital industry, no one was taking fashion seriously until the last 12 to 18 months,” Watts said. “Now people understand that apparel is a place with a big opportunity. Technology people are starting to realize that as well.”
Then there is creative talent agency The IdeaLists, which helps many fashion companies develop content and digital platforms. Founded by former Tokion editor Adam Glickman in January 2010, the firm’s site assists designers and brands that might not have the internal resources to grow their online presence or pay the fees associated with employing a large agency. Brands such as Kate Spade, Cynthia Rowley, Diesel, C. Wonder and Levi’s have used The IdeaList’s services.
Glickman is clear that this is not a crowdsourcing site — coining it a “bespoke matchmaking service” that assists clients in developing video content or e-commerce on a budget.
Once a client initiates the project on theidealists.com — which is free for clients to use — the job is posted and sent to creatives with the appropriate skill sets. An estimated budget for the project is set, and talent then bids on the job. Glickman said clients typically have a match within hours.
“Print was the primary communication for storytelling [in the fashion world] up until now. We saw that there was a need for members of the fashion community to be introduced to other kinds of creative storytellers besides photographers, whether it be in film or technology,” Glickman said. “It’s a common need in the industry.”