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Vente-Privee Tackles the U.S. Market Via Digital Makeover

How the European flash sales site customized its business to appeal to the U.S. market.

Robin Domeniconi

In a market saturated by flash sites selling discounted designer goods, the challenge of differentiation is paramount. And that has been a challenge even for established players like Vente-Privee, admitted Robin Domeniconi, vice president of marketing at Vente-Privee USA.

Founded in 2001, Vente-Privee is a French site that sells in eight countries and rakes in $1.5 billion in sales a year. Last June, the company entered into a joint venture with American Express to launch in the U.S., but even with its extensive history, Domeniconi said the endeavor wasn’t easy.

“We still had challenges,” she said.

With rival flash sites such as Gilt, Rue La La and value-centric e-tailers such as Amazon and Zappos already out there, making a mark on the American consumer was challenging.

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In order to grab market share, the team retooled the Web site to target what Domeniconi called “hunters and gatherers.” Typically, hunters are shoppers who shop with a mission. There’s no browsing or picking up other items on the fly. Gatherers, on the other hand, include shoppers who browse and enjoy the shopping experience. The online format of shopping makes the gatherer harder to cater to, the exec said, but that was the challenge that Vente-Privee was hoping to conquer.

The team first tackled the feel of the Web site by developing a virtual shopping experience.

“In order for you to move product, you must create that ‘must have now’ mentality,” Domeniconi explained, as she showed a slide displaying a diamond necklace next to a pair of jeans.

The necklace had been marked down to $29,950 from $76,000, while the jeans were priced at $49 from $79.

According to Domeniconi, Vente-Privee sold out of the necklace within hours, but the pants were a bit harder to move.

Creating that demand is also linked to remaining true to one’s core values, and to using data to be predictive of trends, she said. Through its partnership with American Express, Vente-Privee is privy to massive amounts of marketing data, which allows it to fine-tune its merchandising strategy, as well as its product placement. That data have helped the site create that virtual store it had set out to build, Domeniconi offered.

“Business is not a field of dreams,” she said, echoing an earlier speaker at the forum. “Just because you build it doesn’t me they will come. You need insight and that’s fueled by data.”