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Zappos’ Jennifer Sidary Talks Couture

The online retail pioneer is looking beyond computers to the next stage of luxury online shopping.

Jennifer Sidary

Online retail pioneer Zappos is looking beyond computers to the next stage of luxury online shopping.

This story first appeared in the June 19, 2013 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

As one of the first Web sites to offer free shipping in 2002, the Amazon.com subsidiary is working to roll out same-day shipping within the next five years while drumming up weekly videos to attract users to its high-end Web site, Zappos Couture, which stocks brands ranging from Alexander McQueen to Vivienne Westwood. The logistics of undertaking both endeavors, which essentially transform the Las Vegas-based company into a brick-and-mortar inventory center as well as a media company, represent the lesser of its challenges, according to Jennifer Sidary, couture connoisseur at Zappos Couture.

“Our biggest challenge really is to get these [luxury] brands to sell [to] us,” Sidary said, noting that several European companies are reluctant to expand their Web presence and wholesale to Zappos Couture, which launched in 2004. “For us, it’s really just to get these brands to feel comfortable selling [to] us and not thinking that we’re a discount Web site.”

Sidary, a Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising graduate who arrived at Zappos six years ago after working at tony department store Halls in Kansas City, Mo., not only buys half the brands for Zappos Couture but also acts as the merchandising liaison with the company’s technology team and oversees marketing. Since she started, Zappos Couture has updated its site twice, tallying a 300 percent increase in sales and growing its personnel fivefold.

In addition to same-day shipping, Sidary’s next goal is to optimize Zappos Couture for mobile technology with “responsive design,” whereby the Web site will fit whatever size screen the customer uses. She cited a 2012 study that reported a third of all e-mails are opened on a mobile phone or tablet and that 60 percent of people will leave a mobile-unfriendly site. Online shopping via computers also fell 14 percent in the first quarter of 2013, reflecting the biggest drop in the last 20 years, she said. The current trend is for shoppers to make online purchases on their tablet or phone at night during a TV commercial break, she said.

“I knew the importance of mobile, but I really didn’t know how much our luxury customers really depended on it,” she said.

Customers also like the weekly videos filmed on the red carpet by celebrity journalist Victoria Recaño with stars and designers such as Naomi Watts and Michael Kors.

“We’re really trying to get our customers to come back to our site more often,” Sidary said, “because we know if they’re going to purchase, we need to offer them new and exciting things.”