Fifteen years ago, a variety of people told Natalie Massenet that no one would ever buy fashion online because it needs to be tried on.

This story first appeared in the March 20, 2015 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

It’s a good thing she didn’t listen.

“This issue is still relevant to beauty,” said David Olsen, global vice president of beauty at Net-a-porter, during his session at the WWD Digital Beauty Forum. “Today, I don’t think anyone would think twice about buying clothes online, but the challenge still exists in beauty.”

He added that 6 to 10 percent of all beauty purchases are online and a good portion of that is replenishment.

But according to Olsen, beauty at Net-a-porter, which launched about two years ago, has been a huge success. The company beat its first year forecast by 40 percent and tripled its business in its second year.
To that end, Olsen touched on five key points that have helped the company flourish including: having a clear vision, merging content with commerce, creating a digital beauty counter, offering superior customer service and being current and relevant.

When launching beauty, the company decided to not discount it, which is something constantly found online. “It ruins your margins, commoditizes your product, ruins your brand equity and attracts the discount seeker who isn’t loyal to your site,” Olsen said.

Instead of slashing prices, Net-a-porter created a beauty box that comes out three times a year where the company curates its favorite products and sells them at a value to the customer.

In terms of content and commerce, Olsen explained that he always tells his editorial team to “think commercially, act editorially.” One way they have built credibility is by featuring products they don’t sell on the site.

So how does one test a product when there’s no physical contact?

“In a digital world, your product pages are your beauty counter,” Olsen said. Net-a-porter shoots all of its products and how-to videos in house, includes a full list of ingredients and displays the product in multiple ways so consumers can get a sense of the texture and color. “We have three million views per month on these [10 to 60 second] videos and 80 percent of them are watched from the beginning to end,” he added.
Olsen also stressed the importance of customer service. This year, Net-a-porter launched Beauty Chat, which became a huge revenue center for the site. Recently, they’ve rolled out the chat component to the fashion pages.

The last element he touched on was under utilization of visual merchandisers. “[Our merchandisers] integrate beauty and fashion on product pages,” he said. “Because for us, it’s about completing the look.”

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