NEW YORK — With prices mirroring Forever 21, production cycles similar to those of Zara and a focus on content production à la Asos, Boohoo.com is in a prime position to take on the U.S. market.
This story first appeared in the October 30, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The e-tailer will unveil its first physical space in SoHo here on Saturday: a nearly 4,000-square-foot, bi-level pop-up that will be open through Nov. 15.
The average dress retails for about $20, a premium-range dress for about $35 and a coat can top out at around $60, with new, trend-driven items arriving on the site weekly. Apparel has a life cycle of four to six weeks (due to a shallow buy across an enormous number of styles), leaving little to no room for markdowns. An editorial team of 15 operates within a 70-person-plus marketing arm, producing Boohoo’s Stylefix magazine every four to six weeks — an issue comes with every order. The company also maintains a small men’s business, comprising 5 percent of overall sales right now.
“If I talk about our product strategy, it’s of newness,” cofounder and chief executive officer Carol Kane told WWD at the brand’s pop-up, located at 462 West Broadway, off of Houston Street. “We have 500 lines delivered every single week. You can’t support what we do very easily in a store environment. You can have a collection here, but it’s going out of stock as quick as it’s going in.”
The eight-year-old e-commerce site already has entered Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and the U.S.
Before founding Boohoo.com with Mahmud Kamani, the two were the go-to team for British high-street sourcing around the world, working with Topshop, H&M and Miss Selfridges as well as Asos in its infancy.
Boohoo has been digital since Day One and is now trying to grow its presence in the U.S. market with the help of its new space.
“If we open stores at this stage, it will restrict our proposition,” Kane said. “We would have to do edited versions of what we’re about, and that jars with what the brand is all about. It’s against the philosophy of the brand.”
There are two emerging faces of fast fashion: the established players, such as H&M and Zara, which have only recently started to focus on the e-commerce game, and brands along the lines of Boohoo that are digital natives and starting to dip their toes into the offline world.
“We don’t see it as an assault on these players, as our strength is online and their strength is in bricks-and-mortar,” Kane said, noting that the pop-up was never meant to compete with the stores around them.
Kosha Gada, a principal in the media, consumer and retail practices at A.T. Kearney, compared Boohoo’s move to Amazon’s opening of a pop-up store during the holiday season in New York. Although a different kind of player — and exponentially larger — Amazon is another pure-play strategically opening “a little bit of brick-and-mortar.”
Gada credits Boohoo.com as one of the few companies that has been able to pull off e-commerce exclusively. Besides Asos and Zulily, most other e-tailers have had to implement some sort of permanent retail presence to survive.
“They don’t have to [open stores],” Gada said. “They can scale and adapt to changing trends and consumer demands. There is no need to be bogged down with a huge brick-and-mortar footprint.”
Gada said the e-tailer has a lower average price point than competitors, undercutting Zara, H&M and Asos.
“Digital is the new frontier that everyone is trying to master, and [Boohoo.com is] going at it the other way round. They are ahead of the game at the gate,” Gada said. “It’s relatively easier to open a pop-up shop in strategic markets during strategic times of the year.”
The destination is largely a marketing tool for Boohoo, said Kane, who is in town for a press preview tonight and the store’s opening this weekend. She explained that the brand will use the space as a vehicle to start connecting with the American consumer in a meaningful way and, hopefully, illicit a viral social buzz here. If this venture is successful, however, Kane is open to rolling out more pop-up shops as a way to engage with a specific customer base.
A regional headquarters will open here before Christmas, and the New York-based team will be responsible for developing what the public-relations, content and communications strategies will look like for the U.S. customer. Establishing a localized social-media voice is key, said Kane. The publicly traded e-tailer — it was listed on the London Stock Exchange in mid-March — introduced an American e-commerce site in 2013, with the first foreign-language sites in France, Germany, Spain and Italy launched last year and early this year. Net sales for the first half ended Aug. 31 rose 31 percent, to 67.2 million pounds, or $105 million at average exchange.
Boohoo.com is based in Manchester, England, with a second office operating out of London. In total, the company has just short of 1,000 employees.
Kane said a permanent brick-and-mortar presence isn’t really in the cards.
“I’m asked that all the time,” she said. “My business partner has a great answer: ‘Why would I open a store when I can open a country?’ ”