PARIS — “What consumers want today is to enter a brand universe that has a real editorial point of view. As long as department stores don’t understand that, it will be difficult for them.”
So said Ulric Jerome, chief executive officer of Matchesfashion.com, speaking at the third edition of the Forum de la Mode, or Fashion Forum, at the French Finance Ministry on Nov. 7.
The French businessman was part of a round table titled “The Digital Revolution of Distribution” alongside Emma François, founder of Sessùn; Jean-Bernard Della Chiesa, director of innovation for Etam group; Nicolas Ivars of Avignon-based men’s wear retailer The Next Door; Pierre Humblot-Ferrero, cofounder of content creation agency Grand Shooting, and Eliott Jabès, ceo of retail software firm Stockly.
Jerome said it was important for marketplaces to invest in putting together curated digital content to keep up with the expectations of consumers.
“Creating a visual identity is costly, but it’s worth the investment,” he said. “I don’t have anything against traditional department stores, but the truth is when you go on web sites like Galeries Lafayette, you can immediately tell their photo shoots and visual experiences lack personality.”
The declaration was tempered by Humblot-Ferrero of Grand Shooting. The start-up specializes in helping brands provide imagery in keeping with the tone of each e-retailer they partner with.
“It’s a lot easier for young brands who are just starting out, but for big groups like Galeries Lafayette or La Redoute, there is a real industrial risk in changing what already exists,” he cautioned.
“You need to respect the DNA of your digital partner. You don’t sell the same way on Zalando, La Redoute, Amazon or on your own e-shop,” Humblot-Ferrero continued. “There needs to be a transition from an age-old organization to a completely digital native scheme, where, when a brand shoots a collection, it is no longer only shooting four visuals for the e-shop but 50 of them, for all partners on all territories.”
François, who created Sessùn in 1995 but only recently branched out to e-commerce, agreed that it was important for brands to have a distinct visual identity — sometimes at the expense of actual business.
“Our community is deeply engaged and quite demanding: our customers want us to communicate on the brand’s universe and are against any purely commercial content,” she said, adding that any social media posts featuring products were met with strong resistance from the brand’s followers.
“We chose to have two web sites, one for image and one for e-commerce. We have a team of editors and photographers who are dedicated to producing curated content for the web site, like profiles of people in the creative industry. The result is striking: The editorial web site gathers a lot more page views than our e-commerce outlet,” François said.
Sessùn’s next goal would be to add shoppable content to their stories and profiles. “The aim is for customers to be able to buy the pieces featured in our videos or worn by the people we profile,” she explained. The brand’s sales are still driven by brick-and-mortar, with only 10 percent of revenue achieved online.
The digital revolution has also hit stores themselves. A wall of screens and a shop-in-shop for young designers will feature in The Next Door’s first Parisian boutique, set to open on Rue de Beaurepaire in January.
“Working with digital in store will allow us to show products that are not physically on the racks,” explained Ivars, who added that The Next Door’s revenue is equally split between physical stores and e-commerce.
“Why would people who physically come into stores have fewer services than those who buy online?” asked Della Chiesa of Etam. The French group launched its “Try at Home” service in June, mirroring the e-commerce act of buying online, trying on at home and sending items back.
The speakers insisted on the importance of customer experience. In the first eight weeks since the opening of its new concept space at 5 Carlos Place last September, Matchesfashion.com organized 37 different events at the lavishly decorated venue, located in London’s Mayfair district. Most of them weren’t actually fashion-related.
“There was a masterclass with a Michelin-starred chef and a flower bouquet workshop, as well as installations by both emerging and established designers,” Jerome said.
“With press coverage only, we reached 350 million people, to which you need to add the nearly 400 million people who followed the events on social media, because no one can enter 5 Carlos Place without getting their phone out. That is our vision for the future of retail: to create a universe via an extraordinary retail space, and use this physical space to achieve a global reach,” he said.