Ulric Jerome speaking at WWD's inaugural Tokyo summit in partnership with Lumine.

TOKYO At WWD’s first retail forum in Japan, Ulric Jerome, chief executive officer of Matchesfashion.com, described how his company used a combination of content and e-commerce to go from just one store in London 30 years ago to a global fashion leader, with the majority of growth happening in the last five years.

Roughly 95 percent of Matchesfashion’s business now happens online and of that, 80 percent represents orders from outside the U.K. From a single warehouse in London, the company ships products to customers in 170 countries worldwide, but it’s not just a robust e-commerce platform that has fueled the retailer’s impressive growth.

“Half of our web site is actually content, and we merge content and commerce together,” Jerome said, noting that what sets the store apart is its unique fashion point of view. “What the press is saying about Matchesfashion.com is that we stand for innovation in retail and that we ignite the fire in every one of our customers. And that is extremely important, because the minute we lose that, we lose everything. The opportunity is to inspire every day, and believe me, customers really want this.”

Matches aims to inspire its customers through a variety of engaging content initiatives. One program it started two seasons ago is called “The Innovators” to introduce and spotlight new, up-and-coming brands. (These include Charles Jeffrey Loverboy, Eckhaus Latta and Horror Vacui.) Another section, Studios, presents selections of items that surround a particular activity or lifestyle, such as ski, eveningwear, vacation, activewear and essentials. Front and center on the site is another section labeled “The Style Report,” which is comprised of a variety of magazine-style content from interviews, editors’ picks and designer reports to photo shoots and vacation reports. Jerome explained that while the company is sometimes commissioned by brands to produce content for the site, it always maintains its editorial license.

“If you control the edit, the curation, then there’s a real story for the customer,” he said. “And this is, for us, the way we look at retail.”

Before conducting their buying activities each season, Jerome’s team identifies the customers for whom they will be choosing products and comes up with profiles for them. For women, these might include the fashion pioneer, the romantic, the free spirit, the purist, the creator and the warrior. For men, they might be the athlete, the weekend adventurer, the fashion intellectual, the creative, the purist, and the modern playboy. Once these profiles have been agreed upon, buyers can more easily select items that will fit into each category of customer, creating a more cohesive selection, even across the roughly 450 brands the store carries. These profiles also enable Matches to provide customers with what they want via its own private label, Raey.

While women’s products make up 80 percent of sales, Jerome said the men’s side represents the highest growth. At maturity, he expects men’s to account for roughly 30 percent of the business.

Matches has also responded to customers needs in terms of services and logistics. It has versions of its sites in Korean and French, and was the first company in the world to offer 90-minute shipping to customers located within London.

“That’s how close you are from physical to digital,” Jerome said. “For us, it’s all about moving digital-physical and physical-digital together. And it’s finding the right balance between logic and magic.”

Jerome doesn’t like the word omnichannel, saying that the lines between e-commerce and brick-and-mortar stores have blurred and should not be thought of as separate things.

“At the end of the day, digital-physical, physical-digital should be the same. It should be commerce,” he said. “And this is exactly what we think the customer wants every day. The customer wants to have beautiful touch points. He wants to experience. He wants to be inspired. He wants to be extremely curious.”

In addition to its online presence, Matches operates three physical stores and a private shopping salon in London. Its next venture is a town house concept called 5 Carlos Place, which is set to open later this year. The space will host a variety of events and mini-conferences each week, all of which will be broadcast live via Facebook. Then depending on the content of those events and broadcasts, the product selection will also be edited, meaning what’s available in the town house will change several times throughout a single week.

“We are going to connect to the world by going live through social networks, so now a physical space becomes the major curator; the global hub,” Jerome said. “This is what we see as the future of retail.”

Matches tested the town house concept in New York last year, reaching 45 million people with its live Facebook content. This kind of interaction is key to the company’s business. Jerome said that an estimated 35 percent of revenue is driven by customers who have interacted with content in some way.

“We mix product and content together all the time, so you never leave the story and you have the ability to shop within the story,” he said.

With sales made via a mobile device now making up about half of the company’s total business, Matches has also found new ways to utilize social media to interact with customers and deliver content to them. These include The Style Social, which allows customers to post their purchases, which the company might repost for other customers to shop. Another service, The Style Daily, is an automatic bot which uses customers’ preferences to give them daily, customized product suggestions via their smartphone. While they don’t always result in revenue, Jerome stressed the importance of these kinds of initiatives in communicating with customers.

“People want to be inspired every day,” he said. “Even if they don’t buy on [our] site, they come to [our] site because they want to know what’s new.”

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