This week, visitors to Style.com—Condé Nast’s longtime online fashion flagship that was launched in 2000—were met with a message that read:
“This fall, Style.com will become a new global e-commerce destination. At that time, our comprehensive fashion and runway coverage and much more will move to a newly expanded fashion shows channel of Vogue.com, to be found at Voguerunway.com. Until then, keep coming to Style.com for our daily fashion show coverage, industry news, parties, street style, and more.”
After the initial sentiment of “Where am I going to go for runway photos now?!” the next question was inevitably “what’s the real chance of this working?”
Theoretically, it’s not a bad move—with print ad revenue scarce, many media brands are struggling to make up for it with sales on the digital side, so it makes sense Condé Nast would want to target the $1.5 trillion global e-commerce market.
The publishing conglomerate told Business of Fashion that they plan to invest over $100 million in the new venture over the next few years. The business will be based in London, and plans to employ a marketplace model (meaning it won’t actually buy and hold inventory, but will rather make money from a commission on sales.) The site will launch with between 100 to 200 brands, heavily emphasizing luxury fashion, though also selling gadgets, beauty, gifts, and art.
“Over the last several years, among our strongest advertisers have been the biggest e-commerce players,” Condé Nast International Chairman and CEO Jonathan Newhouse told Business of Fashion. “Yoox and Net-a-Porter are heavy continual advertisers. If these e-commerce companies are paying a lot of money to reach the people who read our magazines and use our websites, why should not wee, who know our customers better than anyone, who have more information about and understand them and already have a relationship with them? Why should we not also offer them this service? Can’t we do it better?”
Media companies have made this argument before in attempt to break into e-commerce. Time Inc.’s InStyle launched InStyle Shopping Back in 2007. Hearst owned Harper’s Bazaar launched the shopping site ShopBazaar in 2012. And this year, Condé Nast spun off Lucky magazine, in conjunction with BeachMint, creating a new e-commerce platform Lucky Shops. None of these ventures have come close to replicating the success of luxury e-commerce giants like Net-Porter or MatchesFashion.com, but no publisher seems to have invested this heavily into e-commerce before, either.
Still, not everyone is optimistic: One retail analyst, who wished to remain anonymous, scoffed to us “10 years too late Conde Nast, but good luck.”
True, Conde Nast is late to the party, particularly in comparison to its biggest potential competitor Net-a-Porter, which wooed luxury shoppers away from brick-and-morter stores thanks to an easy-to-use interface, a brand assortment that includes Balmain, Saint Laurent, and Gucci, free delivery and returns, and excellent customer service. The company now has an estimated value of $3.4 billion.
“Rome [slash] Net-a-Porter wasn’t built-in a day,” Senior Vice President of luxury and retail consulting firm Robert Burke Associates Kwesi Blair told us. “The trick [for Conde Nast] will be executing the e-commerce in a way that is truly differentiated and unique. The space is crowded and consumers will only buy when they can get something that no other site is offering—price, product, service, or added value.”
The other uphill battle for Conde Nast? Integrating this new venture thoughtfully into its wide range of existing brands. “They’ll need to be very clear as to who they are going after,” Blair said. “The Teen Vogue reader does not necessarily want the same thing as the W reader, so how will they cater to both? I think the strategy [should be] to start small…[which will] give them an opportunity to develop a loyal customer over time.”
The bottom line: While a bold move for Conde Nast, this is by no means a slam dunk. Getting women to buy magazines, after all, is ultimately a very different business than getting them to buy $600 pairs of shoes.