The chiconomic upturn
Despite being hailed as the most significant ecommerce launch in memory, designer discount site theOutnet.com seems to have been born into an uncertain world. Until, that is, you consider that its sister site is the flourishing Net-a-Porter and its mother is the undisputed queen of online fashion, Natalie Massenet. Elizabeth Troake takes a look.
We're now in the darkest days of the recession. Sources say that things will start looking up in 2010, but unfortunately, the rest of 2009 looks pretty depressing. Having said that, many retailers are actually blossoming. Supermarkets are flourishing thanks to their "meal deals", takeaway outlets are taking the place of restaurants and shoe retailers too are cashing in on customers' need for "feel-good" purchases. Then there is that business which seems to thrive whatever the country's mood; discount designer fashion.
In the offline world, designer sample and end-of-line sales regularly attract hundreds of visitors, all hungry for a bargain. Thus, sites such as Koodos, Vente-privee, Catwalk-to-Closet and BrandAlley (not to mention the new designer brands section from ASOS) have all recently cashed in on our collective desire to grab a bargain on top designer names. However, theOutnet.com, a new venture from Natalie "Net-a-Porter" Massenet, looks set to blast every other discount designer website out of the water.
Launched last month, the build up to theOutnet.com's launch was the subject of enormous hype from fashion followers the world over. Vogue even called it "the most hotly anticipated ecommerce launch in memory" and reported that over 150,000 people had signed up to the site prior to its launch.
From the team behind the enormously successful Net-a-Porter, theOutnet.com claims to cater to the "true fashion thrill-seeker". It delivers worldwide and offers up to 80% off the price of designer labels, thanks to its industry-beating contacts through its sister site. The brand names certainly haven't been sacrificed as customers will find Alexander McQueen, Dolce & Gabbana and Oscar de la Renta sitting side-by side with Marchesa, Stella McCartney and Viktor & Rolf. All with discounts of up to 60%. Consequently, within hours of the site going live, many "must-have" items had sold out completely and within days the most popular sizes had all but vanished from countless items across the site.
But it isn't just the desirable products that make this site one to watch - the same web design brains behind its sister site have ploughed their expertise to theOutnet.com. In a recent interview, Ms Massenet said "it's time to give the sale customer a place she can call her own" and theOutnet.com certainly fits this description. With household names, competitions and themed, one-off sales, theOutnet.com has everything you would expect from a site that claims to be "the ultimate in chic discount shopping experiences".
It's true that theOutnet.com doesn't have the beautiful magazine-style presentation that has always characterised its sister site, and the choice is certainly not as substantial at the moment. But when you can buy a pair of Louboutins for under £200, it is easy to overlook these minor considerations.
Navigation is clean and straightforward for those in a hurry, whilst customers who simply want to browse for bargains can search for products by designer, item, colour, trend and even event. For example, the "Dress Me" page offers "instant outfit solutions" for a range of situations categorised under headings such as "vacation planner", "fashion trends", "social events", "chic essentials", "wear this forever" and "working wardrobe". There are also Top Ten-style pages for basics such as "really useful" jackets, little black dresses and "everyday tops".
Playing heavily on its foundation concept of "chiconomics" the website also plans to feature time-limited "pop-up sales, giveaways and going, going, gone sales", with discounts of up to 80%, to give shoppers the same "get it before it goes" rush they experience when attending high street sample sales. If the recession is creating more sample sale junkies, then this site is like pure cocaine for them.
Commenting on the launch, theOutnet.com director Stephanie Phair said: "This is a new adventure in online outlet shopping and we have been delighted with the response to theOutnet.com so far. It's only the beginning - our calendar of activity for the next six months is packed with weekly product launches, exciting events and the very best of previous seasons' collections. With our fashion-forward approach, edited selection and chic format we will continue to provide savvy shoppers with something new at a great price".
TheOutnet.com is certainly one of retail's most imaginative responses to the recession that we have seen yet, and will almost certainly become one of the most successful. As Natalie Massenet explains, "Great fashion won't disappear - it will go to theOutnet and we are delighted to create a vibrant, fun and edited destination for the global sale shopper to call her own".