Net-a-Porter CIO: Luxury retail throws up unique challenges to innovation

Net-a-Porter CIO Hugh Fahy has revealed that there are complexities with innovating technologically in online luxury fashion shopping that may not apply to high street retailers.

The Net-a-Porter group has three distinct online-only brands, comprising the women’s luxury fashion shopping website Net-a-Porter, men’s version Mr Porter and discount luxury site The Outnet. It also has a publishing arm to produce its Porter magazine.

In an interview with Techworld, Fahy, who heads up a 300-strong technology team at the company, said that being in the luxury market means it has to look at more “subtle” ways of presenting products for sale online.

For example, Net-a-Porter is looking at how it can present something as being popular and in high demand, without showing a typical star rating system for an item.

“Most of our stock, we wouldn’t carry more than 50 of each item, which is a unique challenge to luxury fashion retail,” Fahy said.

“There’s an emotion attached to what are pretty expensive items of clothing. So what you probably wouldn’t want to do is to turn up and look at Net-a-Porter and see 568 five-star ratings, because you want something unique.”

The company, through its social commerce incubator, The Netbook, is therefore looking at ways to get customers talking indirectly about the products. It is testing its ideas out on a closed group of 6,000 invited users.

“We’re creating a community around opinion and style, and allowing a conversation around people and the social life [associated with the products]. So the conversation is there, but one step removed from an individual item,” Fahy said.

Another area of innovation that online retailers are looking at is around fitting, for example, so that shoppers can see online what an item might look on a simulated version of themselves.

This would help Net-a-Porter reduce its level of returns, which Fahy says in luxury retail is relatively high.

“Anything we can do to improve fitting [would help reduce returns]. But again, we might be slightly different to a high street fashion retailer, in the fact that seeing an item of clothing put on a simulated you, in 3D, might not be what our customers aspire to,” Fahy said.

See also:

The full interview with CIO Hugh Fahy: Net-a-Porter, the 15-year-old online luxury fashion retailer goes back to its startup roots

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