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Fashion Retail's First Lady

By Patrick Chew

 
 

On September 7, 2007, Alison Loehnis walked into the Net-a-Porter office in Bayswater, London for her first day as its vice president of marketing and sales. They were her first few steps in what has been a 10-year journey with the company so far. “I remember a big open plan, where everything was in black and white, just like our packaging,” Loehnis recalls. 

Loehnis is sitting opposite me at the garden of the Mandarin Oriental in Paris, just a couple of weeks after her 10th year anniversary with Net-a-Porter, for whom she now acts as president. In that time, Loehnis launched The Outnet and Mr Porter, added beauty, activewear, and fine jewellery categories onto Net-a-Porter’s existing offerings, built a distribution centre in Hong Kong to cater to the Asia-Pacific market, developed one for the world’s first transactional luxury fashion app — the list is almost endless. 

Yet for all that Loehnis has achieved, she insists that the thing she’s most proud of is the people at Net-a-Porter. “One of the first meetings I had 10 years ago was with one of the tech developers,” she recalls. “That guy was not your typical fashion consumer. He had long hair, and was wearing a Black Sabbath T-shirt. But he was talking about Bottega [Veneta], its detailing and how best to showcase it to the customer. I was just struck by his passion for product.”

Yoox Net-a-Porter tech hub in London
Yoox Net-a-Porter tech hub in London

To Loehnis, the success of Net-a-Porter comes down to her staff’s dedication to their customers and products. It is a simple sentiment: Everything should go into the betterment of its products and its services to its customers — one that Loehnis ensures is echoed throughout the company. 

“We always used to say that we want to make the world a more stylish place, and by that, I don’t mean just sartorially,” Loehnis explains. “Our end-goal has always been to empower our customers, make their lives easier, and to enable them to discover fashion that has been brought to life on a huge global platform.” 

How has Net-a-Porter evolved over the past decade? 

First of all, we’ve gotten a lot bigger. We’ve added new brands to our family: The Outnet, Mr Porter, and, of course, with the merger, Yoox. Within Net-A-Porter, we’ve also grown to become more localised — we’ve translated to Simplified Chinese, French, and German. We’ve added a distribution centre in Hong Kong on top of our current ones in England, and the US. We’ve also launched new categories such as beauty, sportswear, and so on. 

How has the advancement of technology enabled you to elevate the shopping experience? 

I think it’s quite easy to get carried away with the next new thing. We embrace technology but we see it not as a gimmick but as a service enabler. Rewind to the basic foundation of our brand: the notion that we are a magazine that you can shop from. We are bringing the store to the customer on her or his own terms, using their home as their fitting room. Back to 2009, our customers were telling us that they loved it when new products get launched. They were telling us that they were worried they wouldn’t be at their desks and would miss it. And so we launched our very first app in 2009, which happens to be the first transactional luxury fashion app. And it was all about what was new. It has always been about [the] customer, and how best to make use of technology to unlock better service.

Left: Chopard's Happy Diamonds collection launched by Net-a-Porter. Right: Net-a-Porter X Gabriela Hearst X Save The Children bag initiative.
Left: Chopard's Happy Diamonds collection launched by Net-a-Porter. Right: Net-a-Porter X Gabriela Hearst X Save The Children bag initiative.

Who is the Net-a-Porter customer? 

The Net-a-Porter customer is pretty varied across different regions. The age ranges from 25 to 54. Our Asia-Pacific customer, for example, is slightly younger. Stylistically, the customer is a runway aficionado who just wants new, new, new. She is also someone who loves to buy from different brands. What we’ve heard is that our customers love how we mix and match things together because it helps them discover brands. In some cases, it’s a brand they’ve never heard of, but in others, it’s rediscovering an established brand. For instance, they might discover a jacket from Saint Laurent that they would otherwise not have seen because they wouldn’t have thought to go to the Saint Laurent website. But because they saw it on our website, they’ve, in a way, rediscovered a brand. 

What is your key focus moving forward? 

We’ve worked, for years, on exclusive capsules. We like to part- ner with brands to create products that our customers cannot find anywhere else. This past May, Mr Porter partnered with Gucci on a capsule to offer products across all categories and price points. We have a number of holiday exclusives on the way — all of which are about the concept of partying. We also recently announced our ambitions for hard luxury — fine watches and jewellery. We worked with Cartier on the relaunch of the Panther. We’re working with Boucheron, Chopard, Piaget. It’s a category that, we feel, is very under-penetrated online. 

On that note, how will an online shopping experience ever compare to a traditional brick-and-mortar one in which customers can feel, and touch what they’re about to buy? 

We are constantly thinking of ways to come up with new services and to do it in a more localised manner. We’re working to get same-day delivery services to more cities around the world. We have our EIPs (extremely important people) who are our most loyal customers within our customer base, and offer a level of service that’s exclusive to them, which includes a personal shopper, previews of what’s coming next, and so on. We’ve extended a new service to our EIPs in cities we also offer same-day delivery services (New York tri-state area, London, Hong Kong, and soon Milan and Dubai). It’s a home appointment service where you can call for a personal shopper to come to your home for a wardrobe consultation, or for a driver to come with clothes to try on and decide if you want to purchase on the spot.