Condé Nast’s short-lived foray into e-commerce has come to an end with the sale of Style.com to Farfetch and the formation of a new “content and commerce” partnership between the global retail platform and the publisher.
Style.com, the e-commerce business jointly owned by London-based Condé Nast International and Condé Nast U.S. of New York, will discontinue operations immediately and redirect to Farfetch.com. An announcement is expected this morning.
Farfetch, the brand and retail platform founded by José Neves in 2008 and valued in excess of $1 billion, has purchased the domain name and intellectual property of Style.com, which launched in the U.K. as an e-commerce operation in September but failed to gain traction.
CEO Neves said Farfetch and Condé will be cooperating fully as part of a “long-term partnership” on a new commerce and content proposition. Jonathan Newhouse, chairman and CEO of Condé Nast International, will join the Farfetch board.
Neves said the deal represents the “doubling-down” of an already fruitful relationship with Condé and makes sense for Farfetch, which sees itself as a platform for creatives and content makers.
In 2013 the publisher of Vogue, GQ and Vanity Fair led a $20 million round of funding for Farfetch, landing alongside investors including Advent Venture Partners, Index Ventures and E.ventures.
Neves said the two partners still have to hammer out the broader outline of the digital project, but the result will be a “seamless editorial shopping experience.” More specifically, the partnership will offer readers the ability to browse and shop Condé Nast’s editorial content on a global scale, beginning with Vogue and GQ in the U.S.
A tech connection has also been created, enabling Farfetch to integrate its products into Condé Nast’s content, while shopping guides created by Condé Nast’s publications will highlight products from Farfetch, which sources items from more than 500 luxury boutiques worldwide and offers customers nine language options and same-day delivery in 10 cities.
The deal will also “ease the distribution” of shoppable content across Condé Nast’s digital and social platforms, according to the partners. Going forward, the plan is for Condé Nast and Farfetch to collaborate on rolling out “innovative content and commerce experiences” for customers.
Neves, who has consistently been building on the foundations of Farfetch with the acquisition of brick-and-mortar store Browns, the creation of third-party sites and robust partnerships with brands to speed service and delivery, said what interested him most about this deal was the content.
“We have long felt that inspirational content is a natural part of any luxury shopping experience. In the same way as we empower the fashion industry and connect consumers with the world’s best brands and boutiques, we want to connect them with outstanding content,” he said.
Neves added that the deal with Condé will “significantly augment the retail experience for our customers. Condé is the best for consumer-orientated content globally. From China to Mexico to the U.S. and the U.K., they are the premiere destination for luxury interaction,” Neves said.
The Farfetch deal represents the latest iteration of Style.com, which has morphed awkwardly over the years from a website that showcased up-to-the-minute runway images to one that posted reviews, street style and lifestyle content. It later published a magazine to complement the digital content and was brought under the same umbrella as WWD when the latter was owned by Condé Nast.
The magazine was shuttered when Condé decided it would turn Style.com into an e-commerce player, but from the moment the new business was unveiled, analysts and industry observers were skeptical, questioning how Condé could ever compete with the online luxury retail giants and how it could convince editors and staff to start thinking more commercially.
Many also pointed out that Condé Nast is a publisher, not a retailer.
Condé, which says it has an audience of more than 340 million, had billed Style.com as a “connector” between the magazines and the products, one that could offer an added layer of service to readers. Condé’s aim was to use the latest technology to bind together reading and shopping so tightly that the two would come to feed each other and generate a big revenue stream for the company.
The plan was to hold no stock and engage the customer up to the point of sale, with merchants fulfilling the orders. The new site rolled out in the U.K. with Vogue and GQ initially, and was meant to encompass all Condé titles internationally. Two channels were planned: the magazines themselves and the Style.com site.
It made little headway in a market that has been moving at lightning speed.
The U.S. launch was delayed indefinitely, while big brands, including those owned by LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, never climbed aboard. Instead, LVMH this month launched its own site through Le Bon Marché, called 24 Sèvres. There’s more to come as so many luxury brands become more aggressive in the field of e-commerce.
“Out of LVMH’s 70 brands, I can tell you that each has its own strategy,” said Ian Rogers, chief digital officer of LVMH. “There isn’t any brand that’s not developing or expanding its e-commerce strategy.”
In addition, market trends have been rapidly moving toward direct-to-consumer models, with multibrand retailers struggling to secure startup funds as investors would prefer to put their cash directly behind brands — and cut out the middle man altogether.
Industry sources also said resources were tight at Style.com, and the money just wasn’t there to compete with online giants such as Yoox Net-a-Porter Group, Matchesfashion.com and MyTheresa.com, which have been developing and launching new technologies at warp speed. Those sites have also quickly developed their own slick print and digital titles, and are finding ways to engage the consumer online and keep him or her communicating, browsing and shopping.
In September, Style.com was also the victim of a damaging story in Sunday Times Style, the weekly glossy fashion supplement to one of the big national weekend papers, The Sunday Times of London. The story pointed out that Condé was “unfashionably late to the e-commerce party” and that it failed to sign up almost half the brands it had originally hoped to have at launch — less than 100.
Newhouse said in a statement that as an early investor in Farfetch, this partnership is the next step in Condé’s evolving business relationship with the website.
“This is an industry-defining collaboration, and I am very pleased to be joining the board of Farfetch,” said Newhouse. “I would like to take this opportunity to thank the entire Style.com team for their dedication, energy and commitment.”
Natalie Massenet, the newly appointed co-chairman of Farfetch, founder of Net-a-porter and a former fashion stylist at Condé Nast in the U.K., said: “Since 1999 I have believed in the importance of combining content and commerce in order to elevate the digital shopping experience. Content educates, entertains and inspires purchases, which is crucial in the customer journey of discovery.”
She believes the new deal will be a winner.
“For the consumer, this will be a joy to move from inspiration to transaction at any time and any place. And for the brands and international boutiques that have always partnered with Condé Nast, this will further enhance their presence in Condé Nast’s media.”