A business acquaintance recently asked what I thought of Barneys.com - a question that drew from me a deeply personal and emotional response.
I am a huge fan of Barneys New York. When I lived in New York City, Barneys on Madison Avenue was a regular haunt. Going home happy didn’t always mean buying something; just a visit was enough to leave me inspired. The products, the venue, the shoppers - it was my favourite museum in all of New York. MOMA is nice, what can I say? Even now, whenever I’m in town, I make a point of visiting Barneys.
With all that buzzing through my head, the opinion I somewhat sadly rendered was, in a nutshell, Barneys New York needed to up its e-commerce game.
Some might say I’m a bit out on a limb with a judgement like that.
The more I consider it, the more I think my brash little opinion deserves some explanation at length. Because the storied brand of Barneys New York simply isn’t being well served by their online presence.
The Luxury Market Remains In Good Health
The global personal luxury goods market, though cooling its pace, maintains robust growth, notching 10 percent for 2012 and an expected 5-6 percent through 2015. The online personal luxury goods sales has charted even faster growth of 25 percent for the last few years according to eMarketer.
It’s no wonder every luxury player - brick-and-mortar or online pure-play - is flocking to the online personal luxury goods space for a piece of the pie. The online luxury fashion landscape is more crowded and more competitive than ever.
In the pure-play space, Net-A-Porter is the clear winner. Its expansion through Mr. Porter and acquisition of Shouke in Hong Kong lend the brand near-dominance in online global luxury fashion. FarFetch will certainly continue to make a name for itself, especially after securing a $20 million strategic investment from Condé Nast recently. The top-of-mind pure plays - from North America to Europe to the Middle East and Asia - would include Shopbop, SSENSE, YOOX, TheCorner, LuisaViaRoma, Boutique 1 and so on. And let’s not forget Amazon Fashion, still in the making.
In the brick-and-mortar space, Neiman Marcus, Harvey Nichols and Lane Crawford are all aggressively pursuing the biggest luxury market in the world, the Greater China. Here in Canada, Holt Renfrew will soon unveil its online e-commerce storefront.
In addition to such intense and fierce competition, Barneys New York is also faced with new business models exemplified by the likes of Moda Operandi, Rent The Runway, Gilt and others emerging every day.
Changing consumer priorities and values, the blurring of boundaries between luxury and ordinary, the technology revolution and a complex omni-channel environment are yet more challenges for Barneys New York to sort.
The good news is that Barneys have had great financial success in the last two years with EBITA growth of 40 percent. With 2012 sales of $800 million, the company aims to achieve targeted sales of $1 billion in the near term. To maintain such impressive momentum, Barneys must fully maximize its e-commerce potential.
The Disappointing Reality of Virtual Barneys
The current Barneys.com store front sadly fails to reflect the iconic Barneys New York brand. Remove the Barneys New York logo and the underlying website could be any other mass-fashion retail website, impersonal as a cash register. Not to put to fine a point on it, Barneys.com is a plain vanilla index of the goods - with a buy button.
Fashion is a journey of discovery and inspiration. Barneys.com can’t just drop every visitor directly into the purchase path upon arrival!
Ironically, the concept we bandy about today under the rubric “curate” was pioneered by Barneys back in the day. Only then, they called it their “edit” of a designer. Even when they carried the same labels as competitors, Barneys stamped their merchandise with a viewpoint all their own.
The online assortment offers no such sense of curation. Designers A-Z presents the loftiest names in fashion in alphabetical order, phone book style. Who wants to shop from a phone book?
Barneys is widely perceived as exclusive and avant-garde - an art-gallery-meets-luxury-emporium proposition. The Barneys.com experience must be aligned with this proposition. Luxury products primarily satisfy emotional needs.
Reach Out To Your Fans
Fashion is about people and communities. In this respect, Barneys lags behind its competitors in both the luxury or ordinary categories. The Barneys fan base on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Youtube is negligible. By comparison, Peter Som, a New York based fashion designer - one guy! - has over 3 million Pinterest followers; Barneys has a scant 40,000.
Without a serious online outreach to its fans and communities, it is cost-prohibitive - and mission impossible - to build and maintain lasting customer relationships on a comparable scale.
Bring The In-Store Experience Online
So many fashion retailers are content to copy the Net-A-Porter blueprint. This shouldn’t even be a consideration for Barneys.com. Instead, Barneys must adopt a holistic integrated omni-channel perspective that leverages its beautiful flagship and CO-OP stores to recreate online the incomparable in-store experience that makes Barneys Barneys. This is a tactic the pure plays can’t copy.
Instead of leveraging this strength, Barneys online treatment of their retail locations is yet another missed opportunity. Suppose I’m planning a trip to LA and might consider adding the Beverly Hills store to my itinerary. What does Barneys offer in the way of seductions to seal the deal? A Google Map of the store location!
Barneys.com should immediately begin showcasing each of its beautiful, museum-liked stores. On the 8th floor of Barneys New York, you can visit genes@co-op, an interactive cafe with 30-foot long digital banquet tables that feature an interactive ordering system and an interface that allows you to view fashion content and even order product while you dine. This amazing experience is mentioned nowhere on Barneys.com!
Tell the story well and customers will flock to the stores. If naysayers point to limited channel-specific sales metrics, forget about online and offline. Focus on your brand and your customers. There are online customers who are transported at the thought of shopping at Barneys, but may rarely have the chance. Let them experience the stores online - it all adds to the value proposition of a Barneys online purchase.
What I miss above all when I visit Barneys.com is the sensation I feel when I stand on the Barneys New York selling floor. As a fan and customer of Barneys and a lover of fashion and shopping, I count on Barneys New York to take a leadership role. This, after all, is the store that introduced Giorgio Armani to America.
It’s time to disrupt the status quo. If anyone can do it, Barneys can.