First published in Charlie Magazine on October 1, 2010.
There was a time when a weekend trip to the shopping mall or a boutique was like entering retail heaven. The smell of newly sewn clothes filled the air, as you browsed through the cleverly-colour coded walls. Everything was designed to entice you and window shopping became a favourite pastime for women around the world.
Ten years ago, shop merchandisers had to design an environment by creating an exclusive space that would stamp a reputable image in customers’ minds. And then it happened. The dot com bubble burst and it changed everything. The virtual-massacre didn’t just laze every shopper in the world but also gave a new meaning to ‘surfing-the- web’. The craze of Internet shopping grew by the minute and eventually, put more pressure on the merchandising sector.
The launch of Net-a-porter, in 2000, changed the way women shopped. Thanks to the luxurious online retailer, where you live no longer dictated what you wear. From exclusive capsule collections to one-off pieces by McQueen, the company ships their deliveries to every corner of the world, without having to wait for the usual six months for the clothes to hit the physical, flagship stores.
Founder Natalie Massenet, quoted on www.businessoffashion.com, finds the experience of an online store very therapeutic and limitless.
“We stay open for 24-hours. Just because you don’t have a store, doesn’t mean it can inexpensive. We have to make sure that the customer experience is seamless. They can see a garment from every angle and zoom in on a cuff or a neckline. They know instantly if it is available in the size or colour they want and it is dispatched overnight,” says Massenet.
It didn’t take long for Marnie Goss to test the Net-a-porter model of high-end fashion retailing and open the virtual doors of Frockshop.com.au. The year 2006 marked the launch of Frockshop.com.au – the first online luxury retailer in Australia.
Back in the days when Goss was a London-girl, she was a religious customer of Net-a-porter, but on her return to Australia, she was rather disappointed.
”There were a few sites out there, but none that sold any labels I would buy, so that’s how the idea for Frockshop was born,” says the director and buyer of Frockshop.com.au.
“Initially, designers were apprehensive about selling online… but now they’ve realised the online market is just as important as their bricks-and-mortar boutiques. Merchandising product online involves styling the garments on a model, so you have freedom to interpret the garment a little more than you do when it is on a coat hanger,” says Goss. “Our online store is the core of our business and our demand has increased dramatically in the last few years.”
Online retailers started using the highly effective Flash design program and dummy models, and in the meanwhile shop-front window displays started becoming more beautiful.
This put shopaholics in a rather twisted dilemma. They either had to make their choices from two-dimensional bogus images or they could just have a three-dimensional view of themselves with the dress on.
If you Google search, ‘Internet shopping’, you are guaranteed to be inundated with web pages, much more than what eBay has to offer. It ranges from vintage, second-hand goodness to unaffordable-luxurious brands.
Where the crispness of visual clothing ends, the surprise of the virtual world awaits. With just a click of the mouse, you enter the land of personal discovery and self-exploration. The shopper gets the satisfaction of finding products at their own pace and time. And the minute they find an item after drawing their own creative path, they are left with unique sense of satisfaction, a sense of discovery.
For some shoppers, entering a luxury store can be quite an intimidating experience. Founder and Creative Director of Pompei A.D, Ron Pompei, told www.businessoffashion.com, that retail landscape of straight lines, dictate shoppers’ movement and doesn’t let them unearth certain aspects of shopping.
“Visual merchandising has been focused on the product, not on the experience of the person in the store … existing retail spaces can be designed to evoke emotional responses (in shoppers),” he says.
Brisbane-based jewellery store, Thousand Island Dressing, recently launched its online shopping website, but for owner, Dylan Cain, nothing beats the traditional journey of shopping.
“In all our stores across Brisbane, the customers have the liberty to manoeuvre their way around our products. They want to get a real feel of the item and touch it, before they put their big bucks on it,” he says.
But for Cain, having an online store has been a great learning experience. It is like another store, except it is on his computer.
“The growing market on online shopping was very tempting. Maintaining a store online is fantastic for our creative side. It is more graphic-based and helps you narrate more stories,” says Cain. “On our website, everything is colour coded and each piece can be searched by its colour.”
Online shoppers are often turned off by the inability to physically touch a product. And online boutique owner, Stephanie Josepha Potter, whole-heartedly agrees.
“Despite the customers getting a wide variety of clothing, they have the urge to try it on. The description of the outfit is just not good enough. But what keeps my customers coming back for more, is the layout, banner and efficiency of my website,” she says.
Potter and her parents first thought the idea of having a “real and physical store” and calling it, Little Dancer Boutique. But she found “online to be less competitive”.
“It is easier to access, and appeals to my target audience via Facebook marketing,” she says.
Little Dancer Boutique supports local designers by stocking their collections and also accommodates designs from top Australian labels like, All About Eve and Finders Keepers.
After its infamous online success, Frockshop.com.au completed a full circle by opening its first flagship store in Brisbane, early this year. Marnie Goss says the growth of the business demanded the existence of a physical store.
“As consumers have become confident in purchasing designer fashion over the Internet, I’ve found they are also demanding a more luxurious shopping experience,” says Goss. Frockshop is located on Brisbane’s high-end fashion hub, James Street, which is an instant call out for innovation and style. Some of the international labels, also Frockshop’s best sellers are, Smythe, Mawi, Alice + Olivia and Elizabeth and James.
“We commissioned artist and blogger extraordinaire Kelly Smith of Birdy & Me to sketch beautiful illustrations for the walls and we invited our staff to create an ever-evolving mood board to showcase their latest fashion obsessions,” says Goss.
Frockshop.com has seen an increasing amount of traffic, over the past four years and with its daily style blog (FS Style), it is automatically grabbing more attention.
“Opening a boutique has allowed us to connect with our customers in a more intimate setting and gives us the chance to share our excitement for new labels. Nothing beats a face-to-face conversation.”
And with that another online shopper is born. Who wants to leave the comforts of their house when you can enter retail heaven with just a click of the mouse? With fashion blogs and enough beautiful photographs to hook any fashionista, online stores are virtually outdoing their physical counterparts. And at a much quicker rate than any bricks and mortar store.