Even the most die-hard brick-and-mortar fashion boutiques understand the benefit of selling online in today’s digital age. But not every retailer has the money, time, manpower or even technological know-how to run an e-commerce business. Luckily, digital retail platforms like Shoptiques and Farfetch do the work for them—marketing and selling the boutiques’ merchandise to presenting profiles online to maintain that in-store presence.
The Shoptiques.com retail platform sells merchandise from 5,000 boutiques in 1,000 cities in three countries. Founder and CEO Olga Vidisheva got the idea when she searched online for a boutique she had shopped in Paris months before, only to learn that the store didn’t have a website. After talking to 800 boutiques on why they don’t have their own website (work overload, lack of tech savvy, fear), she founded Shoptiques in 2012 with just 25 boutiques. The platform has closed numerous rounds of funding and is poised to reap $20 million in sales (up 700% since 2013).
The site lets customers buy from brick-and-mortar boutiques out of their area, and also provides small businesses with digital solutions that allow them to compete on a global scale.
‘‘People talk about online sales cannibalizing small ‘mom-and-pop’ shop sales, when really it should be the opposite,” says Videsheva. “Small stores that weren’t a part of Shoptiques before could only get business from consumers in the area; now they can get purchases from customers around the world. To me, the question isn’t about whether they host their online presence through Shoptiques or through services like Shopify or Square Space. Most important is that they actually do have an online presence. Their online experience should be built with omnichannel in mind: can customers order online and pick-up in store? Shoptiques offers that. Are the prices and experience consistent across all interactions and channels that boutique sells? Are the products consistent in quality and offering online and offline?”
Acting as a retail portal for more boutique information, Shoptiques also curates the boutiques on the site. “We reject 80% of applicants. The stores must be attractive, unique, have great quality and promise to ship within 24 hours. They can sell the same merchandise on their own site (if they have one), but not on any others.”
Regional boutiques can use sites like these to build an out-of-town clientele. Stores in major metro areas or tourist destinations also find that consumers often pre-shop online and then follow-up with an in-store visit.
Boutiques note with relief that sites like Shoptiques does the work for them. Long Island boutique Let’s Bag It has been with Shoptiques for one year, calling the experience wildly successful. “I used to have my own e-commerce site through Go Daddy, but honestly, I don’t have the money to have the search engine that Shoptiques has,” says owner Lauren Harris. “In two weeks, I did more orders with them than I did with my own website. I’d wake up and have four orders. My brands can send Shoptiques product photos directly—based on the site’s qualifications—or I can ship merchandise myself and Shoptiques will photograph it.”
Lolly Ella Jewelry, West Bloomfield, Michigan, sells on LollyElla.com, but still uses Shoptiques to reach a larger audience. “For a small business, going online isn’t so easy, especially since we don’t have an IT team. It’s hard to have people find you with no publicity and then there’s the cost of SEO and ad words. Shoptiques doesn’t compete with our store at all. We have about 5% of the merchandise on Shoptiques and keep increasing it.”
The penetration of merchandise is of course up to each boutique. “Some stores have all of their inventory online [with Shoptiques] and some only select pieces,” says Videsheva, noting that stores with the most success have over 50 items on their Shoptiques e-store. “This isn’t surprising, as even in a physical boutique people love choices.”
London-based Farfetch is another curated global network of boutiques. The upscale site features 400 designer boutiques—from Paris, New York and Milan to Bucharest, Riyadh and Seattle. Each boutique featured on Farfetch has three images and a profile.
Farfetch recently closed a $110 million Series F round, bringing total raised capital to over $305 million, according to Business of Fashion. Current company valuation is estimated at just under $1.5 billion, say insiders.
T ootsies, an upscale fashion and accessories store with three locations in Dallas, Houston and Atlanta, has its Tootsies.com Shop tab link directly to its Farfetch page. “We joined Farfetch two years ago,” says accessories consultant and buyer Kathryn Fey. “We’re always looking for ways to grow and we’ve done really well with it. We’re the number three site on Farfetch in terms of sales. As a regional store, this lets us reach a global customer.”
Such retail platforms don’t just have search power, but editorial/fashion trend experts that a small boutique might not have. Shoptiques and Farfetch regularly write posts and call out trends that consumers can click through to shop across all stores. Long-form blog articles feature travel shots, videos and more.
Boutique spotlights, with three to 10 photos, also bring more personality to the boutique behind the product shots. It’s all about keeping the boutique relevant.
“Because Shoptiques straddles both the physical and digital worlds, small retailers are able to take advantage of the omnichannel,” says Videsheva. “We do allow customers to order online and pick-up in store. Each boutique on Shoptiques features an interior or exterior image, synopsis, address, phone number and owner name. We want the customer to always tie back to where the item is coming from.”