the new normal
As luxury shopping increasingly moves online, Matchesfashion.com is spearheading a strategy that makes people the priority (and must-have fashion paramount)
Matchesfashion.com is bringing luxury online retail into the future.
I’m going to tell you a funny story about Adam Lippes,” says Tom Chapman in the kind of conspiratorial tone that makes you lean in close. The dapper co-founder and joint chairman of Matchesfashion.com is in Hong Kong to speak at the Fashion Asia forum, an event aimed at addressing the challenges within the changing fashion landscape, and with on-stage duties out of the way, he’s now kicking back with a vodka and soda 49 levels above the city in Cafe Gray Bar at luxury hotel The Upper House.
“It’s my wife’s birthday on Friday,” he starts, referring to his partner in business and life, Ruth Chapman. “We’re having a big party for her so I invited [fashion journalist] Sarah Harris. I said, ‘Come to dinner, it’s Ruth’s birthday,’ and she said, ‘Oh God, I can’t. I’ve got this event with Adam Lippes, he asked me to hold the day.’ And I said, ‘Oh shit, I didn’t even know Adam was in town. Let me email him because I should tell him to change his event and come to dinner with us.’” Tom’s eyes shine as he pauses before laughingly delivering the punchline. “Of course, it was [a Matchesfashion.com] event that Adam was hosting!”
One could hardly blame Tom for not realising the clash. In the 10 years since launching the company’s international website, Matchesfashion.com dinners have gained in frequency and notoriety to the point where they’re the hot ticket on the fashion calendar. The intimate evenings, held all over the world for a select group of international press and VIP clients in the most in-demand restaurants and private residences, have a unique family feel (if your family consisted exclusively of well-shod people wearing the latest from Saint Laurent, Attico and Vetements, that is) and almost always champion a designer or brand.
“It comes from actually being a bricks-and-mortar retailer,” explains Tom, who set up the first Matches store in 1987. “When we started, we had a tiny shop in Wimbledon Village and we were selling things like Gianni Versace. And believe me, when you’re selling luxury brands in Wimbledon Village, you’ve got to learn to love your customer because not many of them are on the streets. You’ve got to take care of people. And then building the relationship with brands, with the press, all these sorts of things, is incredibly important. Business is built on relationships and we have to be very protective of that.”
After 30 years of fostering said relationships, Tom and Ruth have successfully transformed their store into a global luxury business. The strategy? Immersing the customer, creating a digital experience that’s as close as possible to the physical and allowing customers to choose how they interact with the brand. That means a fully responsive site designed to bridge the divide between content and commerce (including a weekly digital Style Report, engaging features and fully shoppable video content, regardless of device), digital trunk shows with hot-right-now designers such as JW Anderson, Simone Rocha and Nicholas Kirkwood, and shoppable Instagram. Then there are the stores, three in addition to the original
in Wimbledon, a quarterly magazine and exclusive events at No.23, the private shopping townhouse in Marylebone for VIP clients worldwide.
This all rests, of course, on a strong product offering that takes in more than 400 of the best established and emerging luxury brands across the globe. The 23-strong buying team prides itself on unearthing newness, and the business likens itself to a digital media agency, spruiking its brand partners to help them reach a wider global audience. At peak periods, Matchesfashion.com takes an order every 15 seconds, shipping to 176 countries. The top 10 per cent of loyal customers shop nine times a year.
“For me, everything is about customer retention,” says Tom. “It’s about the lifetime value of the customer. Yes, it’s about orders – we’re constantly looking at how we grow the AOV [average order value], such as through good recommendations of product, bringing things together, styling – but it’s also about retention. We have a very high retention rate, about 65 per cent, which is very high for an e-commerce business, but I’m losing 35 per cent of my customers. What the hell’s going on? How do I keep that 35 per cent? If we don’t have a 100 per cent retention rate, I’m not happy. Because, actually, we’re growing at 50 or 60 per cent at the moment, but if we keep that 35, we’re growing at 100 per cent.”
Customer focus is the key driver for Matchesfashion. com this year, a smart strategy considering recent developments in the global personal luxury goods market. Management consulting firm Bain & Company puts online sales as having increased nearly 20-fold from 2003 through 2016, to the current level of $28 billion (or eight per cent of the total $360 billion), especially strong considering the current period of flat growth represents a “new normal” for the rest of the luxury goods industry, sticking at below three per cent. The clever businesses are the ones that will be able to convert traditional luxury customers into online shoppers who keep returning.
“[Matchesfashion.com] is always going to be mainly a direct digital business but the reality is, how do we bring that back to the customer? How do we start to give the customer the opportunity to interact with us physically?” For Tom, data is key. And while that word has the tendency to make the sartorially inclined nod off sitting up, his excitement as he talks of predictive analytics – the what, when, where of customer transactions – is infectious. “I think that kind of information is mind-blowingly incredible. My role is more marketing and business – my wife is far more design-focused – but, for me, that’s what’s so exciting about this opportunity to learn how you can target your customer in a more intelligent way. The danger is we don’t want to put you into a bubble; we’ve got to throw you curveballs, things you don’t expect.” Because, ultimately, while algorithms work on logic, there’s a kind of magic involved with stumbling upon something you never knew you wanted but immediately know you can’t live without. It’s an experience Tom and Ruth have been creating since the very early days of the Wimbledon Village store. “We didn’t know what we were doing opening up a shop... I think the greatest things are done through a sense of not being paralysed by fear. The less you know, the better. If you’re passionate and you work hard and you’re committed and you love what you do, you’ll make it work.” And the Adam Lippes/birthday clash: they made that work, too. With dinner, as with fashion, there’s always a way.
FASHIONABLE FRIENDS Matchesfashion.com founders Tom and Ruth Chapman (right); model Maryna Linchuk and designer Roksanda Ilincic chat with Ruth before dinner at Le Turtle, NYC