the new nor­mal

As lux­ury shop­ping in­creas­ingly moves on­line, Match­es­fash­ is spear­head­ing a strat­egy that makes peo­ple the pri­or­ity (and must-have fash­ion para­mount)

ELLE (Australia) - - Contents -

Match­es­fash­ 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 Match­es­fash­ 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 Match­es­fash­] 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, Match­es­fash­ 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, Match­es­fash­ 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.

“[Match­es­fash­] 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 Match­es­fash­ founders Tom and Ruth Chap­man (right); model Maryna Linchuk and de­signer Rok­sanda Ilin­cic chat with Ruth be­fore din­ner at Le Tur­tle, NYC

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