E-Commerce Comes to Small Time Boutiques

Photo From: http://ribandrhein.com/wordpress/?page_id=42

“Gilt Group may have redefined the discount shopping experience for shoppers seeking high-fashion labels such as Marni and Prada, but Olga Vidisheva, the 26-year-old founder of Shoptiques, thinks her start-up can disrupt the $20 billion boutique shopping industry.

The site, which officially launches today (it has operated in beta for several months), is essentially a retail aggregator—boutiques from around the world apply for “shelf space” on the site, and revenue is shared among the the two parties.

There have been other start-up attempts to help brick-and-mortar stores find new revenue streams online—such as Shopify or Farfetch.com, for instance—but few have segregated merchandise based on location.

On Shoptiques, a user can decide to “go shopping in Miami,” for instance, and check out boutique items (at boutique prices) that are local to the area. While the clothes are “designer,” they’re usually made by up-and-coming labels that aren’t necessarily household names. So far, the site has boutiques in about a dozen cities, from Brooklyn, New York, to San Francisco. Shoppers can read about each individual boutique, and even connect with the business owner to ask questions about the merchandise.

Vidisheva, who was born in Russia, worked at Goldman Sachs after graduation. After two years, she quit, and enrolled in Harvard Business School. The way she tells it, the idea for Shoptiques came after a trip to Paris, where she bought (cliche alert) a pair of perfect high heels from a small boutique. When she returned to the states, she tried to find the Parisian boutique online, but couldn’t find it.

“I knew the name of the boutique and kept searching online,” she says. “I thought, If I can buy tulips online from Amsterdam and have them shipped the next day, why can’t I shop at this particular boutique online?”

Right now, Vidisheva is finishing her last week at Y Combinator, the San Francisco-based incubator founded by Paul Graham. Vidisheva is a curious pick for YC, which has traditionally focused on funding highly technical start-ups like Reddit, Disqus, and Justin.TV. And even more curiously, Vidisheva is the first-ever non-technical solo founder YC has ever accepted.

Although the company does not disclose specific figures, Shoptiques recently closed its first round of funding from Greylock Partners and Andreessen Horowitz. The company has two co-founders, brothers Dan and Jeff Morin, who Vidisheva describes as the company’s “technical brainpower.”

During her second year of business school—she graduated in the Spring of 2011—she interviewed about 800 boutique owners around the country, trying to understand their frustrations, and how an e-commerce site could help, and why this idea didn’t exist already. Eventually, she began to understand that boutique owners—though adept at the craft of sourcing styles and new desigerns—were relatively unsophisticated when it came to driving online traffic, and doing professional-looking fashion photography was a challenge.

Now, once a boutique is approved to be listed on Shoptiques, Vidisheva and her team of six employees will find a local photographer to shoot the store’s products, and help them up manage their online inventory. The value proposition for companies is clear, she says: “We can drive them consumers from all over the country that may not have known about this boutique in the past.” From: http://www.inc.com/eric-markowitz/fashion-startup-takes-aim-at-a-20-billion-industry.html

While this may be profitable for the boutique stores in a time when tourism isn’t at it’s highest, I worry about other potential consequences of this becoming a “disruption” to the boutique shopping industry.

Shopping at boutiques is a major part of my traveling experience. In Italy I found a one-of-a-kind boutique store in the back alley’s of Florence, where I met the designer of the handbags that were displayed around the store. She was swimming in yards of beautiful fabrics, sitting at her sewing machine. Though her english was spotty, she enthused about a 1970’s vintage fabric that she was currently working with, told me the story of where she found it and how it reminded her of the curtains her mother had when she was growing up. Naturally, I left the store with two handbags, one for my sister and one for myself. Knowing that no one in the world has the same exact one is in and of itself a fabulous and self affirming purchase. However, I would never have known about the designer, about her dedication and persistence to finding the perfect fabric and turning it into a new item. I worry that bringing the boutique world into e-retailing will in essence create a loss of authenticity to these hidden gems. Just like hidden or rare gems, the mere fact that these boutiques are RARE or HIDDEN is the exact reason for their being sought after in the first place, and why they are so valuable. 

In the days of fast-fashion stores like H&M and Forever 21, clothing and accessories have already started to lose their importance. We buy for cheap, then when it’s “out” or worn out due to poor quality, we throw it away and start over again. When we buy things with more emotional attachment, we have a fuller and richer experience not only in the buying process (I’m thinking of my experience with the Italian designer versus rummaging through over packed racks in H&M), but every time we adorn the item. This helps us to keep our items longer (even though the strap on my sisters bag broke, we got it fixed instead of throwing it out and getting a new one, which she usually does) and decreases our overall waste.

In my opinion, changing the boutique marketing distribution from being exclusive to “massclusive” is a complete paradox and goes against the entire format of a boutique brick-and-mortar.

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About kelsullivan

Wordsmith, Clothing Connoisseur, Fashion Marketer
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