Eyebrows rose across the fashion industry when, in April 2015, it was announced that Conde Nast would rebrand Style.com as a luxury e-commerce destination, in an attempt by the publishing behemoth to create new revenue streams, compensating for declining print sales brought about by the digital age. The news came following a reshuffle in November 2014 that saw Conde reacquiring Style.com from Fairchild Fashion Media; before Fairchild purchased the online fashion destination in 2010, Style.com launched under the Conde Nast umbrella, and acted as a homepage for Vogue and W before their own websites opened.
Style.com opened its virtual doors in September 2016. But despite Conde’s ambitious plans for Style.com – including planning to invest $100 million to ensure the project’s success – it was announced on June 13th that the website was ceasing operations. Style.com’s intellectual property, trademark and customer database has now been transferred to Farfetch, which has forged a partnership with Conde’s flailing e-commerce project. Jonathan Newhouse, chairman and chief executive of Conde Nast International, explained in a statement to his staff that “the results of [Style.com] have fallen very far short of where we hoped they would be … [We] have evaluated the future of Style.com and decided to make the strategic decision to cease all business operations and to sell certain assets of Style.com to one of the leading business players, Farfetch.”
Where did it all go wrong?
Perhaps Style.com’s teething problems were early red flags. The site’s much-hyped launch, for example, was pushed back several times. A greater blow came with the fact that the company was unable to sign major fashion names, including LVMH and Kering-owned brands, to its line-up. To an outsider, this might seem surprising, given Conde’s esteemed status across the fashion industry. But in this case, it could be that the publishing giant’s level of power actually put brands off, rather than drew them in. “At the heart of the site’s problem appears to have been luxury brands’ wariness about the creeping level of control that Conde Nast could wield,” The Telegraph’s Ashley Armstrong notes. Why would brands choose to sell via Style.com, and risk having their sales affected by Conde’s editorial coverage, when they could sell through a longer-established specialist e-tailer, like Net-a-Porter, with less hassle?
One of the most viable explanations for Style.com’s demise is that it was simply too late to the game. Net-a-Porter and Farfetch currently have the monopoly on the online market for high-end fashion, followed by other online luxury haunts, like Yoox, which merged with Net-a-Porter in late 2015, and MyTheresa. Plus, when you factor in the online storefronts of long-established retailers like Browns, Matches and Selfridges, the competition looks even fiercer. In such a crowded market, it’s unsurprising that Conde’s venture struggled to stand out; luxury fashion consumers have been using market-leading Net-a-Porter since it launched in 2000, giving it a 15-year edge on Style.com.
Unlike Net-a-Porter, which holds its own inventory, generates the content (i.e. product descriptions and imagery) to populate its product pages and has its own logistics operations, Style.com largely ran on a marketplace model, meaning that product specifics were provided by brands, rather than generated in-house by the Style.com team. The only exception to this rule was the handful of brands who didn’t have an existing (or sufficiently efficient) e-commerce setup; Style.com handled the inventory for these brands, but the majority on its roster simply retailed their products through Style.com’s marketplace while handling their own inventory and logistics.
Interestingly, Style.com’s new business partner runs on a similar model. Farfetch doesn’t own the stock it sells, and instead connects its customers to over 500 boutiques worldwide. It’s a one-stop-shop for the world’s best brands but, cleverly, all it has to handle is the customer journey. This allows its team more time to focus on perfecting some of online shopping’s common pitfalls: efficient customer care, fast and flexible delivery options, and intuitively designed front ends.
Before and after Style.com folded, Conde Nast has stated that the website’s key values lie in integrating the worlds of content and commerce. It just didn’t deliver on the latter, but now Farfetch is ready to give it the leg-up it needs. Farfetch founder Jose Neves told BoF: “We connect people. We have curators of fashion. Now we’re connecting the creators of content. We’re not a magazine. We’re a technology platform and our aim is to connect the best people in this industry.” His company’s successes frequently appear in the news, and rumours of an IPO are circulating (Sky News reported that a US flotation could value the website at up to $5 billion) – so hopefully its partnership with Style.com will bring a much-needed commercial edge to Conde’s editorial expertise, and fulfill Neves’ hopes to “connect the best content in the world with the best commerce in the world.”
Image Source: The New York Times